Albertans love their homegrown products. When a major restaurant chain made a corporate decision that would see no Alberta beef (or Canadian beef for that matter) on their menu, consumer backlash was immediate.
Consumer loyalty does not mean that Alberta producers are off the hook when it comes to how they grow and manufacture their products. People still want to know where the product that they are consuming came from. And they demand that producers look after the environment and that people involved in production are paid a living wage, work in safe conditions, and are treated ethically.
A great partnership between a family-run Alberta forest company and an iconic Canadian retailer achieves this objective. In 2012, Rona and Vanderwell Contractors, based in Slave Lake, made an agreement to promote sustainable forests. Under the terms of the deal, the two partners would plant 1 million trees in Alberta’s forests. The project specifically focused on replacing burned areas, protecting watersheds, and increasing wildlife habitat.
In early July, Rona and Vanderwell celebrated the planting of the millionth tree. The tree was planted near Slave Lake on farmland that has been reclaimed to forest.
Vanderwell and Rona are certainly not alone in their efforts to promote the sustainability of Alberta’s forests. In 2015, members of the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA) planted 65 million trees in Alberta. That’s 16 trees for every man, woman, and child in the province.
Tree planting has many benefits for Albertans. From a carbon standpoint, growing trees sequester carbon, while older trees that have finished their growth cycle tend not to take carbon dioxide from the air at the same rate. It also means enhancement of recreation opportunities, protection of watersheds, and economic opportunities for the young people employed as tree planters.
Those are all amazing things, but I want focus on what tree planting means for the consumer – an area that seldom gets much attention. Properly managed forests mean you can rest assured that the product you’re buying in the store has been produced sustainably. We’ve seen an increasing interest from consumers in knowing where their products come from. People want to know that their beef is hormone free, their clothing made without child labour, and their forest products sourced sustainably.
In Alberta, sustainable forests have been part of our ethos for generations. In the 1960’s, the province’s first Forests Act mandated that all harvested areas be regenerated within two years. That law has remained in place for over 50 years, and strict adherence to it is something that our industry is very proud of.
Vanderwell and Rona have chosen to go above and beyond by planting additional trees and focusing on areas that have been affected by forest fires, as opposed to harvested.
It is this type of commitment to the future that has kept both companies in business for so long. Rona was founded in 1939, while Vanderwell has operated continuously since 1942.
Planting trees is not just about a commitment to corporate sustainability – it’s also about healthy forests and jobs for future generations. Over 45,000 people depend on Alberta’s forest industry for their jobs.
So next time you visit the hardware store, stationary store, or newsstand, buy Alberta forest products. It’s a choice you can feel good about.
Paul Whittaker is the President and CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association.