Long before global environmentalists had even heard of the oil sands, their Canadian target of predilection was the forest industry. Greenpeace and Forest Ethics waged savvy PR campaigns to persuade the world, and purchasers of wood and paper products, to boycott Canadian goods made from clear-cut forests.
It was a roaring success. Celebrities took up the cause and donations to the environmental NGOs came rolling in. Canada’s biggest forest companies lost millions of dollars worth of business in what seemed a patently unfair attack on forest-management practices that, while far from perfect, remained head and shoulders above those followed in most of world.
It didn’t matter that the environmentalists helped divert business from well-regulated Canadian companies to less conscientious ones in the developing world; the Canadian industry knew it could never win the public-relations war based on facts. Its solution was to embrace independent, third-party auditing of forestry practices to silence the critics, establish social licence and prove that Canadian companies operated in a sustainable fashion.