Hot-button Bling: Boycott Telus Explained

Yesterday Telus tweeted in support of a federal government announcement that provinces must put a price on carbon by 2018. This prompted a call for boycotts by those that oppose the government’s position. Although the boycott itself is small, and appears likely that it will not change Telus' position on carbon pricing, it is an example of how boycotts are increasingly a result of companies’ positions on “public” matters, rather than their conduct as businesses.

What happened?

Yesterday Telus tweeted:

And, as you can see I favourited the tweet... #fulldisclosure

And, as you can see I favourited the tweet... #fulldisclosure

This Tweet accompanied a statement by Smart Prosperity supporting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement that by 2018 every province would need to have a price on carbon, or else the federal government would implement one. Smart Prosperity is an organization Smart Prosperity is a movement that seeks to promote transformation toward sustainability in Canada. As the Tweet notes, Telus had been a participant in Smart Prosperity from the beginning. But so has Shell Canada, which is a major funder of the initiative. The statement itself had been signed by individuals from companies such as McKinsey, Unilever Canada, Desjardins Group, RBC, and Loblaws.

The “boycott” thus far is relatively small, with just 200 or so social media users Tweeting about it (although admittedly one of these was Ezra Levant) in the first 24h following the tweet. But this was already enough to prompt Telus to Tweet an apology:

Throughout the day the boycott campaign grew, though it has not, to my knowledge, trended on Twitter at any point. It does now have a hashtag (#boycotttelus) and a website And MP Michelle Rempel issued a statement criticizing Telus in the House of Commons, presumably because of the attention the issue has received on social media. As is common for boycotts on social media, a counter-boycott hashtag (#boycotteverything) has also developed.

What’s the context?

This, of course, isn’t the first time that a company has spurred boycott calls for its position on issues that are perceived as being “too political”.

You might remember a similar social media boycott campaign that Tim Hortons was caught up in about a year ago. The company had been airing oil sands ads on their in-house television screens. Following complaints from environmentalists the company opted to stop showing the ads. That decision then spurred boycott calls from supporters of the oil sands in Alberta, who viewed the move as unpatriotic.

Another more successful movement, #boycottEarls, pushed the Western Canadian restaurant chain to backtrack on its decision to cease buying Alberta beef.

Internationally, bigger boycott campaigns come to mind. For instance, last summer US retailer Target announced that it was changing its bathrooms policy to allow transgendered individuals to choose their preferred bathrooms. Americans opposing this new policy created the grassroots #boycottTarget movement In the quarter during which the boycott occurred, Target lost around 2.2% of same-store transactions, while sales fell 7.2% (although this might not all have been due to the boycott).

Why do companies take positions on policy issues like climate change?

Companies do sometimes take positions on policy issues or participate in groups that work to resolve policy challenges. Because oftentimes these problems cross national boundaries, they are referred to by experts as global public policy networks (GPPNs). For example, companies such as Intel and Apple have participated in policy discussions about conflict minerals with governments, NGOs, and other actors through the OECD. The reason that companies participate in these initiatives usually is that their business activities have some effect on the policy problem. Oftentimes they are responding to consumer demands through things like boycott campaigns, but other times they are seeking to influence government policy, or to carve out a niche in the market by looking like leaders in a given area that consumers care about (say, sustainability).

Climate change is an interesting issue because it is about all of the resources we use, and because it is a cross-cutting challenge that will affect many areas of our lives. So, potentially the activities of every company are relevant to combatting climate change. 

As a boycott campaign, #boycottTelus seems likely to be small and ineffectual. Telus may think twice about sharing its positions on social media, but it has not signalled willingness to retract its position on carbon pricing nor does it seem likely that it will denounce Smart Prosperity. What is interesting about the Telus boycott is the framing: this boycott campaign contributes to an ongoing debate about when it is appropriate for companies to take policy positions, especially for an issue like climate change. 

15 Years of Marine Stewardship Council Certification: Not So Long, But Thanks for All the Fish!

When purchasing sustainable products most people rely on eco-labels: images posted on packaging that indicate that the producer of that item has adhered to a given set of criteria on the environmental impact of production. Not all eco-labels are alike, however, so it is important to ensure that the one you go by uses third party certification and has rigorous standards. 

