CBC MARKETPLACE: ENVIRONMENT » ‘GOOD’ WOOD
The push for eco-friendly lumber
Reporter: Erica Johnson; Producer: George Prodanou; Researcher: James Dunne
You’re building a house or buying furniture. Do you care what wood is used? Does it matter if it’s from a clear-cut forest? If it does matter, you may be interested in a new response to a growing consumer movement.
Once upon a time, logging meant:
- select lots of big trees
- cut them down
- send them to market
- make lots of money.
Times are changing. Groups are demanding that forestry:
- doesn’t destroy wildlife habitat
- benefits workers and the community
- doesn’t harm First Nations people
- makes lots of money
Confrontations between loggers and activists is nothing
UPDATE: Since this story originally aired on January 2, 2001, the B.C. government has struck a landmark deal with forestry companies to protect 600 hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest, about 13 per cent of the area. But the Forest Action Network says the agreement does not cover enough territory. It’s continuing to protest against Interfor and other forestry giants.
new in this country. But now there’s a move to settle the controversy and make the environment the big winner. It also aims to give consumers choice when buying lumber.
That choice involves selling lumber that comes with a logo showing it’s certified, meeting some of the toughest ecological standards in the world.
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization that is setting certification standards. The group’s standards will spell out how trees must be harvested for forestry companies to be allowed to dislpay the logo.
“This is the only time I’ve seen environmental organizations, industry, First Nations get together and talk in advance of the logging and agreeing on the approach to logging we should take,” John Cathro, a forester with the FSC told Marketplace.
Forestry products alone are a $60 billion a year industry in Canada. More than half that output is exported. But the common view is, we overlog. So the industry is under intense pressure to change its ways.
Pressure from abroad
Britain’s largest retail lumber chain has boycotted Canadian wood products because they aren’t approved by the FSC. Other European buyers are raising the standard as well. Uncertified, clear cut logging just isn’t on.
Chris Hatch helped push the North American market toward certification. Hatch is an environmentalist with the Rainforest Action Network. He set his sights on North America’s largest lumber retailer – Home Depot.
The group’s goal was to stop the chain from buying wood from environmentally sensitive areas.
“We tried to go with the strategy that a swarm of wasps can drive even an elephant crazy,” Hatch told Marketplace.
The strategy paid off. Home Depot – with over 1000 stores across North America – announced that by the end of next year, it will only offer wood that meets the FSC’s stringent ecological standards.
Home Depot Canada says consumers convinced the company to demand certified wood.
“It’s reflective of a much more informed consumer,” Home Depot Canada’s president, Annette Verschuran said. “They are asking the questions. They recognize that the forest needs to be protected and we need to make that happen.”
It’s not just big retail chains that are striving for the right to carry the FSC logo. Tembec of Huntsville, Ontario, was the first company in Canada to have an FSC certified product.
“It really reinforced what we were already heading towards on getting all our products FSC certified,” said Kentin Martin, head of Tembec’s hardwood flooring division.
Consumers buying an FSC product are guaranteed the wood comes from sustainably managed forests and has been independently monitored by auditors who carefully trace a long paper trail.
To find out what an FSC forest looks like, Marketplace checked out one of Tembec’s operations north of Huntsville.
Traditionally, loggers highgraded – they took only the best trees.
“Loggers went in and they simply took the highest valued trees and left diseased trees,” Martin explained. “Over time, the forest became poorer and poorer and not representative of what nature would be otherwise.”
Under an FSC standard, Tembec’s contractors select and mark every tree before it’s cut. Half of what they take out are diseased trees.
Marketplace accompanied Tim McGuinnis as he inspected the forest for Tembec.
McGuinnis says single tree harvesting – a practice that leaves strong, young trees behind – will make the forest healthier.
“This tree over here is one we want to keep in the forest for two more rotations,” McGuinnis explained. “It’ll be good for 40 to 60 more years and put on a lot more good volume and nice white wood.”
Conditions the FSC require are the obvious ones any sensitive forest manager would think of. The skidder trail will be filled in; trees that have cavities and homes for wildlife are marked with a “w”, and are left standing.
“Makes me feel better for what I do and how I manage the forest,” McGuinnis said.
But there’s trouble in the world of wood certification. Only one per cent of all the supply available makes the grade and is certified. And in the West Coast, some of Canada’s, biggest forestry players don’t appear overly eager to fall into the FSC line.
Vancouver-based Interfor is the company drawing most of the heat from environmental groups. The relationship is so testy some Interfor loggers were recently charged after a violent incident.
Rick Slaco, Interfors chief forester,says his company practices what he calls “New Forestry.”
“We do a lot of helicopter logging,” Slaco explains.
“When you’re doing that, it’s an environmentally friendly way of extracting logs off the hills…We encourage people to come out and see what we do. We want show them.”
The Raincoast Conservation Society is one group that didn’t wait for an invitation. Last July it shot video at one of Interfors logging sites. The video shows scenes of clear-cut logging.
The society says that more than 90 per cent of what Interfor does is clear-cut old growth.
“If we were doing something wrong…we wouldn’t get approval to do it,” Slaco says. “So everything they’re doing is in compliance with the rules.”
The Raincoast Conservation Society says the big problem is everything that goes on under clear cut practices is in line with what the law requires.
That’s why people like the FSC’s John Cathro say logging companies should have to meet international certification requirements.
“Unfortunately we suffer from a lack of trust worldwide,” Cathro says. “We’ve been saying in British Columbia for a long time that we have the toughest forestry legislation in the world. I see FSC as being a very good opportunity to have that proven.”
Home Depot’s Annette Verschuren, says suppliers who don’t comply with FSC rules likely won’t be doing business with the chain. She adds Home Depot will work with companies that get their forest plan certified
Words like that from the president of a chain like Home Depot Canada are hitting home in the forestry industry. Increasingly, talk is tuming to action. In Langley, B.C. Shawood Lumber just got FSC certified. Owner Andy Shaw says he can’t believe how hot his product is.
“Certainly from overseas, the European and the UK market it’s been overwhelming,” Shaw says. “We were taken aback by the response. It was ‘ship us everything you can make.’ And if you have a product that is approved, environmentally friendly, consumer friendly, it opens market places that otherwise wouldn’t be open to us.”
As demand for certified, “good wood” increases, the choice appears clear. Keep logging status quo and risk taking a huge financial hit…or try to provide what consumers want.