The recent trend towards environmental consumerism and sustainable practices in North America and parts of Europe has contributed to an increase as of late, of sustainable forestry practices. The debate over what is sustainable and what certification means has involved industry groups, environmental organizations, governments, academics, scientists, consumer groups, and various other organizations. “Not so long ago, the notion of wooing consumers by claiming that wood or paper products were made from sustainably managed forests was nonsense.”
The notion, however, has become much less absurd in the past ten years. Now builders are advertising “no forests were destroyed to build this house” as a selling point and some major wood purchasing companies are beginning to jump on the band wagon, seeing the opportunity to advertise that they are selling environmentally friendly wood as a market angle that is only going to get bigger and better as environmentalism at the consumer level increases.
Companies are also now beginning to demand certification for the wood products that they purchase, for example, McDonalds, a company with its own reputational problems has even joined the call, “We serve 38 million people a day and they want to know what we’re doing to help the environment.” Langert director of McDonald’s public and community affairs said that McDonald’s plans to initiate its own SFI “scorecard” to monitor companies’ performance.
The company plans on trying to move as much of its packaging material business to wood product companies that have certification, “All things being equal, companies that are environmental leaders should get more of our business.” Two other major wood purchasing companies, IKEA and Home Depot have also made the switch to purchasing wood from companies with certification. For these reasons, the certification process has gone from a cute idea, to an emerging, real market requirement.
Government action in Canada has to an extent promoted, sustainable forest management, however, it has not attempted to enforce sustainable practices within Canada, leaving it instead up to the companies as to whether or not they will attempt to register and follow the sustainability guidelines set out. “Registration, also known as certification, is a voluntary process that assesses the conformance of a company’s management system with a standard.”
The concept of sustainable forestry has been ideologically endorsed by the Industry for some time, however, the industries definition of sustainable has been much more economically based then environmentally based and has for the most part done little to actually be environmentally sustainable, claiming that the sustainable measures environmental organisations are calling for as impossible, for any company to make a profit off of. There is however a existing example of good sustainable forestry practices that has been up and running for some time in Northern Wisconsin, the Menominee Tribe has been managing the forests on their reservation for years in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manor, utilising the latest technology and scientific advances.
“The Menominee approach leaves the forest abundantly provisioned with trees while yielding enough lumber for sales of $19 million and a profit of $5.2 million last year.” “How Menominee Tribal Enterprises, (MTE), manages the forest reflects the difference between answering to stockholders looking for maximum short-term profits, and being accountable to those who temper the desire for revenue with valuing resources.”  The MTE proves that it is possible for truly sustainable forestry to become a reality; the question now is whether private companies who don’t live on the land they harvest will be willing to do the same.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and International Standards Organisation ISO have both come out with sustainable forestry management certification programs, hoping to extend the certification of companies in the industry. A number of companies have taken advantage of these initiatives and worked for certification. “Willamette Industries, Inc. became the first major forest products company to receive independent third-party certification that its forest management practices are in compliance with standards of the American Forest & Paper Association’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative.”
The company had its 610,000 acres of Oregon forest lands audited by Price Waterhouse Coopers, in September 1999, and received special recognition for, “its forest practices in several areas: stream rehabilitation programs to enhance fish survival and passage, interaction with citizens’ groups in watershed and visual quality management, reforestation success, providing additional wildlife trees beyond requirements and positioning them to support protection of unique habitats, providing habitat for forest bat species and engaging in wildlife research.” The ISO certification has also been given out to a number of companies in Canada including Canadian industry giant International Forest Products, or Interfor, was certified by the ISO 14001 standard January 19, 2000, and has been “certified to world class environmental standards.”