NGOs: friend or foe to the paper industry?

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NGOs: friend or foe to the paper industry?

June 04, 2014 - 09:50
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The Great Bear Rainforest in BC is an example of a successful land use agreement (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

BRUSSELS, June 1, 2014 (PPI Magazine) - It's safe to say that the pulp and paper industry's view of NGOs has dramatically changed over the past 20 years. No longer dismissed as a bunch of trouble-making, long-haired college kids who don't want to work and no longer viewed as "eco-terrorists" who want to completely shut down an industry, over the years, the industry, perhaps reluctantly, has come to view the NGOs as having the best interests of the planet in mind. Nor do the NGOs view the forest products companies or their executives as rapacious destroyers of the universe.

Reaching common ground was not always an easy task. All realized that working together, through their mutual suspicions, was a better way to achieve success. It's not a perfect world and may never be. There are still exceptions to the previous statements and some sticky points remain.

But how do the NGOs view themselves in relation to the forest products industry? What is their role? PPI recently interviewed representatives from two of North America's (and global) leading NGOs: Linda Walker, manager, Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) - North America for the World Wild-life Fund (WWF); and Richard Brooks, forest coordinator, Greenpeace Canada.

Prior to joining WWF, Walker was a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain-of-custody auditor with Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program. While a graduate student in Indonesia, she studied Sumatra's pulp and paper industry.

Brooks says that in Canada, Greenpeace's activities are split fairly evenly among three sectors: forest conservation; climate change and energy; and oceans. Globally, he adds that Greenpeace is more into climate change but that deforestation factors heavily into this issue.

He leads Greenpeace Canada's forest team and has been with Greenpeace for 12 years and states that much of his work is corporate partnership. The "banners on the buildings" only account for about 10% of the organization's work. However, Brooks stresses that, "This is important because it is an attention grabber and gets Greenpeace in the door and gives us a position of being able to negotiate with power."

This type of tactic and the NGOs' (not just Greenpeace) ability to master the short soundbite that makes news headlines is a way to motivate people to learn about issues, connect with the issues and support Greenpeace, Brooks adds. "We rely on people power to solve problems with governments and organizations."

This is of particular interest to well-branded consumer companies, adds Brooks, because Greenpeace is speaking directly to their customers "and we can drive consumer demand."

For Walker, the focus of the WWF is slightly different. She says that WWF's mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth. "Our vision is to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature. Environmental NGOs all work to create a better future for both people and the planet. Given the scale of the challenges we face, all groups need to work together to tackle the pressing challenges facing our planet."

WWF claims its unique contribution is its foundation in science and the strength of its global network of more than 5,000 staff in more than 100 countries with expertise in science, markets, policy and sustainable finance. "Working to influence conservation at both the local, regional and global levels, WWF realizes that our conservation goals can only be achieved by leveraging the scale and influence of companies to advance sustainability within their supply chains and operations," Walker adds.

"Some of our peers in the environmental community tend to have a more activist approach than WWF, while others provide different services, like auditing, that are valuable in verifying sustainability claims. No single NGO can address the challenges we face in isolation, and others provide complementary initiatives such as a greater focus on campaigning or advocacy."

WWF uses many tools to engage with companies, governments, and other stakeholders to drive improved environmental and social performance within the pulp and paper sector. Walker explains, "These tools are often part of our company engagements through GFTN. We also make tools and resources available to the broader industry, including the Paper Company Environmental Index and Check Your Paper tool, which was designed to reward transparency and promote continual improvement in reducing the environmental footprint of paper production. In addition, WWF's New Generations Plantations Platform engages companies and governments to make environmentally and socially responsible decisions in plantation management by sharing best practices and promoting learning."

What do you see the primary role of the NGO in relation to the forest products industry: advisor, consultant, watch dog or police dog?

To Walker, it's all of the above. "NGOs can also act as partners, cheerleaders, conveners, trend spotters, issue experts, and in a variety of other roles. WWF is a solutions-oriented NGO that focuses on providing pragmatic, science-based guidance and tools for the forest products industry and forest products buyers. Through WWF's GFTN, we work to engage with companies to ensure that forests are managed in a way that is both environmentally and socially responsible and minimize the environmental footprint of forest-based products."

Brooks also sees elements of all four in discussing Greenpeace's role. As an advisor in helping companies develop their procurement policies, e.g., what type of paper to buy? "People will come to us for feedback on what to avoid."

Brooks likens the consultant role to the advisor but points out that Greenpeace accepts no government or corporate financing. "The only incentive we have is to help drive positive change."

Of course, Greenpeace is no stranger to the "watch dog/police dog" role. "If a company is unwilling to act, we can put pressure on it," Brooks says. This could include the famous banners, going to their customers, ultimately having a negative effect on the company's reputation.

The role an NGO plays often evolves over time. Brooks cites the example of Kimberly-Clark (K-C), a company Walker also mentions. For Greenpeace, this started with a public campaign at the beginning to highlight K-C's poor choices of pulp suppliers. "We spoke to their customers such as universities, hotels as well as the public," Brooks says. "It evolved into an advisory role to help K-C develop a new procurement policy. Now, we meet on a regular basis with them."

It should be noted that representatives from K-C and Greenpeace, including Brooks, were on the same panel during a session at PaperWeek Canada in February discussing the evolution of the relationship.

Why do you think the NGOs have become such a force within the sector since the 1980s?

According to Walker, specifically in the forest products industry, there has been a lot of activist attention on forest products companies in the past decade, as it relates to both forest practices and also the energy, water and chemical use associated with paper production. Partly through this pressure, and partly through competition and innovation within the sector, many paper companies have become more transparent about their practices.

