Sustainability: It’s not just about the trees

March 1, 2019

When we came together with the NWPCA and WPA to launch Nature’s Packaging, the idea was to provide a tool and vehicle to bring to light the industry’s great story with regards to sustainability.  As we have stated and restated, our industry can be described as a “model citizen” in the environmental sustainability world.  From providing a home for downgrade lumber, in turn helping the forestry sector overall, to the 95% landfill avoidance rate cited in the Virginia Tech study commissioned by the Pallet Foundation and the amazing network of pallet recyclers, our industry really has been ahead of the curve.

However, our industry’s role in sustainability goes much further than just the obvious environmental achievements.  I was invited recently to participate in a Joint Industry Sustainability Forum/Roundtable in Ottawa.  I was unsure what I could expect, and went in prepared to sing the praises of our industry and its role in the low carbon economy and sustainable forest management.  What I was met with was a group of industry associations and academia who were very focused on sustainability in a much larger sense of the word.  Ever heard of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)?  I had, however had really not put much focus on them.  That has now changed.

The United Nations has come together to create the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  This is a very comprehensive document which outlines seventeen very ambitious goals aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.  As I mentioned, it is ambitious, and Canada has of course adopted the agenda and is working towards developing a national plan to address it. 

At the core, the goals fall into three categories: Economic, Social, and Environmental and look like this: 


As you can clearly see, the “sustainability picture” just got a whole lot bigger. While we can definitely demonstrate many successes on the environmental side, we still have some work to do and we as an industry need to assess our position and role in delivering on the Social and Economic goals.

As a part of the meeting I listened intently to how other industry associations, including Fertilizer Canada, the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Canadian Fisheries Council, and the Hotel Association of Canada among others were working with their members to identify how their respective industries currently fit into the SDG framework and adapt and prepare to meet them.  Where do we currently stand?  What are the areas that we by nature are already strong in?  Which areas need focus?  What do we need to work towards in order to not only fulfil the target agenda, but how to best respond to the growing trend towards global organizational sustainability in these areas?  There were many very good discussions, and overall, they were very enlightening.

These SDG’s are here, and in one-way shape or form, our industry will be impacted.  We manufacture and supply the products that as our friends at the NWPCA say “move the world”.  There is literally not a single sector of our world which you cannot link to a piece of wood packaging in some way, shape or form.  More and more, there will be pressure within governments, municipalities, corporate supply chains, etcetera to ensure alignment with the SDG’s both within their organizations and from their supply chain partners.  Organizational sustainability polices will continue to evolve, and so to must those who feed into their framework.  There is no doubt that we, as an industry, are in  good shape when it comes to our environmental status, but there is more to it than that.  

I urge you all to take a step back from your business for a minute and look at it holistically.  Where do you align with the seventeen goals?  Which goals are even applicable to you (I would suggest that 15 of 17 are), and how can you best detail and describe that alignment or how you plan on addressing future alignment? For example, you may look to offering specialized training to employees as a means of addressing SDG 4, or an employee benefit plan for SDG 3.  The undertakings do not have to be monumental and when you really drill down on it, a little bit of focus in each area will likely serve to be a benefit to your business overall.  Based on the views expressed in the forum, I can all but assure you that in the coming years, you will need to respond to questions about SDG’s in order to maintain your vendor relationship with a client.  The time is now for you all to begin to look at your own operations as they relate to the SDG’s, and formulate a sustainability policy and plan to move forward with it.  You may not need it today, however rest assured, it will become an invaluable tool in the future.

I understand that there is a lot to digest, and will endeavor to find ways that the CWPCA can help its members address the SDG’s.  I would welcome contact/correspondence from any of you reading this that have already begun looking at the SDG’s and your overall corporate sustainability plan.  I would love to hear your thoughts on how you are attacking it, and how we can help.  

Over the course of the balance of the year, please watch this newsletter for more insight into the SDG’s, and some ways that we can work to achieve them. In this edition, the Legislative Affairs section contains two links to better help you understand Canada’s national strategy.

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