Partnerships in our forests: The Canadian approach to sustainability

John W. Weaver1


Over the last decade, the forest industry in Canada has evolved dynamically, placing particular emphasis on forest management practices that acknowledge the interconnectivity of the environment, the economy and society. This emerging industrial model rests on these three pillars, enforcing responsible use of resources, leveraging stewardship (to compete) and building partnerships with people and communities. This approach supports a collaborative attitude towards stakeholder relations as well as a scientifically driven debate, ensuring the long-term health of our forestlands.

The Canadian model is based on sophisticated strategies that recognize global and local influences on resource management, community requirements and consumer behaviour. The voluntary adoption of this framework by Canadian forest products producers is improving environmental stewardship, strengthening industry's commitment to the social needs of partner communities and protecting economic investment, as well as future profitability.

The factors influencing Canada's vibrant approach are both global and uniquely Canadian. By voluntarily investing in cooperative research and policy development, by advocating and adopting international standards and certification, and by adhering to a framework of collaborative forest management, the Canadian forest products industry is pushing itself and all forest stakeholders to build a future based on environmental, social and economic sustainability.


A global understanding of the link between a sustainable environment and healthy forests has evolved rapidly over the past decade. In Canada, our understanding of the relationships between forest economies, forest ecologies and broader social values has led to significant improvements in forest management practices. Today, Canadian forest products producers base their practices on a new vision for our forests, one that is built on a solid understanding of the relationship between the environment, the economy and society.

It has become clear to the Canadian forest products industry that sustainable stewardship stands for both good practices and good business. Forest products companies have learned that partnerships work better than protests, that it has to grow a tree to harvest a tree, and that the community of consumers is global, informed and vigilant.

There can be little doubt that Canada's forest sector has been at the forefront of innovation. This paper touches on several issues that this industry is addressing, with a focus on three areas: enforcing responsible use of resources, leveraging stewardship (to compete) and building partnerships with people and communities. Over the past decade, the fundamental changes in the knowledge and expectations of consumers and citizens demand a new industrial model and have profound implications for forest sector companies, governments and other stakeholders.

Responsible use of resources

The evolution of Canada's forestry sector reflects changes that are driven by global factors, as well as other dynamics that can be considered uniquely Canadian. When thinking of the environment in which Canada's forestry sector is evolving, it is helpful to capture some of its distinguishing characteristics:

For over a century, Canada has thrived on the economic contributions of its forests. Now, however, competition requires the industry to move beyond the natural advantages offered by Canada's abundant resource base. In a country where forestlands are largely publicly owned and in a climate of increasing public scrutiny, an industrial model that effectively tackles these challenges is imperative.

Less than 4% of all Canadian forests have ever been converted to agriculture or urban development.6 Canada harvests less than one-quarter of 1% of its forests annually, and Canadian industry manages an aggressive programme of reforestation. Canada maintains the largest area of protected forest on the planet, more than Sweden, Finland, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Russian Federation combined. Indeed, added together, Canada's protected forests would completely cover an area larger than any Western European country.

Canadians are justifiably proud of this record, especially when Canada is also one of the world's largest producers of high-quality forest products.

This duality of significant conservation and high production is no accident. A key driver of this success is Canada's complex legislative and policy framework, which has forest conservation laws that are among the most rigorous and demanding in the world. This framework aims at harmonizing forest-related economic activity within the context of a publicly owned national resource.

For example, Canadian federal law requires that harvested areas be promptly regenerated. As a result, an average of 650 million trees are planted every year. Yet, it is important to recognize that in Canada, forest management is mainly within provincial jurisdiction. Provincial legislation provides for key measures including: strong protections for riparian buffers, sensitive wildlife habitats, such as raptor nests and heron rookeries, and requirements for sustainable Annual Allowable Cuts (AACs).

In addition to meeting these multijurisdictional standards, Canadian forest companies present their forest development plans for public review, and consult with a wide variety of forest stakeholders, such as native populations, hunters, trappers, recreational users and other industries.

Canada's governments, researchers and industry have worked together, and in cooperation with the world, on a number of groundbreaking processes and policies improving forest stewardship, including biodiversity. Examples include:

Actions by Canada's federal and provincial governments in pursuit of sustainable forestry practices reflect the rising expectations of our consumers and citizens. Canada's policy and regulatory frameworks have a critical impact on the health of our industry and its capacity to implement more sustainable practices.

In the fall of 2002, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published one of a series of national reports considering regulatory systems and their impact on economic growth. The OECD found that Canada's regulatory system is "one of the most transparent in the world", with public consultations playing a key role in this success. Another significant characteristic of the Canadian system, according to the OECD study, was its leadership as an innovator in regulatory systems7.

Policy and regulatory frameworks such as these have worked well in providing the guidance for the Canadian industry to improve its sustainable forest management practices. Between 1988 and 1998, the Canadian industry's forest management expenditures nearly tripled, and over the last ten years, cumulative spending on forest management totalled US$24.3 billion.

According to a 1999 Statistics Canada study on technology adoption in Canadian manufacturing, the forest sector is among the top five sectors integrating high-tech equipment into their work environment. The advanced technology purchases of the sector in 1999 exceed those of the Canadian automotive, aerospace, metal, transport and chemical sectors combined.8

While the Canadian forest products industry is mindful of the importance of this regulatory framework, and is a determined contributor to its ongoing evolution, it continues to work with its government partners for continuous improvement. The federal and provincial governments have overlapping areas of jurisdiction that frequently contribute to delays, uncertainty and unintended consequences. Canadian industry continues to advocate for greater clarity in the delineation of federal and provincial roles and a streamlining of accounting and reporting requirements.

