Environmental activists have long employed dramatic practices, such as boycotts and public protests, to hasten the adoption of their environmental agendas. Partly due to the tight competition between old industry and the emerging producers, the pulp and paper industry has been particularly targeted by environmental NGOs and their agendas that force environmental priorities over economic realities.
Some environmental organizations have given lip service to bridge-building with the corporate sector, indeed, a number of environmental groups are reliant on corporate donations and sponsorships to remain viable. But increasingly, any efforts to find the middle ground are hampered by a more subtle, and a significantly more disruptive tactic: politicizing forestry certifications to create barriers for trade between countries.
This tactic is a technique for environmental organizations to directly influence the domestic and international pulp and paper market, potentially affecting billions of dollars of trade and the livelihood of millions of workers throughout the world. Trade experts have started to call the new tactic ‘greenmail’ for the way that environmental groups can hold paper customers and suppliers hostage to their certification schemes.
Holistically, effective verification and certification schemes for products are a benefit to all parties and play an important role in ensuring corporate practices are tempered with natural resource management. The ideal example in forestry is for a third-party environmental certification organization to work with pulp and paper companies and environmental NGOs together to identify practical, sustainable techniques for harvesting trees that balances environmental responsibilities with regional social and economic realities. In this scenario, all parties, including the paper producers, buyers and consumers, as well as the environmental NGOs, have their interests represented, and they develop a balance of environmental and economic priorities to produce a sustainable product and support the free market.
In contrast to the ideal scenario, environmental NGOs have created a certification scheme, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), with which they have defined to their own standards and removed input from the paper companies and governments’ policies. Without these insights, FSC doesn’t properly acknowledge the economic realities of pulp and paper manufacturing, and focuses solely on ‘environmental’ priorities, despite how unsustainable it is, from NGOs.
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