While working for then BC coastal forest company MacMillan Bloedel in the early days of her career, Linda Coady (BA’74) took part in discussions to resolve land use conflicts over Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest. It was the 1990s, and the concept of sustainability was still in its nascency. However, Linda saw an opportunity that set the course of her career.
Before her current role as the President and CEO of COFI, as of July 2022, Linda served as Executive Director of the Pembina Institute – a leading Canadian think tank on energy, climate and environmental issues. She was also Chief Sustainability Officer for Enbridge Inc, Vice-President of Sustainability for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, Vice-President of the pacific region for World Wildlife Fund Canada and Vice-President of Environmental Affairs with MacMillan Bloedel and Weyerhaeuser. At UBC, Linda taught corporate social responsibility as a Sessional Lecturer with the Sauder School of Business from 2011- 2012, and worked on new models for sustainable finance and disclosure. We sat down with Linda to learn more about her work and the evolution of sustainable approaches to forestry in BC.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue sustainability in your career?
When I was first involved in land use issues on the BC coast, I saw how sustainability principles could be applied on the ground to help resolve conflict. The United Nations’ Our Common Future Brundtland Report had just been released in 1987, and the Earth Summit in Rio happened five years later. The Rio declaration put the first global ‘flag in the ground’ that sustainability and environmental concerns are integral to development. Subsequent multigovernmental commitments to work collaboratively to meet emerging sustainability goals made me realize that this was a movement I wanted to be part of.
What potential did you see in sustainability frameworks and how have they changed with time?
At first, I saw these frameworks as a means to address objectives around environmental stewardship and conservation. On the BC coast, this necessarily included sustainable forest management, Indigenous rights & reconciliation and the development of new partnerships, policies and technologies. I grew to understand that taking a sustainability approach requires consideration of social, economic and environmental dimensions. Today, sustainability is a lot more rigorous. Perhaps not quite a science, but it now comes with metrics, measurements, standards, benchmarks, reporting and accountability.
How is diversity and inclusion part of the bigger sustainability picture today?
Most sustainability frameworks started out with a focus on environmental indicators. Then, social indicators, such as diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and on other issues, became a pillar in reporting on sustainability and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance. So, companies, governments and investors using these frameworks are also now required to disclose how they are managing risks related to the social dimension of their activities. This largely stems from the growing acceptance of the importance of incorporating differing opinions and belief systems in business decision-making, along with an acknowledgment that cultural histories and backgrounds influence perceptions of the validity of different approaches.
In BC, Indigenous rights and reconciliation are central to discussions on sustainable forest management, as well as the transition to managing for ecosystem and community resilience. Ultimately, the hope is that by being more inclusive and having more people at the table, we’ll be able to equitably identify better solutions to very big challenges, such as climate change, minimizing our impact on the envi-ronment and maximizing our resources in order to lead more sustainable lives.
How can forestry help reach federal and provincial net-zero emissions goals by 2050?
All sectors of the economy will need to be involved in the movement to net-zero by 2050, and making measurable progress by 2030. The forest industry in BC and Canada is developing roadmaps and identifying areas where emissions can be driven down at the operating level and in the form of carbon storing products, materials and biofuels. These climate smart forestry approaches include managing forests for climate change, such as mitigating fire risk and biodiversity loss. A lot of attention is also being directed to identifying new value-added wood products, as well as expanding mass timber and other engineered forest products for tall wood building construction and green building systems in the province and abroad. These innovations open the door to more skilled jobs and forward-thinking approaches to the use of new forest tech and the production of renewable materials for construction, the bioeconomy and pulp and paper.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Branchlines Magazine. View the full issue here.