When purchasing sustainable seafood there may be several different eco-labels available to you, but the one that is largest and most well-known is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC now accounts for about 10% of global wild caught seafood (as compared to aquaculture/farmed fish) but this proportion is often much higher in developed countries, where the demand for certified fish is higher. In Canada, for example, 67% of domestic wild catch seafood is MSC certified.

See that blue label? That's what MSC certification looks like!

See that blue label? That's what MSC certification looks like!

In addition to being the most widely used eco-label, MSC is also well-known for its rigorous standards (although it has been criticized for focusing too narrowly on the sustainability of fish stocks instead of the overall environmental impact of fisheries and the fish supply chain, as well as for having a process that is too burdensome for small fisheries and fisheries in developing countries). If you are looking for sustainably caught seafood, the MSC is probably your best bet: it is the most likely to actually be available in stores near you and has standards that are reasonably stringent and evaluated impartially, based on evidence. 

The MSC is noteworthy today because it just released its annual report documenting the eco-label's fifteenth year since the first fishery was MSC certified. Some of the highlights from the annual report are included below.

The Highlights of MSC's Annual Report


  • MSC certified 40 new fisheries -- which is pretty good when you consider that a total of 256 fisheries are MSC certified, in 36 countries. There are 34 500 businesses that sell MSC certified products (which came from those certified fisheries) to consumers in 97 countries. 
  • MSC added the first certified fisheries in China and India. Although most MSC certified fisheries exist in developing countries, the MSC emphasized the strides that it has taken to improve accessibility to developing country fisheries. A total of 19 developing country fisheries are certified, with a further 11 in assessment.
  • IKEA committed to sell only MSC certified seafood in all of its stores globally. MSC has previously grown the eco-label by securing similar pledges, for example from Unilever and Walmart.
  • For some species, MSC certification is now the norm: for example, nearly half of whitefish (i.e. cod, haddock, pollock) and just over half of wild-caught salmon is MSC certified.  


  • Lobster certification grew a lot this year, largely because key lobster fisheries in Canada became certified -- 97% of Canadian Atlantic lobster is now MSC certified!
  • MSC also highlighted the strides that the fisheries of the North Atlantic and the Arctic have taken since the 1992 collapse of the Grand Banks cod fishery in Newfoundland. Now these fisheries are "world leaders in sustainability and good management", according to MSC.
  • Overall, 73% of Canadian fisheries (by value) are engaged in the MSC process.


  • This year MSC completed its review process of the Fisheries Standard after two years of consultations with experts, NGOs and other actors. 
  • Based on the new Standard, the cumulative impacts that fisheries have on non-target species must be taken into account during fishery assessments. So, if a fishery that catches fish A is sustainable for fish A but creates adverse effects for the population of fish B, that is now something that is taken into account.
  • The Standard introduces new measures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems like cold water coral. 
  • There is now a clearer MSC policy against forced labor: companies that have been successfully prosecuted for forced labor violations cannot be MSC certified. This was a response to rising public concern about forced labour in the seafood industry, based on US government reporting and media attention on the issue.


  • MSC surveyed 9000 seafood buyers from 15 countries across Europe, Asia, Australasia and North America. 
  • 41% of respondents look for sustainably sourced fish products, up from 36% in 2010. 
  •  33% recognize the MSC label, up from 25% in 2010.


Well, they did, anyway. MSC was part of a campaign led by the World Wildlife Fund UK to celebrate Earth Hour 2015 through #fishface selfies. A brief search of the hashtag now suggests that it is no longer primarily associated with environmental solidarity, however....


  • 75% of MSC revenue came from licensing the eco-label, while most of the rest emanated from donations
  •  Expenditures were split in roughly even proportion between three activities: policy and maintaining the Standard; education and awareness; and fisheries servicing and outreach. 

Not the Only Fish in the Sea, Hopefully: Two Ethical Issues to Consider When Buying Seafood

Contrary to the popular idiom there may not in fact be plenty of fish in the sea. Indeed, overfishing is threatening fish stocks worldwide. Meanwhile, industrial fishing can cause wider ecological damage and forced labour on fishing vessels is an endemic challenge. This week, I discuss two key ethical issues to do with the seafood industry. 

But first, here are some basic facts about the fishing and seafood industry:

The seafood industry is large, and growing, as humans are eating more fish each year. You might be surprised to learn that per capita annual fish consumption has increased from 9.9kg in the 1960s to 19.2kg in 2012. And the average Canadian eats slightly more than this, at 23.1kg.In addition to capturing spectacular worldwide demand, fish is a global industry because it is a highly traded commodity: approximately 200 countries export fish and fishery products. 

