Canadian forest practices are now a global issue

October 28, 2019

By Tegan Hansen, Forest Campaigner,

This month, one of the world’s largest consumer goods corporations, Procter & Gamble, hosted its annual shareholder meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio — only to be interrupted by a crowd of forest defenders and environmental activists. P&G, a home goods behemoth that owns brands like Gillette, Tide, Bounty, and Charmin, has recently come under increased scrutiny for sourcing its wood fibre from clearcutting the boreal forest in Canada. 

P&G uses wood fibre to make disposable tissue products like Charmin toilet paper. Unlike other brands that incorporate recycled content into their products, Charmin is made from 100% newly-cut forests. It’s no surprise that Charmin is ranked one of the worst toilet papers on the market for environmental sustainability. The worst part, Charmin is making its toilet paper from the very forests that provide critical habitat for boreal caribou, which are facing extinction due to habitat loss. and the Natural Resources Defense Council have spent months negotiating with P&G to change its practices – but talks broke down the day before the shareholder meeting when P&G executives refused to adopt meaningful, science-based policies that prevent caribou habitat from literally being flushed down the toilet.

Instead, the company put out a “sustainability commitment” for Charmin, but their empty words  amount to little more than corporate greenwashing. Notably absent from P&G’s new pledge is any commitment to use recycled content in its toilet paper, which is far better for the planet. The company’s commitments to forest protection were intentionally kept vague, without any measurable steps to achieve science-based standards for caribou recovery.
We have repeatedly asked P&G to adopt policies in accordance with the Canadian government’s recovery strategy for boreal caribou. To adhere to these standards, P&G would have to stop sourcing from operations that violate the forest disturbance thresholds identified by government scientists.

Scientists have identified the absolute minimum habitat protections needed to ensure boreal caribou have a 60 percent chance of survival – and yet P&G and other companies deliberately decided to ignore the science and continue sourcing from the forests these animals need to escape extinction.

So what exactly prompted people in Cincinnati to protest over caribou in Canada? Caribou are an “indicator species,” which means they signal the broader health of forest ecosystems. With caribou herds in sharp decline, the boreal forest is in a precarious position. The Canadian boreal is one of the largest intact forests remaining on the planet, storing almost twice as much carbon as the world’s remaining oil reserves. Healthy, old-growth forests are incredibly important for stabilizing our climate –  but when they are cut down, forests  release enormous amounts of carbon, which contributes to climate change . What happens in the boreal has global consequences, and it could contribute to whether or not Canada meets its climate change goals under the UN Paris Agreement.

Unfortunately, Procter & Gamble doesn’t seem to care about the urgent need to protect the boreal caribou, the boreal forest, or the planet. By ignoring science and continuing with business as usual, P&G makes its customers unknowingly complicit in destroying endangered forests for single-use products like toilet paper. But with millions taking to the streets to protest the lack of action on climate change, momentum is building against these irresponsible corporate practices.

We need to see that change materialize, and quickly. Despite calls from scientists and First Nations leaders, federal and provincial governments are unwilling to take meaningful and effective action to recover caribou populations. Many First Nations have put in place sound strategies for forest protection, but they often face obstacles from other levels of government, and in some cases, misinformation campaigns and harmful racism. In this context, corporations like P&G have an immense opportunity, and responsibility, to force action.

As a society, we have to reject the premise that it’s ok to drive a species to extinction. It is a moral issue, and one with real consequences to communities that depend on the same ecosystems these species need to thrive. Indigenous peoples in Canada have repeatedly signaled that caribou are essential to their ways of life and cultures. In the era of the sixth mass extinction and global climate change, we’d do well to follow their leadership.

One thing is certain: as momentum grows to address the climate crisis and defend forests, Procter & Gamble can expect growing backlash from their hometown of Cincinnati, from communities across Canada, and from their customers around the world.

Protest photos by Leo Koikov /
Boreal photo courtesy of NRDC