A major Canadian logger appears to be using a pair of law suits to end the existence of Greenpeace and to stop or curtail pro-environmental activities by other organizations operating in North America, or perhaps, generally.
This activity is being carried out by Resolute Forest Products. This is a rapidly developing story. Aside from the usual sources of information, I had a long conversation with a representative of Greenpeace. I also refer you to this blog post.
Resolute Forest Products is one of North America’s largest converters of forest into pulp, ultimately to be used to make paper. They do other things as well. Back in 2010, Resolute Forest Products joined a group of 30 entities, including other forestry companies as well as environmental organizations such as Greenpeace. The group, called the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, intended to reduce negative impacts on the northern boreal forests caused by companies like Resolute.
Resolute, for its part, is said to have stonewalled movement in any positive direction, and eventually, Greenpeace Canada and others dropped out of the agreement. Greenpeace Canada then produced a report, in May 2013, outlining alleged deception by Resolute about the sustainability of their products. Generally, Greenpeace has been encouraging pulp customers to select producers that log sustainably, and that appears to annoy Resolute. That started a relatively complex back and forth between Resolute and Greenpeace, and other Canadian stakeholders, including a $7 million defamation suite by resolute against Greenpeace Canada as well as two of its staff members.
To get caught up on the environmental arguments concerns at hand, see Endangered Forests in the Balance: The impact of logging reaches new heights in the Montagnes Blanches Endangered Forest.
And now this ongoing battle is heating up again.
At present, there are two new significant suits by Resolute Forest Products, one against Greenpeace Canada, the other against Greenpeace International. The latter is said to have been filed in the US because the limitations on liability are much higher; Indeed, the Canadian suit is for millions, while the US based suit is for hundreds of millions. Along with these legal actions, Resolute is, again, directly attacking individuals and not just the company.
It is generally believed by observers that Resolute intends to use this legal action to end Greenpeace. Other environmental organizations are concerned that this type of suit may end their efforts as well.
Many will consider this a SLAPP suit. This is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” A SLAPP “… is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.*”
The US based law suit uses RICO statute. RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and was created to allow prosecutors important tools to go after previously nearly untouchable organized crime entities. Apparently, legal experts view the RICO suit against Greenpeace International to be absurd and unwinnable. That is what would make it a SLAPP. All Resolute has to do is pour a few tens of millions into the effort, and Greenpeace will have to give in. Unless, of course, judges throw the suits out early enough.
In addition to going after Greenpeace, Resolute has named Stand.earth as an additional target in their RICO suit. (See this for a list of the many legal documents related to these suits). From Stand.earth:
Can a lumber company sue its grassroots public interest critics? While some courts say no, yesterday Resolute Forest Products filed a civil RICO lawsuit in United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. Incredibly, the suit complains that Greenpeace and Stand (formerly ForestEthics) have acted as a “criminal enterprise” in their public interest advocacy to stop destructive logging and protect waterways, wildlife, and communities in the boreal forest of Canada.
Stand believes this suit is entirely without merit and is a clear attempt to silence its most powerful grassroots critics. In addition, CEO Richard Garneau has overseen multiple free speech lawsuits during his tenure against individuals and organizations, and led the company to five consecutive years of a slumping stock.
Pulp: The coal of the wood industry
Why is this happening? The most obvious reason is that Resolute is tired of having their lack of sustainable practice pointed out to them by organizations like Greenpeace. There may even be a cost to Resolute, in that customers are increasingly demanding that sustainable practices be followed by extractive industries such as logging. Indeed, I expect that one response to the Resolute legal action will be an effort to pressure book publishers to use paper made from sustainably produced pulp.
So there’s that, but there is probably more to it. Resolute is part of a rapidly declining industry: North American pulp. Resolute could scale down its overall expectations and become the sustainable pulp producer. Or, it could barrel into the future full speed ahead, using up whatever expanse of the northern forest it can lay it’s saws on before getting stopped. It seems to be doing the latter.
Over the last fifty years or so, the production of paper has gone up significantly (from tens of millions of tons in 1960 to over 350 millions of tons more recently). People will tell you that the internet killed off paper production, but that seems not quite true. Paper production does not increase each year as much as it formerly did, but it still increases.
But two other things have happened. For one, the amount of paper that is recycled has also gone up, but at a slightly slower rate than overall paper production. So, that shift from 10 to 350 million tons a year of paper, an increase of about 30 times, is actually an increase of about 10 or 15 times for the virgin pulp some paper is made out of. Related is the use of more wood waste to make pulp instead of virgin timber.
The other factor is the shift in pulp and paper production to places other than North America, so from a North American perspective, pulp looks a lot like coal: it is a dying business.
Putting all this together, and you can see that Greenpeace is really Resolute’s smaller problem. The bigger problem is a dramatic and ongoing decline in its own market.
I would have thought this would be the ideal time go go full on rogue sustainable, and be the one company that produces most of the sustainable pulp in a world where North Americans will tolerate nothing else. But apparently I do not work at Resolute, do I?