If you're working in the forest products industry you've probably had a similar experience to this.
At a social occasion, somebody asks you what you do for a living. Then he or she brings up something they've heard in the media – deforestation, clearcutting, destruction of ancient forests, the paperless office killing the paper industry, etc. How do you respond? Each of these is a complex issue that the media have distorted, exaggerated, misunderstood or just plainly got wrong. If you give too long an answer, you are regarded as either a zealot or a bore, but if you give too short an answer, it suggests the media are correct, and you are hiding something!
On the other hand, at least we're not trying to defend an industry that's harvesting fossil fuels or another limited resource, because that conversation would be a little more challenging and politically-charged. It should be easy to defend the forest products industry, because it's a sustainable one that has worked hard to minimize its impact on the environment. As stewards of the world's forests and producer of many "green" products, the industry has an important role to play in sustainable development and in reversing climate change.
There is no magic solution to the social dilemma in the first paragraph, except to know the facts and give an appropriate response. Like any sales pitch, credibility is always improved with more information available for your audience to peruse at their leisure, if so inclined. In the pre-internet days when Greenpeace's main fundraising activity was sending young, gullible canvassers to ring doorbells, I used to keep some printed articles with forestry facts near my front door in order to set them straight, but now ENGOs have found that providing disinformation to the media is a more effective way to raise money.
Now there's a new tool to access facts about forestry and its products, from a Canadian perspective. John Mullinder, executive director of PPEC, the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council, and a fellow blogger on PaperAdvance, has just published a book entitled "Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News". I like the provocative title of this book. Mullinder has tackled various myths propagated about the industry and provided the real facts in a way that's approachable and easy to understand. At the same time, it's chock-full of references and appendices to back up all the facts, for those that want to learn more. This is a good primer for industry professionals about Canadian forest facts, but also great for educating friends and family members, not to mention forest product customers in order to rebut the messages they hear from some ENGOs. You can buy it online at Amazon or Indigo.
Martin Fairbank has worked in the forest products industry for 31 years,
including many years for a pulp and paper producer and two years with
Natural Resources Canada. With a Ph.D. in chemistry and experience in
process improvement, product development, energy management and lean
manufacturing, Martin currently works as an independent consultant,
based in Montreal. He is also an author, having recently published
Resolute Roots, a history of Resolute Forest Products and its
predecessors over the last 200 years.
Martin Fairbank Consulting
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