This is how the supply chain for fishing typically works:

  1. Fish and shellfish (A) living in open waters or (B) raised via aquaculture in ponds, tanks or bounded coastal waters are harvested.  
  2. They are packed and transported to processing facilities.
  3. Processors convert the fish to consumer products (i.e. canned, frozen, filets, smoked). In some cases processing takes multiple steps while in other fish are transported live.
  4. Wholesalers receive the processed or unprocessed fish and distribute the product to retailers and restaurants.
  5. You buy/eat it.

There are two core ethical issues that you might wish to consider when purchasing seafood – sustainability and human rights – both of which are linked to the problem of illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. These are complicated topics, but I have tried to explain the gist in the sections below.


It is impossible to overstate the importance of sustainability with regards to seafood; 85% of global fish stocks overfished. “Overfishing” refers to a situation when more fish are caught than can be replaced through natural reproduction. It has several causes, including rising demand (we are eating more fish), new technology (makes catching lots of fish easier), and governance gaps (IUU fishing). A study of catch data published in the journal Science in 2006 predicted that if fishing rates continue at the same rate, all the world's fisheries will have collapsed by 2048. The problem of overfishing is so bad that some have argued for giving the oceans their own seat at the United Nations.  

Fun fact: I made this image by photoshopping over Harper's face. 

Fun fact: I made this image by photoshopping over Harper's face. 

The global ocean plays a central role in supporting life on Earth. Oceans cover 3/4 of the planet and contain 80% of all life. Overfishing affects the entire ocean ecosystem. For example, the population of large predatory fish has dropped by an estimated 90% since the industrialization of fisheries in the 1950s.

Overfishing is bad for workers as well as the environment: because fish stocks have been declining, vessels must take longer and longer voyages to find fish, meaning that workers are stuck aboard for long periods of time; declining stocks also make fish processing an increasingly precarious job. You might recall the collapse of the Newfoundland Grand Banks cod fishery in the 1990s: this put between 50 000 and 40 000 people out of work. Fishing is central to the livelihood and food security of an estimated 200 million people. Sustainable fishing matters for the environment, for animals, and for people.

In addition to overfishing, sustainability also concerns the broader environmental impact of fishing processes. For example, if gear is lost during the fishing process or if fishing entails destructive processes, such as the use of dynamite and poisons, this can cause more widespread ecosystem damage. Additionally, some farming processes can cause harm through the spread of farm waste, chemicals, disease and parasites.  

Human Rights

Thailand is the third largest exporter of seafood in the world (the country’s seafood industry is worth $7.3 billion USD annually); it is also notorious for crewing fishing boats with slaves trafficked from Burma and Cambodia. A form of bonded labour is typical: in this scenario, trafficked fishermen are sold to fishing boat owners and then must work to pay off a given price (the ka hua). In addition to being enslaved, workers on such ships are exposed to overwork, violence, torture, and even executions at sea. Each year the U.S. State Department produces its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. In 2014, that report downgraded Thailand to a Tier 3 ranking due to a lack of improvements. The report revealed that the Thai government ignored instances of human trafficking and even sought to punish those attempting to bring these abuses to light.

Thailand is often used as an example of human trafficking in the fishing industry because of the size of its fishing industry and inaction on the part of its government (regulation of the Thai fishing industry is woefully inadequate).

Nonetheless, this is a problem that exists worldwide. While Southeast Asia is the biggest problem region for slavery on fishing vessels, this is a global phenomenon. Human trafficking is endemic in the fishing industry. Some fishing operations in at least 51 countries crew their ships with slave labour. 

To give you an idea of the scope of the human trafficking problem in the fishing industry, I created a table that shows how each of the 10 biggest fish exporting countries (as of 2010) were rated in the 2015 TIP report. Tier 1 countries are those that comply fully with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA), while Tiers 2, 2 Watch List, and 3 are all for out of compliance countries but vary according to the level of effort that a country is putting into stopping human trafficking. As you can see, three of the top 5 fish exporting countries does not comply with the TVPA.

Canadian fish and seafood imports generally match the global trend. The top five countries of origin for our fish and seafood imports are: the U.S. (36.7%), Thailand (14.9%), China (14.6%), Chile (5.1%) and Vietnam (4.6%).

