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Forest Stewardship Council misleads Canadians, smears paper packaging

An open letter to Francois Dufresne, President and CEO of Forest Stewardship Council (Canada)

Dear Mr. Dufresne:

I recognize that FSC is in a three-way fight for market share in the forest and paper certification business, and that part of that fight is your recent launch of a new video plug for FSC aimed at the users of paper packaging.

Actually, as a commercial it’s not bad. Congratulations. Except for the big lie, or maybe I should say the totally misleading perception that the video leaves about paper packaging and deforestation. Because your slick commercial perpetuates a forestry myth, broadly smearing the Canadian packaging industry in the process.

The video begins well though. Some ”70% of consumers want the packaging of the products they buy to be sourced responsibly.” Couldn’t agree more. Wish it was higher. The good news is that every mill member of PPEC already has proof of responsible sourcing: independent third-party chain-of-custody certification as to where its fibre comes from, whether recycled or virgin.

The smear

But then comes the smear. “Paper, board and bioplastics can be a result of deforestation or poor forestry practices.” Can be? What does that mean? Could be? Or maybe, might not be? Which is it? And where’s the evidence, the examples, for this link you make between packaging and deforestation? Unfortunately, your video doesn’t provide any. Just smears everyone.

When you posted your commercial on Linked-In, I challenged you to provide specific examples of situations where trees used for packaging were harvested from forests that were not later regrown. Because that’s the law in Canada, as you know, Mr. Dufresne. Any provincial (crown) forest land that’s harvested must be successfully regenerated afterwards, either naturally or artificially (through tree planting or direct seeding).

A week went by with no answer, and then you posted the clip again. This time I pointed out (as if you didn’t already know) that the United Nations does not consider deforestation to have occurred when a forest is returned to forest. That is, when it remains as forest and is not converted to non-forest uses such as agriculture, oil and gas projects, hydro-electric development, residential subdivisions, and so on. (I’ve attached a link to a UN definition of deforestation for your benefit).

Forest Stewardship Counccil

But you already know this. . You acknowledged this when you responded to my second Linked-In comment, and it’s posted on your website: : Deforestation, clearance or clearing is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest use. (Underline added).

Forest Land

And how much of Canada’s forest land was converted to non-forest use in the latest data year? According to Natural Resources Canada, about 37,000 hectares or just 0.01 per cent. And how much of that conversion of forest land to non-forest land was the forest industry responsible for? Well, a smidge under 1400 hectares. Do the math. That means that the forest industry’s deforestation rate was a mere 0.0004 per cent.* Yes, that’s three zeroes and a four.

But that’s the total forest and paper industries combined (lumber, pulp, newsprint, everybody). What about packaging’s contribution? Well it may come as a surprise to you, Mr. Dufrense, but hardly any freshly-cut trees are used to make paper packaging in Canada at all. In fact, most boxes and cartons made by Canadian mills are 100% recycled content. So basically, they are not responsible for any deforestation. Nada. So why are you smearing the paper packaging industry in Canada and their customers with this deforestation BS? Why are you perpetuating this myth? It’s inaccurate, dishonest, and a smear on the whole Canadian industry.

Oh no, we meant global forests, you say, referring to an article (written over 10 years ago!) about the 10 countries with the worst deforestation rates in the world (not including Canada, of course). I’m sorry Mr. Dufresne, but that’s not good enough. You posted this as president and CEO of FSC Canada, and the video is proudly displayed on the FSC Canada website. People are entitled to assume you are talking about Canada. The buck stops with you.

If FSC Canada wants to have any credibility with the paper packaging industry and its customers, I would strongly suggest that you immediately remove any reference to deforestation in your commercial. And I will be among the first to commend you for your honesty.

Yours sincerely,

John Mullinder

Executive Director, PPEC


*Canada’s forest lands in 2016 amounted to 347 million hectares. Of this, some 1,368 hectares (0.0004%) was allocated by the National Deforestation Monitoring System to forestry-related deforestation, primarily because of the creation of new permanent access roads into the harvest areas (Natural Resources Canada).

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John Mullinder

John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC - Regular posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry

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