"At the same time, consumers are asking more questions about the story behind the products they buy, and are more aware of their purchasing power to impact the health and perpetuity of forests. WWF's GFTN has been operating since 1991 to ensure that forests are well managed and that forest products come from legal and responsible sources. By partnering with nearly 200 companies committed to responsible production and sourcing of forest products, GFTN is increasing the economic incentives for responsible forest management.

"The success of GFTN is dependent on companies and consumers continuing to value responsible management and acknowledging their potential to enact change. Today, participating GFTN companies account for over 19 million hectares of FSC-certified forests and represent 22% of global trade in forest products by volume."

Brooks echoes Walker's comments in many ways, also going back in time to the late 1980s. Greenpeace saw that there was a significant opportunity to put pressure on companies that it felt were causing problems with harvesting, for example, in the global rainforests. "There was a need to preserve these because of the immense biodiversity these forests protected."

Brooks adds that the campaigns Greenpeace were running at the time were not working within the timeframe needed. "Deforestation was progressing too fast."

Therefore, it was necessary to ramp up the pressure. "We targeted irresponsible companies and look at market-based campaigns versus lobbying government to change the policy.

"Since then and the success we have enjoyed, we became more successful at engaging companies to change." Brooks cited Canadian success stories such as Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest.

Reaching the customer's customer and even the customer's customer's customer was all important and is the reason, Brook says, that Greenpeace gained the respect it has now.

What are the specific challenges for the forest products sector in terms of the environment, e.g., water conservation, air emissions, liquid emissions, forestry issues?

Walker says the forest sector faces many environmental challenges that are all exacerbated by land use change, particularly by the conversion of natural forests. "When not sourced and produced in a responsible manner, forest products can contribute to unnecessary destruction or degradation of forest areas; threatened or endangered species and habitats; regional biodiversity; air quality; water quality; soil health; or preventable greenhouse gas emissions."

Fortunately, she adds, the forest sector can also be a force for conservation by providing the demand for responsibly sourced forest products, which helps protect important forested areas and create a sustainable landscape for production. "By providing the innovation and technical advances needed to address these challenge, we see positive impacts on the ground for forests, wildlife and communities through our work with GFTN participant companies."

Land use is also Greenpeace's biggest concern related to the forest products industry. Brooks says that in a Canadian context, it's: where is logging taking place? This includes how companies cut as well as protection of streams and riparian zones.

"The biggest issue is where they cut. In Canada, there are very few intact areas of land that have never been cut and this affects global warming. Are we going to allow companies to cut in these areas or are we going to restrict where they can operate?"

Is FSC is the only credible forest certification program? Why or why not?

Both organizations agree that Forest Stewardship Council certification is the only way to go. "For us, FSC is the only credible certification program because it is the one that does the best job of protecting environmental values and respecting indigenous peoples' interests and is recognized globally as credible.

"FSC is not perfect," Brooks adds. "We are trying to improve it and make it more solid but it is the best we have compared with the other certification programs."

He notes that FSC certification is not the only marker of responsible forestry practices. "It is not sufficient to just be FSC certified. You need to prove you are continually meeting FSC standards and to show where your products come from, i.e., protect intact forest areas. We feel some areas are too important to develop, FSC or not."

While WWF acknowledges that other certification programs can be valuable, WWF believes that the FSC is the most credible and globally applicable forest certification program. According to Walker, it is the only program with equal representation of economic, environmental, and social interests that provides robust and transparent public summaries of compliance toward verifiable forest management objectives. "While most other certification programs have some elements of their standards that address social or environmental issues, FSC-labeled products provide the greatest assurance of social and environmental benefits and have demonstrated positive on-the-ground impacts globally."

How do you work with a company? Is there give and take? Or is it "My way or the highway"? Can you give examples?

GreenBiz recently released a report that provides corporate perspectives on the value of engaging with 30 environmental non-profits. These corporations gave WWF the highest ranking as a ‘trusted partner' and awarded WWF the distinction of the most influential NGO partner.

Walker says, "This recognition would not be possible without our corporate partners finding value in our science-based and solutions-oriented approach to tackling the most pressing environmental concerns facing people, nature and business.

"When we engage with companies through the GFTN we are working collaboratively to achieve mutually agreed upon goals, through a stepwise approach that drives verifiable results. We want both parties to succeed and innovate together."

One example is WWF's work with Kimberly-Clark. As part of its participation in GFTN, WWF and K-C collaborated to realize the company's commitment to source 100% of its virgin wood fiber from certified suppliers by 2015. This commitment includes a preference for FSC certification, which best meets WWF key requirements for protecting environmental, social and economic values essential to maintaining priority forests.

"We worked with Kimberly-Clark to build a robust procurement policy and certification targets," Walker adds." As a participant in GFTN, the company has to report progress towards the procurement of credibly certified and recycled fiber and Kimberly-Clark shows best practice in its transparency. Kimberly-Clark was awarded WWF's 2012 Environmental Paper Award, achieving an "Excellent" rating for its environmental performance on responsible fiber sourcing, clean manufacturing, and environmental management systems."

Brooks says the "My way or the highway" approach does not work. Positive results are best reached through negotiation. "There is give and take at the table."

Often, Brooks explains that Greenpeace and the parties it represents or that are part of the issue will "Go in with the Big Ask" but will then be willing to negotiate downwards. "We will ask companies to go as far as they can. We know what's in the realm of possibility. We do challenge companies to think outside the box: be a leader; be a trendsetter; think about non-monetary values.

"We know we can't push a company into bankruptcy and then expect it to save a forest. We are realistic and pragmatic but we do push."

Brooks points out that Greenpeace has long-lasting partnerships with companies globally. He says these companies do appreciate Greenpeace for pushing them to take a different approach. "Things have changed," he adds. "The pace of change is now quicker. Companies are responding quicker."

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