The problem of forced labour on fishing vessels is extremely difficult to tackle, as it is linked to illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing (IUU fishing also goes hand in hand with overfishing).  

IUU Fishing 

IUU fishing is a huge problem: it is estimated that IUU fishing accounts for 30% of all fishing activity worldwide.  Structural loopholes in international maritime law, specifically on the high seas, allow for IUU fishing to proliferate. Outside of a country’s exclusive economic zone (on the “high seas”, which cover 64% of the surface area of the ocean) ships are governed by the laws of the country in which that vessel is registered (the “flag country”). Often, fishing vessels are registered in countries with no meaningful link to their operations. IUU fishing occurs in primarily on the high seas and poorly regulated national waters. For example, along the coastline of sub-Saharan Africa forced labour is a problem on European and Asian fishing vessels in poorly regulated waters.

IUU fishing is a big problem, one that drives overfishing and labour abuses on fishing vessels. As such, it is worth considering how you can avoid being complicit in these ethical challenges. Next week, I’ll explain seafood eco-labeling and offer some practical advice for you when shopping for fish. 

United Church of Canada Goes Fossil Free

On 11 August 2015 the United Church of Canada announced that it will divest from fossil fuels. This means that it will sell $5.9 million in fossil fuel assets and commit to building an investment portfolio that promotes renewable energy. This is big news, as the United Church is one of the largest religious groups in Canada.  

As an Albertan, I am deeply aware of the trade-offs implied in moving away from fossil fuels: leaving oil in the ground might be necessary to avert climate change but this could have steep implications for many workers in Canada’s resource-dependent economy. The point of this post is not to proselytize about the virtues of divesting from fossil fuels. Instead, I want to use this opportunity to explain divestment; the fossil-free divestment movement; and the likely impact of this move by the United Church of Canada.

This post is a bit different than the previous two, as it does not focus on a specific product (don’t worry: I’ll be putting out a piece on sustainable seafood very soon).

Explaining Divestment

“Divestment” or “divesting” is a socially motivated activity that can be undertaken by private wealth holders. These can be individuals or groups (such as university endowments, foundations, and public pension funds). When actors divest, they withhold their capital from companies that are viewed as contributing to the identified social harm. Perhaps the most famous ongoing divestment movement is the BDS Movement pertaining to Palestine, but divestment campaigns have also targeted Apartheid in South Africa, Darfur, and tobacco.

Evidence suggests that the direct financial impact of divestment is limited, and this is likely to be the case for fossil fuel divestment. However, such campaigns typically generate indirect effects, such as increased public awareness and dialogue, new legislation, and spillover market consequences.

Divestment is often undertaken by groups set up to serve a social purpose, rather than private companies. For this reason, foundations, faith-based groups, governments, and universities have traditionally been key sources of divestment.

Up for debate: is divestment a legitimate choice for a foundation to make, or should endowment managers seek to maximize the financial return that can then be given out as a grant to socially beneficial projects?

There is an ongoing debate about the legitimacy of divestment (and other forms of socially responsible investment) for foundations, an organization type that commonly engages in divestment. Decisions by foundations to divest (or not) matter because these organizations operate by investing sizeable endowments in the market, using the annual return to give out grants for socially beneficial projects. Foundation endowments are sometimes very large: In the U.S., 85 philanthropic foundations have total assets above $1 billion USD. The Gates Foundation, which is the largest philanthropic foundation, has over $41 billion in total assets. These are sizeable funds being invested to serve an ostensibly social mission.

Endowment managers often feel compelled to maximize returns and minimize risk, as the size return that they acquire may dictate how much that foundation can spent on providing grants over the next year. However, it has been increasingly argued that foundations have a responsibility to manage their investments in a way that accords with their social missions. However, it is not always easy to translate this aspiration into practice, partially because the social impact of businesses is often diffuse. This is all linked to the emergence of a similar, but distinct, issue: social finance. If you’re interested in learning more about social finance, check out the articles I wrote here and here.

An example may help to put in perspective how difficult it is to balance the social mandate of the foundation with socially responsible investment decisions. The Gates Foundation – the mission of which is to improve the quality of life of individuals worldwide – has stated that it directs its investment managers not to invest in companies whose activities contribute centrally to egregious activities. As such, it does not invest in tobacco stocks. However, this does not mean that the endowment is only invested in socially responsible companies: the Gates Foundation was recently criticized for investing $1.4 billion USD of its endowment in fossil fuels.

