Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Forest forum unites age-old rivals

May 6, 2002

Environmentalists, industrialists discuss preserving trees

(Atlanta, GA) – Behind the hardy-door exhibits and finished-furniture displays at last month’s Forest Leadership Forum, there was an even firmer purpose — uniting environmentalists and industrialists to save the world’s forests.

Wood products companies and conservation groups are age-old rivals: one fighting to prevent deforesting and preserve ecosystems, the other aiming to maximize profits in part by minimizing restrictions.

While many significant differences remain, the three-day conference in Atlanta could signal a major turning point for both sides of the forestry debate.

“What we’re seeing today is a coming together of organizations that probably were not on speaking terms with one another five years ago, maybe even a year ago,” said V. Alaric Sample of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation.

More than a thousand people from 44 nations attended the April 25-27 conference, sponsored by such strange bedfellows as Greenpeace, International Paper, the World Wildlife Fund and Home Depot.

Event organizers called it the first time environmentalists and retailers of wood products have come together for constructive talks about responsibly harvesting, selling and growing wood products.

The time has come for such a dialogue, said Bruce Cabarle of the World Wildlife Fund.

“We need to have allies, and those who have often been cast in the role of villains — rightly or wrongly so — needed to be part of the solution,” Cabarle said.

Landscape has changed?

Some in the wood products industry also feel the landscape has changed, both literally and politically. They insist they have increasingly tried to be friendlier to the environment, and say befriending environmentalists is a logical next step.

“Forestry today is significantly more environmentally oriented and with greater stewardship than it was even 10 years ago,” said George O’Brien of International Paper.

Still, not everybody agreed on everything; not by any means.

The most heated debate revolved around certification — namely, selecting and labeling wood products to verify they came from well-managed forests.

Many environmentalists support the FSC system, under which wood is categorized by the Forest Stewardship Council. The lumber industry, meanwhile, is pushing its own, less stringent system, claiming FSC certification is too costly to businesses and ultimately consumers.