First published in the Chronicle Journal Wed April 20, 2016
Debate over the use of Ontario’s forests has intensified in recent years. At the heart of the matter: how do we determine which activities are sustainable, and which are not? How much risk is too much risk? And most importantly, who should decide?
Even in a democratic society, such as Canada, expectations for determining whether forestry activities are sustainable go beyond mere compliance with federal and provincial laws. They also go beyond assertions of sustainability from companies themselves or their industry associations.
Most forests managed for industrial logging in Ontario are third-party certified – meaning that they are audited and assessed using additional sustainability criteria. The predominant voluntary forest certification system in Ontario is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Almost twice as many hectares of forest are certified under FSC than under any other third-party system in the province. This is significant, given that FSC upholds very high standards, arguably the highest available among third-party certifiers, in terms of social and environmental accountability. Many forests that have had certificates suspended or terminated through the FSC system are able to maintain certification under other less stringent certifiers.
Companies interested in FSC certification are seeking the ‘social license’ to operate associated with a credible seal of approval. Earning social license is about meriting acceptance from a wide-range of forest interests, including those that are or can be directly affected by forestry activities (e.g., local communities, Indigenous people, adjacent land owners) and others such as local governments, environmental groups and angling/hunting associations. Social license is not permanent. It must first be earned and then maintained, through ongoing relationships between the forest companies and broader public interests. FSC certification provides processes for companies to obtain and maintain this social license.
The financial stakes are high. Generally, sales for brands with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability have grown more than four times that of their counterparts. A recent survey conducted by Nielsen Global on Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability showed that 66% of respondents were willing to pay more for goods that are sustainably produced, and the demand is increasing every year. In the U.S. this translates into consumer demand for “green” products estimated to be worth $500 billion annually, representing a significant opportunity for both companies and communities.
In the past 20 years, FSC has become a well-trusted and established brand in markets around the world. But its effectiveness in tackling local community and environmental concerns relies on public participation. To find opportunities to engage in upcoming FSC-certified forest audits, see https://ca.fsc.org/en-ca/newsroom/forest-audits-consultations.
Julee has a PhD in Forestry,is Executive Director of Ontario Nature Thunder Bay, and is a Board member of Environment North.