Leveraging stewardship (to compete)

While policy and regulatory frameworks are important drivers for industrial investment in sustainable management practices, it is important to note the industry's track record of active commitment to sustainability.

The Canadian industry proactively invests time and money in policy development and research:

Accountability, transparency and standardization are essential tools in the global pursuit for the long-term health of our forests, and third-party audited certification to internationally recognized standards is one of the best mechanisms to achieve results.

FPAC and its industry membership are voluntarily setting the certification bar higher. In 2002 Canadian industry committed to a bold goal for sustainability, FPAC members pledged to third-party audited certification through internationally recognized sustainable forest management standards by the end of 2006.9 It is worth noting that Canada is the only major forest nation whose national association has made third-party verification to a forest-specific standard a condition of association membership.

The evidence suggests that the evolution of sustainable forest management regulation and practices in Canada is driven by the shared values of industry and government and their relationships with their respective "markets". Both parties need to sustain the long-term economic stability of forest resources; and, both value the esteem of citizens and consumers. As a result, a largely cooperative relationship has developed between government and industry, where industry is providing strategic leadership in sustainability initiatives.

The dynamics that have driven innovation and investment in sustainability practices also have an impact on the forest products industry's relations with the general public. The emerging understanding of common interests between government, industry and society - composed of citizens, consumers and communities - is affecting the decision-making processes in forest management.

Governments make resource allocation and management decisions, mindful that they are accountable to increasingly informed citizens. Industry understands that those same citizens are also informed consumers. The citizen-consumer's ability to influence both market and political outcomes underscores the connection between economic interests and the advantages of leveraging sustainability.

Partnerships with people and communities

Citizens, consumers, workers, aboriginal people, industry and governments all share a need to manage forest resources, the economy and the community for long-term stability. Shared interests in sustainability, on the one hand, may create pressures and increase disputes; but the shared value of sustainability also offers the outline for long-term solutions.

Canadian forest products producers are experimenting with new accountability and public consultation models. The industry has rejected old confrontational models that led to historic battles such as the stand-off in British Columbia's Clayoquot Sound in the early 1990s. There, forest companies, communities, government, aboriginals, environmental groups and citizens were pitted against each other in a dispute that led to Canada's largest-ever civil disobedience experience, in which over 800 people were arrested. That experience, among others, was a catalyst for all stakeholders to find better means to communicate.

The recent joint solution achieved among industry, government, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and First Nations for the management and conservation of the British Columbian mid-coast is an excellent example of a collaborative approach. The process of sharing with such communities and finding new models to work together continues, resulting in positive outcomes for all forest stakeholders.

Over the past decade, the search for better models of sustainable management and public engagement has been voiced at several levels across Canada. Large-scale strategies, such as the National Forest Strategy, and individual acts of trust and cooperation have led to a decade of creative mechanisms; for instance:

The practice of openness and respectful engagement between industry, government, aboriginal peoples, citizens, communities and interest groups is challenging, but it is yielding positive results for all groups. The positive outcomes for industry ensure that it is more than just a willing partner in the exercise, but also an advocate for change.


From a global perspective, the Canadian experience offers a success story in the adoption of new standards of behaviour for industry, ENGOs and governments. The struggle of the Canadian forestry sector to adapt to the changing marketplace and public expectations has certainly not been without loss, false starts and costly confrontation. However, it is clear that over the past decade the Canadian industry has made a major shift towards building a dynamic and stable base for future growth. Canada has the largest protected forest area in the world. Collaborative models involving a broad range of forest stakeholders have become an important element of forest management and forest planning. And the Canadian forest products industry is committed to increasing its partnership with fellow forest users.

Ten years ago a headline involving the Canadian forestry sector was almost invariably triggered by an environmental confrontation. Today's headlines are far more likely to cast the Canadian forestry sector in a positive light, as an innovator in environmental stewardship or industrial relations.

The Canadian forest products industry's emphasis on partnerships in our forests is not merely a reactive response to regulatory frameworks, but incorporates a commitment and a sophisticated understanding of the global, national and local interests linking economic, environmental and social issues.

1 Chairman of the Board, Forest Products Association of Canada, 410 - 99 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1P 6B9. [email protected]; Website: www.fpac.ca

2 Canadian Forest Service, 2002. Canada's Forest Biodiversity - A decade of progress in sustainable management.

3 PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2002. State of the Industry.

4 PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2001. The Forest Industry in Canada.

5 PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2002. Global Forest & Paper Industry Survey.

6 Natural Resources Canada, Criteria and Indicators 2000 status report.

7 Sue Holmes, Rex Deighton-Smith et al. September 2002. OECD Reviews of Regulatory Reform, Regulatory Reform in Canada.

8 Statistics Canada.

9 FPAC Press Release, January 28, 2002.

10 Canadian Forest Service, 2002. Canada's Forest Biodiversity - A decade of progress in sustainable management.

11 Canadian Forest Service, 2000-2001. The State of Canada's Forests - Sustainable forestry: a reality in Canada.