While some foundations have opted to divest from fossil fuels, many others may feel that this issue is not sufficiently close to their social mission; may disagree with the divestment approach; or may feel that maximizing funds available to disburse as grants are most important. These same considerations often influence the decision of other socially-oriented organizations, such as faith groups, non-profits, universities and government agencies, as well.

The Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement

Fossil fuel divestment (going “Fossil Free”) is a divestment movement launched in 2012 under the mantra that “if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from the wreckage.”[1] The movement has since grown globally to reach $50 billion in divestment commitments from 800 global investors as of October 2014.[2] It is, however, worth noting that many commitments have not yet resulted in the actual reallocation of investment capital.[3]  

According to, 349 institutions are currently divesting. As the chart below shows, the four largest groups of divesting organizations include: foundations, faith-based groups, governmental organizations, and education institutions (colleges, universities and schools).

This movement is also growing in Canada, albeit more slowly than in some other countries.

The fossil fuel divestment movement is growing across Canadian universities: there are 34 active divestment campaigns operating on campuses across nine provinces. While more than 30 universities worldwide[4] have divested from fossil fuels, none of these are Canadian institutions. University of Toronto may become the first Canadian university to divest from fossil fuels (although Concordia University has initiated a $5 million sustainable investment fund). Following a petition submitted by a student group ( University President Gertler struck an advisory committee in November 2014. The committee will bring its recommendations to President Gertler by December 2015. The University of Toronto currently has $32 million invested in fossil fuels, of a $1.5 billion total endowment.

Amongst municipal governments, Victoria is leading the charge toward fossil fuel divestment. In July 2015 the city council voted to pursue options to divest from fossil fuels. 

While the fossil fuel divestment movement has gained momentum, it remains controversial, including amongst experts. Although some advocate further support for this movement,[5] others argue that it could draw attention from more effective ways to encourage low-carbon energy.[6] Still others posit that it is unrealistic to expect that all fossil fuels be left in the ground, and instead argue for divestment against coal specifically (coal has the most negative environmental and public health effects of any fossil fuel). Coal divestment has gained momentum recently, with two notable victories: the movement was endorsed by Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, the former chairman of Royal Dutch Shell[7] and Norway’s gigantic sovereign wealth fund (the largest in the world, at $890 billion) agreed to divest from coal.[8]

Churches for Action to End Climate Change

The United Church of Canada is by no means the first faith group to go fossil-free. As noted above, faith-based groups account for a quarter of all fossil fuel divestment. And Christian groups specifically have been among the leaders of the fossil-free movement. Other notable divestment commitments this year have come from the Church of England (opted to blacklist coal and oil sands investments) and the U.S. Episcopal Church (voted to divest from fossil fuels).

The United Church of Canada is not the first faith group to pledge to divest from fossil fuels. Eight other Canadian faith groups have made divestment commitments, including one other nationwide faith group: the Canadian Unitarian Council, which divested from fossil fuels in 2012. Nonetheless, this is big news as the United Church of Canada is the largest Canadian faith group to divest from fossil fuels to-date.

Why now? An important background condition might be the upcoming Paris summit on climate change (COP21), which will take place in December 2015. If it is successful, this summit could break the deadlock to deliver a meaningful multilateral climate change treaty, following a weak agreement at Copenhagen in 2009 and the arguably failed Kyoto Protocol.

Some faith organizations, including several Christian denominations, have taken a very active stance against climate change ahead of this climate summit. They have framed ending climate change as a moral imperative, a call to conscience. As an example of this, Pope Francis has released a papal encyclical on the environment in which he demanded swift action on climate change.

The divestment commitments made this year by the United Church of Canada and other faith groups can be seen as a way to signal the importance of this issue and to raise public awareness about climate change ahead of COP21. Only time will tell whether this is an effective strategy. For the moment, the $5.9 million that the United Church of Canada will divest from fossil fuels is a noteworthy new commitment in a country that has been sluggish on going fossil-free.


[1] Ritchie, Justin and Dowlatabadi, Hadi. (January 2015). Fossil Fuel Divestment: Reviewing Arguments, Implications and Policy Opportunities. Victoria: Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at p.5.

[2] Politics and Government Business. (9 October 2014). Divest-Invest; Fossil Fuel Divestment Hits $50 Billion Mark. NewsRx.

[3] Ritchie and Dowlatabadi supra note 1.

