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Certification: a serious issue


November 1, 2008
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Given the importance of environmental matters to our member companies, we at the Alberta Forest Products Association looked forward to reading The Green Issue of Pulp & Paper Canada (May 2008). Im…

Given the importance of environmental matters to our member companies, we at the Alberta Forest Products Association looked forward to reading The Green Issue of Pulp & Paper Canada (May 2008). Imagine our disappointment on finding that, in an article entitled “Forest Stewardship: Redefining forestry practices,” your publication characterizes all non-FSC certification systems as “seriously flawed,” this despite the fact that the majority of the Canadian forest products industry has chosen, for a myriad of valid reasons, to take a different certification route.

If anything is seriously flawed, it is the article itself. Instead of presenting a balanced assessment of the merits of various certification programs, it gives the impression that only one credible system – FSC – exists, totally disregarding other rigorous, comprehensive and internationally recognized standards, such as PEFC, SFI and CSA. To select one of those examples, many companies have chosen to pursue certification under the Canadian Standards Association’s CSA-Z809 sustainable forest management (SFM) standard, a made-in-Canada program designed to reflect our country’s forest ownership realities and management priorities, and developed by a balanced technical committee drawn from the scientific, academic, government, environmental, consumer, union and aboriginal communities, as well as the forest industry.

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While the Environmental Paper Network is quoted in support of FSC, saying, “other systems have given the thumbs-up to some egregious logging and business practices” (a charge also leveled against FSC from some quarters), the other certification programs also hold companies to very high standards. Again, as an example, CSA-Z809 is based on the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers SFM criteria and elements, which include biological diversity, soil and water quality, social benefits and aboriginal interests among their priorities. It is distinguished by a strong public consultation component, reflecting the high degree of public ownership of Canadian forests. As well as upholding all SFM elements and complying with Canada’s stringent federal and provincial laws and regulations, CSAcertified companies must demonstrate continuous improvement, constantly upgrading their practices with respect to environmental management.

One of the article’s more interesting admissions is that companies seek FSC certification because it “offers inoculation from protests.” Indeed, the climate has become such that any firm not subscribing to FSC risks becoming the target of a damaging public relations campaign. Such tactics have managed to convince many, apparently including the article’s author, that unless wood products are FSC-sanctioned, they are not environmentally sound. When it comes to products made in the well regulated and highly certified forest industries in Alberta and across Canada, nothing could be further from the truth. Yet, with more customers being pressured into accepting only FSCcertified wood products, our forest companies face loss of sales and reputation unless they, too, toe the line. In our view, this is less a victory for sustainability than for an effective public relations campaign seeking to achieve market dominance for a single certification scheme.

Certification is a costly and demanding process, one that forest companies undertake in order to give their international customers, neighbours and other stakeholders assurance that they are conducting business in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. Companies choose from among the available certification regimes on the basis of each system’s scientific rigour, ability to meet the varying needs of forest products customers, and applicability to local ideals and priorities for publicly-owned forest lands. In dismissing other reputable environmental certification systems so categorically, Pulp & Paper Canada does a great disservice to forestry professionals across the country who are working every day to ensure the long-term sustainability of our forest resources.

Yours truly,

Brady Whittaker, Executive Director, Alberta Forest Products Association

Editor’s note:Pulp & Paper Canada believes responsible forest management is a necessity in a climate where environmental and sustainability issues are at the forefront. With this in mind, certification and labeling systems are needed in order to assure producers remain accountable for their practices. Consumer demand for certified products is continuously growing, and the market will have to respond.

We believe the World Wildlife Fund’s Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) does well in guaranteeing products come from responsibly managed forests and reputable sources. It is an international, nonpartisan organization with strict certification standards that equally take into account the interests of all parties involved (environmental groups, businesses, social chambers and First Nations).

However, Mr. Whittaker’s letter points out a number of important issues. There are other certification standards recognized internationally that companies can choose from; the FSC is only one of them.

All systems of certification have their pros and cons, and companies should look into all their options before settling on one.

Pulp & Paper Canada takes its role as the voice of Canada’s pulp and paper industry seriously, and believes it is important to investigate these issues. In the coming months, the magazine will take an in-depth look into forest stewardship certification systems to deliver a comprehensive portrait on what is available.

PPC


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