Linda Coady, forest. A\J Photo: Grant Harder

A 20-YEAR VETERAN of BC’s forestry sector, Linda Coady served as vice-president of environmental affairs for both MacMillan Bloedel and Weyerhaeuser before joining WWF and then VANOC, where she led efforts to green the Vancouver Olympic Games. Now a distinguished fellow at the University of British Columbia’s Lui Institute for Global Issues, Coady recently plumbed the future of forestry with Alternatives editor-in-chief Nicola Ross.

Nicola Ross: Why did you call Clayoquot Sound “the mother of all conflicts”?

Linda Coady: I thought of it as the mother of all conflicts because it produced a lot of “children” who grew and produced change, and sometimes havoc, in their own right. Children in terms of special initiatives. Clayoquot was the point where the conflict burst, and government and industry didn’t have a Plan B. And the result was a lot of displacement and a lot of bitterness. What I took from that is that this kind of change should not come through the barrel of a conflict. To be equitable, it needs to come through negotiation and discussion with all of the different interests involved. The Great Bear Rainforest benefited. With the knowledge of Clayoquot behind us, I think that harvesting reductions, the set-aside areas, all of those things were accomplished in a much smoother way. It didn’t mean that people always agreed with each other, but the process was more inclusive and took place over a longer period of time and, therefore, it was fairer. It wasn’t like a car crash.

NR: Is the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (May 2010) an extension to what happened on the West Coast?

LC: I think that some of the institutional knowledge, the stories, a few of the relationships that rolled from Clayoquot to the Great Bear Rainforest did influence the CBFA. The facilitator was the same as was used for the Great Bear Rainforest. But it’s different. It was 20 years later, but they got all of these groups together and got an agreement that could be implemented over time, and that called for additional investment, and that gave the companies more eco-credibility in the marketplace. There was tremendous learning about how you can manage even within a secondary-growth forest. That’s really where the debate needs to move on to. It’s great to have parks and protected areas, but we are managing within our commercial tenures for mining, for forestry, for oil and gas. Now we are managing for conservation, but moreover to maintain living ecosystems. It really was the intervention of the Aboriginal chiefs in Clayoquot Sound that led to a very different outcome.

NR: The CBFA lacks Aboriginal agreement. What impact will this have?

LC: I think that this is a big issue for the credibility of the Boreal Forest Agreement. I remember being in a [Clayoquot] meeting with the chiefs, and the NGOs were there, and it was actually on board the Rainbow Warrior. Inside the Rainbow Warrior, the chiefs told us that if we kept fighting with each other, they were going to kick us out of Clayoquot Sound. They could just see that the battle of the titans, between big environmental groups and big companies, was totally going to marginalize their interests.

NR: How is the forestry sector doing now?

LC: SustainAbility, John Elkington’s group, just released The Sustainability Survey 2011. They have 512 sustainability experts around the world that rate trends. Sustainability experts aren’t feeling too optimistic about the prospects for the world, but it’s interesting that when the experts were asked to rank business sectors, forestry came out the best. The best of a bad lot because no one is doing enough, but it shows you something.

NR: About a year after you left Weyerhaeuser, you said that there was a new business model for forestry. Has it been born yet?

LC: It’s certainly not as far along as I hoped it would be by now. I think that the economic circumstances changed it. I really firmly believed that on the coast of BC, there was an opportunity to have a high-performance conservation forestry model that put a smaller amount of higher end product into the market, and could be marketed on the unique values of old growth and Aboriginal communities. Not conservation forestry in a tree farm. In those days, we believed that you could create a business model where there could be a return on forest lands not only from timber. That you could get a return from biodiversity, carbon, community stewardship and water. A fully integrated model. When there was not an international agreement for a global carbon-trading system in Copenhagen [2009], when carbon remained strictly voluntary, it really changed the context behind carbon in the model. It’s not that it’s completely dead; it’s just that it didn’t get the breath that everyone thought it would.

NR: What would it take to make your dream for the West Coast forestry sector come true?

LC: You have to have a way for the people doing the stewardship of the resource to derive income from more than just timber. That’s a fundamental economic challenge. We need a new model that puts value on the other ecosystem services besides timber – or oil and gas or minerals. A key part of it is including economic values from standing, healthy, functioning ecosystems and then linking that value (and this is the part that I think some environmental groups miss) to a commercial product through an eco-label, through a whatever. But it has to be linked to a brand, and marketed differently so that companies that get behind it get a benefit.

NR: With Walmart greening its supply chain, aren’t they setting the environmental agenda?

LC: It’s an important and new development. My students are talking about global supply chains. Now it is possible to track things like carbon, water, biodiversity, human rights and health across these massive networks of business. It’s not just Walmart; it’s HP and Apple, it is all of these companies that are looking across their supply chains because they think that their performance on sustainability will limit their ability to expand in emerging markets such as Mexico or Brazil or India. I think that this is a very positive development.

NR: You mention Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, authors of the 2004 essay “The Death of Environmentalism.” What are they saying now?

LC: They are saying that we have to redefine our issues as human development issues. We cannot allow another clash between science and politics [as happened in Copenhagen] because the world doesn’t have time. They are saying to people “reboot.” It kind of goes back to the lessons we learned on the Coast. We were redefining our issues as human development issues and maybe we wouldn’t have done that if the chiefs hadn’t threatened to kick us out. Maybe this is where Rio +20 gets interesting. Let’s have a version of green economy that works in our country, but also addresses social equity and poverty.

NR: Would the CEO of a major forestry company understand the discussion we’ve just had?

LC: I did talk to a number of them to find out why they signed the CBFA, and I was very surprised at how many of them do talk this kind of language. They are certainly aware of it in forestry. I think that Avrim Lazar at the Forest Products Association of Canada has really worked hard with his members [CEOs of big forestry companies]. The ability of forest companies to invest in additional environmental innovation has really been constrained in the last few years. But forestry companies really want to market their products as green products.

NR: What would these CEOs say about the changes in the forestry sector?

LC: I hope they’d say they thought it [the change] was worth it. Some of them would say “I feel better about it and my kids like me better, but Linda, we’re still not making money.”

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

If you liked this article, please subscribe or donate today to support our work.

A\J moderates comments to maintain a respectful and thoughtful discussion.
Comments may be considered for publication in the magazine.