As Greenpeace launches Forest Solutions: An insider’s look at Greenpeace collaborations in forest regions around the world, Greenpeace B.C. Director Stephanie Goodwin offers her perspectives on forest-based collaborations.

I have a saying: when you have a knotty problem, widen the circle of brains working on it and see what happens. Often this means collaborating with others that have seemingly divergent interests. But solutions will undoubtedly emerge. 

The market for wood and paper products is fiercely competitive these days. With a shrinking demand for paper products due to digitalization, changes in market demand due to events like the US housing crisis, and growing global wood fibre players like Brazil and Russia competing with Canadian forest products, companies must walk a tightrope through this landscape to succeed.

Governments and forest companies often work together to ensure the profitability of the forest sector in their countries and provinces. Case in point: when the US housing crisis began in 2007 and gained momentum in 2008, forest companies and the British Columbia government rolled out a strategy to reduce reliance on the US housing market and diversify through an aggressive campaign to grow the demand for wood products in China, and more recently in Japan and India, for home and building construction. And it is working. Market diversification for lumber matched with a weak dollar and a slow recovery in the US housing market has meant that the BC forest economy is rebounding and some say we are nearing the “super cycle”. This is what happens when you widen the circle to solve a knotty problem.

There is another interesting thing that happened in British Columbia. In the 1990s, destructive logging and an unresponsive forest industry led to protests, blockades and international market campaigns from Greenpeace and others. These led to reputational risk and brand damage with major wood and paper buyers cancelling their contracts or steering clear of products from the region. There is a fabled quote from those days where a logging executive says “no one wants to buy a 2 x 4 with a protester attached to it.”

This defined the problem: how do we reinstate the social license to operate and log in a place that is world-renowned for its forests?  It began with a coalition of environmental organizations, led by Greenpeace, and an alliance of forestry companies to form the Joint Solutions Project (JSP) as a means to collaboratively work toward solutions. Today, industry, the BC government, First Nations, companies and Greenpeace all support 50% conservation of the region and are committed to finishing the job this year.  At this point, 850,000 hectares of the region is FSC-certified and the wood coming from this area receives marketplace support from Greenpeace, the unlikeliest yet most effective of allies.

British Columbia’s Joint Solutions Project is just one example of how different parties with a vested interest in a successful forest industry and healthy forests can come together to solve forest problems.

Another excellent example is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification system. In the late 20th century, governments were touring the world touting the environmental sustainability of their forest regulations, yet their legislation had no environmental teeth. At the same time, protests and boycott campaigns were forcing some logging companies to begin voluntarily enacting better practices, yet there was no way for customers to verify if these voluntary actions were environmentally sustainable.

Very quickly this became a problem for everyone involved. Environmentalists wanted the marketplace to recognize good behavior as a means of growing the green product market. The forest industry realized that even if they did the “right thing,” they weren’t credible enough on their own to be rewarded and measurements of success weren’t consistent. Indigenous communities were being left out of decision-making on their lands. And, globally, consumers were waking up to the need for forest protection and greener forest products. The solution? Those involved put their heads together and created an internationally recognized independent forest verification system that would meet the bar for environmental and social responsibility. As a result, the FSC certification system is the only credible mark of responsibility because it was created and continues to be governed jointly by the forest industry, environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, indigenous groups and civil society.

It is these kinds of early adopters of solutions-based collaboration that the rest of the forest industry, governments and others are looking to for solutions to forest-based conflicts in other parts of the world that is creating reputational and economic risk.

The Broadback Valley in Quebec is a good example of a conflicted area still caught up with a knotty problem yet on the cusp of a collaborative success. Local First Nations want the old growth valley protected. Greenpeace agrees, and most logging companies have committed to stop logging in the area to respect the assertion of the Grand Council of the Cree. The final step to this story, however, is yet to be taken: the Quebec government must decide with the First Nations governments to formally protect this area. This would restore confidence in the region and bring certainty to those operating in the region as well as to customers who want sustainable, conflict-free wood products.

The potential of the Broadback Valley is particularly salient as Quebec has been rife with forest-based conflict for some time. First Nations are suing the government and blockading logging operations being conducted without their consent, which is enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This conflict increases risk for companies operating and sourcing from these regions in a way that creates a chill in the investment community and the traditional marketplace. This is a time when the Quebec government could resolve the conflict by protecting the Broadback Valley and creating the space for collaborative solutions that the marketplace would recognize.

Canada’s stable governance, wealth, education levels, and democratic systems make it a perfect place to be a leader on environmentally responsible forest solutions, which would provide a competitive edge in this fierce global marketplace by gaining market access to a growing green marketplace.

It is imperative that there be public leadership on forest issues in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. As energy projects take more and more prominence in Canada’s forest regions, unless the forest industry can demonstrate its ability to innovate and shift quickly to meet changing global demands, it will be left in the public policy dust, condemned to a slow decline and risk becoming obsolete with a rusty chainsaw in hand.

That is the knotty problem of the forest industry today that requires more brains and more collaboration. Greenpeace has been holding out its hand across the aisle to the forest industry for many years. While some have been scared, they have nevertheless taken up with us to collaborate. Ask them and what you’ll hear is that it’s been worth it, both in terms of brand value and marketplace certainty.

See for yourself. Greenpeace’s Forest Solutions report offers an insider’s look at Greenpeace collaborations in forest regions around the world.

Stephanie Goodwin is the B.C. Director and Senior Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace.  She is based in Vancouver, B.C.