François Dufresne is a forest engineer by trade with experience in forest operations and management who, after completing a Master of Business Administration, spent a large portion of his career in the finance sector. He became CEO and President of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Canada almost 10 years ago, joining from the Société générale de financement du Quebec, where he was in charge of helping the Quebec forest sector modernize and become stronger in the marketplace.
The role with FSC Canada brought him full circle in many ways. “It was going back to the roots of why I studied forestry at university in the first place: to ensure the pure entity of these great resources for future generations and to do it the right way,” he recalls. “On a personal level, it’s the most rewarding challenge and position that I’ve occupied throughout my whole career.”
“I think the pandemic has had an emerging positive reaction to invest even more in solutions, such as FSC, to maintain the integrity of our forests worldwide.”
However, François admits the job is not without its challenges, both locally and globally. “On a global scale, I think the biggest challenge we face is penetrating difficult landscapes, particularly in the tropics and the global south,” he explains. “In the Amazon and Congo Basin and South-East Asia, there are vast amounts of intact forests, and also social issues with Indigenous people in local communities with basic human rights that are in the forest. And we’re not present enough in those areas.”
Locally, the organization is focusing on having a more effective outreach to Indigenous communities in Canada. “There are 600 Indigenous communities in this country and 75 per cent of them live in the forest,” he points out. “They don’t have the capacity or the information to engage effectively with these very complex issues for responsible forest management. Our greatest challenge is to be able to reach out to them and engage and provide capacity.”
Having implemented clear mandatory requirements based on the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples through free, prior and informed consent, the FSC is also looking to preserve the Canadian boreal caribou. The reason being that science has demonstrated that where the caribou is actually in good health, the rest of the biodiversity mechanism of the forest is also in good shape. “We have this indicator to focus on,” François says.
Currently, FSC International has 229 million hectares of FSC-certified forests worldwide in more than 80 countries, but hopes to grow this to 300 million hectares by 2025–26. “In Canada, we have about 50 million hectares. We want to add another 25 to be at 75 million hectares by 2030,” François shares.
Alongside preservation activities, however, he is very cognizant of the fact that products still need to be sourced from the forest – one of the roles of FSC Canada is to maintain the integrity of how that is achieved. “An indicator that’s extremely important is what we call the traceability of our products to the marketplace,” François explains. “We now have more than 49,000 chain of custody certificates, meaning we have as many companies now owning those certificates.
“We need to grow our FSC-certified base to meet the market demand, which is very strong right now, especially in Europe. But it’s also growing in North America, with major international corporations, because of the challenges that we’re facing now with deforestation, climate change and biodiversity disappearing.”
“At the end of the day, everybody wants to make sure that we can have a pristine reputation with a lot of integrity for ensuring products in the retail space come from responsible sourcing.”
Created after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 to address global deforestation, especially in the tropics, FSC is a unique organization – all sides of civil society, industry, environmental organizations, unions and communities come together with one aim: to create this market-based voluntary certification system. Equal voting rights apply to all memberships that come from these different horizons. “Our membership is actually co-creating solutions that have a meaningful impact,” François says.
While COVID-19 put pressure on the ability to provide interaction and an equal voice, a virtual forum was created, like many other businesses. Other virtual tools were created to help with the audit and implementation of initiatives. In many ways, it reinforced to people how important the organization is.
“I think the pandemic has had an emerging positive reaction to invest even more in solutions, such as FSC, to maintain the integrity of our forests worldwide,” François reveals. “I would say that we got more support than ever from our contributors, from our certificate holders, to make FSC even more relevant across the globe. We’re confident that once we’re past this COVID-19 situation, we can accelerate our mission, our impact and how we can make our forests more resilient for future generations.”
Partners such as Procter & Gamble have been especially important in FSC Canada’s goals – not only by upholding the sourcing principles, but also providing its global brands to help create greater awareness.
“Through partnerships with large organizations such as Procter & Gamble, we can bring together key players in the forest products supply chain – as well as governments, marketers and retailers, where needed – to convey the same common objective of having a responsible impact on the forest,” François says.
“At the end of the day, everybody wants to make sure that we can have a pristine reputation with a lot of integrity for ensuring products in the retail space come from responsible sourcing. That’s where the FSC can partner with players such as Procter & Gamble, and bring together all the players within the supply chain to maintain that one common thread.”
FSC is well known throughout the world, especially in Europe, and François is aware of the need to raise public awareness in North America, where – in addition to leading FSC in the region – he’s currently interim President of FSC United States. With limited business-to-consumer relationships, its business-to-business partners such as Procter & Gamble give the organization some leverage in this area for the long-term. Such relationships help François with what is a pragmatic long-term vision for the organization that he loves.
“The long-term vision going forward for FSC is to be first and foremost a forest solution,” François asserts. “The certification of products will be a major solution going forward because forest products, such as solid wood, are important to our society. We need all these products, but the intactness and resiliency of our forests, in terms of biodiversity and the contribution to climate, needs to be maintained.”