[4] Tollefson, Jeff. (6 May 2015). Fossil-fuel Divestment Campaign Hits Resistance. Nature 521(7550).

[5] Rusbridger, Alan. (15 April 2015). Scientists Must Speak Up on Fossil-fuel Divestment. Nature 520(7547); Darby, Megan. (14 August 2015). Former EU Climate Chief Hedegaard backs Fossil Fuel Divestment. The Guardian.

[6] Tollefson supra note 3.

[7] Matthews, Chris. (5 June 2015). Shell’s Former Chairman Made a Startling Comment About Climate Change. Fortune.

[8] Schwartz, John. (5 June 2015). Norway will Divest from Coal in Push Against Climate Change. The New York Times.

Paper and Logging: Addressing Deforestation at its Root

In part because technology has made transportation easier and cheaper, supply chains have been globalized: products that would have been made by one person or in one factory or in one city are now assembled in multiple countries. These products are sold in markets that might be hundreds of thousands of kilometers away from the person that produced them, meaning that we lack a direct link to the producer and may even lack any knowledge of where the producer is located, his working conditions and lifestyle, the materials that have been used and the methods of extraction.  This makes ethical consumption extremely difficult: there’s just too much to think about most of the time, and too little information available.

It isn’t that consumers don’t care about acting ethically. There is evidence that most people do want to buy socially and environmentally responsible products. For example, a 2014 poll surveyed 30 000 consumers in sixty countries, finding that 55% of global consumers are willing to pay more for socially responsible products.[1] But it isn’t always – or even often – easy to tell which choices that implies in practice. I’ve always found that frustrating.

I am starting Pullback as a small way to combat this problem. As a broader aspiration, I am working on building a tool that will help consumers to get information on easy changes they can make to better match their purchases with their specific values. I’m setting up this blog as a part of that effort. For now, I’ll be spotlighting a common consumption item every week and ‘pulling back’ the product messaging by researching available evidence and expertise and offering practical advice. My aim is to provide easy to understand information (backed by facts) that will help you to make everyday choices that accord with the ethical priorities that are most important to you.

As a teaser, this week I want to talk about paper.


The Issue: Deforestation is a big problem, driven by paper made from unsustainably managed forests.  

Advice: Experts generally agree that the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme is the eco-label with the most stringent standards and most robust certification procedures. So, check for an FSC label. There are 3 different FSC labels you might come across:  FSC 100%, FSC MIX, and FSC Recycled. These are all responsible choices, but the FSC MIX and FSC Recycled labels are an even better choice because they include recycled materials. By buying FSC-certified, you can ensure that your paper has been extracted from forests that are managed in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Remember, though, that paper is still energy-intensive to produce.  Consider using less paper, where possible, and always recycle. Going paperless, where you can, is a good way to reduce your environmental footprint. Check out these sources for tips on going paperless at home and in the office.


Paper: it’s boring, but we use it all the time. Paper was invented in China around 200 BCE and since that time has become ubiquitous. And even though communications technology allows us to do a lot of things online for which we would have used paper, there is no sign that we are set to become a paperless society. Amid the digital revolution of the last twenty years, consumption of paper products has actually increased 126%.

Our increased use of paper has contributed to the dramatic deforestation rate. Forests, which currently cover a little under a third of all land on Earth, are integral to sustaining human lives. In addition to helping us breathe, forests store carbon and clean the air, support 80% of biodiversity on land, influence regional weather patterns to promote rainfall, reduce soil erosion/pollution and flooding, protect downstream ecosystems, refill aquafilters, and block wind, among many other benefits.

Deforestation has been and continues to be one of the most pressing environmental challenges. Over the past half century, about half of the world’s original forest cover has already been lost. Each year, we lose another estimated 18 million acres of forest – an area that is roughly the same size as Panama.

Sure, the blue team is willing to trade you a wood for a sheep, but how to you know that wood was ethically harvested? How do you know those two villages aren’t clear cutting!?

Sure, the blue team is willing to trade you a wood for a sheep, but how to you know that wood was ethically harvested? How do you know those two villages aren’t clear cutting!?

The paper making process generally includes the following steps: logging, de-barking and chipping, pulping, cleaning, paper making, and finishing. Check out this video for more detail on the paper making process. Today, I’m focusing on the first of these steps and the sustainable management of forests. However, as with any consumer product, there are other moral issues arising from each production step that are worth considering. For example, manufacturing pulp and paper takes a substantial amount of water and is energy intensive. Although pulp and paper workers are unionized in Canada, labour practices can be a concern in some cases.


