By David Lindsay, President and CEO, Forest Products Association of Canada

As we approach the United Nations International Day of Forests (on March 21st), Canadians can feel proud that its forest products industry has become a world leader in environmental credentials.  For an industry that was admittedly once an environmental offender, the past few decades have been a remarkable journey.

For a start, the latest statistics show that Canada now has 43% of the world’s independently certified forests or more than 160 million hectares, which is four times more than any other country.   Certification means that companies follow progressive social and environmental forest management practices as assessed by an independent third body.  This includes prompt regeneration of the forest land, sustainable harvest levels, protection of biodiversity and wildlife habitat and Aboriginal engagement.

Besides being the world leader in certification by far, a Yale university study has recognized that Canada’s forestry regulations and laws are among the most stringent in the world.  By law, all harvested trees are regrown, ensuring the forest resource will be there for future generations.  Canada actually has virtually zero deforestation or just 0.02% a year.

The Canadian industry is also making strong progress in reducing its environmental footprint at the mill.  This includes a 70% reduction in greenhouse gases since 1990.  Air pollutants are down 52% and water pollutants have been reduced by 70% since 2005. Toxins such as PCBs and dioxins have been eliminated; coal is no longer used and the use of oil has been cut by more than 90% since 2000.

Canada also recycles about 70% of its paper and cardboard, making Canada among the top global performers.  Waste to landfill has also been cut by 30% since 2005.

The Canadian sector is also continuing to work with environmentalists.  This includes the landmark Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.  This represents a paradigm shift as forest companies and environmental group are working together to both integrate economic and environmental values.

Still the industry is not resting on its laurels and is actively striving to do more.  Under the sector’s Vision2020, The Canadian forest products industry is aiming to further reduce its environmental footprint by 35% by the end of the decade.  This is based on 12 parameters including greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water use, and caribou action plans.

The Canadian industry has come a long way in both its practices and its approach.  The sector realizes that being responsible stewards of the land is an essential part of its social license to operate.  And the international marketplace has taken note. A 2014 Leger survey of international customers found that Canada’s forest products industry had the best environmental reputation in the world.   All in all the industry is firmly dedicated to ‘growing a greener tomorrow”,  using Canada’s renewable forests to benefit both the environment and the economy.