Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Co-op Sells First Eco-lumber

August 1, 2002

Last month, workers laid down a new floor of polished Douglas fir at Gavin Davidson and Liz Freyman’s modest home on Vancouver’s East Side near Fraser Street and 25th Avenue. The floor they installed in the couple’s kitschy Vancouver Special represented an important turning point in the B.C. forest industry, according to local environmentalists and consultants. The flooring was the first retail sale of B.C.-harvested and Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood in the history of the recently established Canadian Eco-Lumber Co-op.

Bob Blake cut the premium-quality Douglas fir at his woodlot operation in the Cariboo, and Damon Zirnhelt sawed the logs into rough planks at the Zirnhelt family mill operation nearby. The fir went by truck to Vancouver’s East Side, to Grant Wyllychuk’s one-person operation at the dusty, cedar-scented Ornamentum Furniture shop in the grimy industrial neighbourhood on the False Creek flats just west of where First Avenue intersects with Clark Drive. Here the wood underwent its final milling, then ended up in the living and dining rooms of the Davidson-Freyman home.

“We’re very happy with this purchase,” Davidson said in an interview. “The price was competitive with noncertified wood, it builds the local value-added sector, and it was harvested in a way that doesn’t trash the forest, all reasons to support the co-op.”

The co-op was founded last year by a group of small-scale woodlot operators (two in the Cariboo and one on Vancouver Island), the Harrop-Proctor community-forest operation near Nelson (a project that has united once-embattled loggers and antilogging activists in a joint effort to protect jobs, water, and forests), and two value-added manufacturers (Ornamentum and Prince George’s 3-D Wood Design). Environmental groups like Ecotrust Canada, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and the David Suzuki Foundation are also members of the co-op.

Co-op members represent most of the forestry operations in the province that are entitled to stamp their product with the much-coveted Forest Stewardship Council logo. (A significant exception, FSC-certified but not yet a member of the co-op, is Iisaak Forest Resources, a joint venture between the Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nation and Weyerhaeuser Ltd. based in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island. It is hoped at the Eco-Lumber Co-op that much of the wood harvested at Clayoquot will be marketed through the operation.)

The FSC’s “green stamp” of approval is given by groups accredited by the international body to certify wood and wood products that have been harvested and manufactured under strict environmental and social-justice standards. There are 12 accredited FSC certification bodies worldwide, with most of the certifications in Canada granted by the B.C.-based Silva Forest Foundation, the U.S.-based Smartwood and Scientific Certification Systems, and the U.K.-based Soils Association.

Co-op organizer and former FSC certifier Cam Brewer told the Straight that the strenuous yearlong effort to get the co-op off the ground had been well worth the effort.

“With the successful opening of our co-op, small-scale producers who take the time to harvest their wood in an ecologically respon-sible fashion, value-added manufacturers who build an environmental conscience into their well-crafted products, and sophisticated consumers like Liz and Gavin, who want their dollars to support sustainable eco-forestry, all have a new opportunity to connect. Our co-op pools products from small operations for economical transport and sales, connects with expanding markets, and educates consumers about responsible logging, milling, and purchasing standards. The Eco-Lumber Co-op provides an opportunity for everyone to win.”

The clean-cut and enthusiastic Brewer also told the Straight that the co-op could potentially move up to 42,000 cubic metres of certified lumber next year through a new warehouse, slated to open in the East Side this September.

Tamara Stark, a Vancouver forestry campaigner with Greenpeace, is also enthusiastic. “This is a fundamentally important way to give small producers a way to move certified lumber products, and a way to demonstrate the demand for FSC wood. With the softwood-lumber dispute with the US, European markets are even more important, and increasingly the Europeans want certified wood.”

The Forest Stewardship Council, operating globally and with its headquarters in Mexico, took shape in 1993 at a Toronto conference organized by nvironmentalists, forestry companies, indigenous groups, and academics who were concerned about destructive forestry practices in tropical hardwood forests. The FSC establishes both global and area-specific standards for acceptable logging and manufacturing practices, with a focus on protecting the forest, supporting biodiversity, respecting the claims of indigenous peoples, and encouraging fair labour practices. B.C.-specific standards have been developed over a five-year process of stakeholder round-table meetings throughout the province. Final, formal international approval of the B.C. standards is scheduled for later this summer.

All this didn’t happen in a political vacuum. The ’90s were a turbulent decade for the forest industry, a time in which Greenpeace and other activist groups highlighted the issues of old-growth timber and sustainable forestry in high-profile media events around the world and made sustainable logging an issue for many consumers.

A growing body of lumber retailers and commercial home builders, responding to this pressure, are now specifying a preference for certified lumber in their purchase orders. This trend has been accelerated by recent decisions at industry giants Home Depot and IKEA to give purchasing preference to FSC-certified lumber. In the United Kingdom, for example, FSC-certified wood dominates the retail market, accounting for more than 70 percent of sales last year. More than 441 enterprises in 50-plus countries have received FSC certification so far. Twenty-nine million hectares of forest around the world are now FSC-certified, an area roughly equivalent to twice that covered by the state of Washington.

Not everyone in the B.C. forest industry is happy with this turn of events. Ken Drushka, long-time media commentator on the B.C. industry, dismissed certification as a “bizarre process” in a Vancouver Sun article last year. Charles Widman, a well-known B.C. forest-industry consultant, although willing to praise the Eco-Lumber Co-op’s emergence as “a positive step in environmentally sustainable logging”, told the Straight that “some in the industry feel the FSC standards are too tough, and they’re looking at other channels. The situation hasn’t played out yet.”

The “other channels” Widman is talking about, presumably, are less-stringent certification schemes like those administered by the Canadian Standards Association and the International Organization for Standardization. Bruce McIntyre, a global-forestry-and-paper spokes-person at PricewaterhouseCoopers, told the Straight that the Forest Stewardship Council has played a valuable role in raising public awareness of certification issues. He added, however: “I don’t see FSC or any other system of certification dominating the market in the future. There’s room for multiple systems, and each of the certification programs has its strengths.”

On the other hand, the Forest Alliance of B.C., the industry umbrella group that has traditionally led the fight against environmental groups and their forestry concerns, has joined the Forest Stewardship Council in B.C. and participated in developing its B.C.-specific standards for sustainable logging.

This unlikely membership decision is a tribute to the FSC’s strong international credibility. The fledgling co-op may never be large enough to sell truckloads of two-by-fours to Home Depot, but it already offers an important choice to consumers and will continue to provide a visible presence in the market for the human-scale ecoforestry operations that many observers see as the most hopeful recent developments in the B.C. woods.