Forest certification was first introduced in the late 1980s but continues to evolve. All forest certification programs consist of three elements:

  1. Forest certification: the evaluation of forest operations against predetermined criteria;
  2. Chain-of-custody: a system for addressing the origin of raw materials; and
  3. Eco-labels: labels that appear on products.

Today, three prominent eco-labels compete with one another in North American and European consumer markets: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) – which in Canada is instantiated as Canada’s National Sustainable Forest Management Standard (CSA).

It can be difficult to assess the comparative effectiveness of different certification schemes (academics are struggling with this), but there is a general consensus that the FSC eco-label is the best, because it has the most stringent standards, the most robust assessment mechanisms, and because companies have been banned from using the eco-label for failing to live up to FSC standards.[2]  


1. Forest Stewardship Council: FSC, which was spearheaded by World Wildlife Fund, was founded in 1993. Since that time, it has grown substantially: the total area of FSC certified forests, as of 2013, was 180 538 563 ha, with a rate of growth of 7%.[3] Europe and North America continue to dominate FSC sustainable forest management and chain of custody certificates – although Chile, India, Thailand, Turkey, Romania and Vietnam have all seen substantial increases in FSC certified forest area.[4] As of November 2014, FSC certification accounted for 39% of total certified areas in North America, 45% in Europe, 7% in South America and the Caribbean, 3% in Africa, 1% in Oceania and 5% in Asia. FSC is often seen as the most stringent forest certification program. It has in some instances banned companies from using the FSC trademark following complaints by advocacy NGOs,[5] although its complaint procedure has been the subject of criticism. Notably, however, FSC has been opposed by some environmental groups that view it as too business-friendly.[6]  

2. Sustainable Forestry Initiative: created in the U.S. in 1994 by the American Forest and Paper Association (the national trade association for the industry) as a response to the FSC, SFI originally emphasized organizational procedures and flexible, discretionary performance guidelines and requirements. As SFI competed with FSC for legitimacy, it developed a process by which companies could choose to be audited by an outside party to assess their compliance with the SFI standard.[7] This means that SFI program participants can now choose to verify SFI compliance on their own, using a second-party verifier (another firm or trade association), or through an independent third-party auditor. Participants that want to use the SFI eco-label must be third-party certified. As of 2003, about half of SFI participants were third-party certified.[8]  

3. Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification: PEFC was created in 1999. It is a framework for the mutual recognition of different national or regional sustainable forest management schemes, which means it operates as an umbrella organization for different national standards. PEFC is a membership organization consisting of national organizations representing national forest certification schemes. Program participants use a common eco-label, but national accreditation bodies accredit certification bodies, which then certify forests.

In Canada, the PEFC-endorsed certification standard is Canada’s National Sustainable Forest Management Standard. It is referred to as ‘CSA’ (because it was established by the Canadian Standards Association) or the CAN/CSA Z809 standard. Over 60 million hectares of Canadian forest were third-party certified to the CSA as of 2011. To be certified, a third party independent auditor must verify that 17 critical elements are met.


[1] Nielson. (17 June 2014). Global Consumers are Willing to Put their Money where their Heart is when it Comes to Goods and Services from Companies Committed to Social Responsibility. Nielson Marketing Institute. Online at

[2] Auld, G. & Cashore, B. (2012). The Forest Stewardship Council. In Reed, D., Utting, P. & Mukherjee-Reed. (eds.) Business Regulation and Non-State Actors: Whose Standards? Whose Development? Routledge.

[3] FSC. (2013). FSC Market Info Pack

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rainforest Action Network. (13 August 2013). NGOs Welcome the Forest Stewardship Council Decision to Cut Ties with Companies Linked to Indonesia Pulp Giant APRIL.

[6] FSC Watch. (2008). Another NGO Quits FSC in Protest Against NORFOR Plantations.

[7]  Cashore, B., Auld, G. & Newsom, D. (2003). The United States’ Race to Certify Sustainable Forestry: Non-State Environmental Governance and the Competition for Policy-Making Authority. Business and Politics 5(3), 219 at p.224

[8] Anderson, C. & Hansen, E. (n.d.). Forest Certification: Understanding Ecolabel Usage Requirements. Oregon State University Wood Science & Engineering.