Canada has more than 10 percent of the global forest cover. Therefore, responsible environmental engagement means we have a collective responsibility to be good stewards of that green sustainable resource. For the forest sector, we consider it part of our social license to operate.
Forests are more than just trees. Canada’s forest management practices take into account not just the sustainable level of harvest but also the environmentally sensitive management of the ecosystem. That includes the water and the animals within the forest. Sustainable forest management also requires respect for those who make the forest their home and make their livelihood from Canada’s forests.
A hundred years ago this sensitivity to the resource and the environment was not as ingrained into the industry as it is today. At the beginning of the 1900’s sustainable forest management and good environmental practices were not considered necessary. It was believed by most Canadians that, similar to the cod fishery and many other Canadian resources, the bounty of our forests was virtually endless.
That attitude didn’t start to change until well into the 20th century. Today, industry and government and society as a whole have embraced the need for good environmental practices. Not just to sustain the forests, but to pass on a healthy planet to our children.
As Pope John Paul and His Holiness Bartholomew 1 of the Eastern Orthodox Church jointly wrote in their 2002 Common Declaration on Environmental Ethics, the first ethical goal is to “think of the world’s children when we reflect on and evaluate our options for action”.
Forest management practices today are designed to be sustainable for future generations. Every tree that is harvested must legally be replaced. These forestry practices are independently audited and third party certified. In fact, 43 percent of the world’s certified forests are in Canada —more than 161 million hectares — a land area almost as big as Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom combined.
But responsible environmental engagement doesn’t end at the forest. We must embrace good environmental practices throughout the supply chain. The members of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) have embraced a commitment to improve a whole series of environmental metrics in the manufacturing of our products; air pollutants from our mills are down by 52 percent since 2005; water pollutants are down by 70 percent; toxins such as PCBs and dioxins have been eliminated. Our commitment under the forest sector’s Vision2020 is to continue to improve twelve environmental metrics by an additional 35% by the end of the decade.
So responsible environmental engagement by industry includes making sure we are using the natural resources of our planet in a most efficient and effective way by reducing waste and minimizing ecological impact.
But it doesn’t stop there. As individuals, consumers have an important role to play. We must understand how our individual decisions impact the planet. Canada has one of the best recycling rates in the world; we recycle 70 percent of cardboard and paper. That happens because of thousands of individual decisions by people trying to be responsible and embrace environmental stewardship.
As we begin to understand the great challenges of climate change we collectively and individually are looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. The forest products industry is already contributing. Since 1990 we have reduced our annual GHG emissions by 65 percent. In fact, the forest takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to make trees through photosynthesis. Using forest products such as biofuels, bio-plastics and other biomaterials as a substitute for fossil fuels can further reduce our carbon footprint.
As part of responsible environmental engagement it is important to consider the environmental impact when making consumer choices. Construction materials are one example; the lifecycle carbon footprint of wood is far less than concrete or steel. Choices about what products to use and how to dispose of them are environmental choices made by consumers every day.
Returning to the words of the Common Declaration (2002): “A solution at the economic and technological level can be found only if we undergo, in the most radical way, an inner change of heart, which can lead to a change in lifestyle and of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production.”
By embracing responsible environmental stewardship the forest products industry has come a long way and we are committed to go further. It is a journey to which we can all contribute. Sustaining the ecosystem for future generations through more responsible use of the planet’s resources is what responsible environmental engagement is all about.
-David Lindsay, Environment Panelist & President & CEO of Forest Products Association of Canada