Greenpeace Quebec’s director discusses the group’s small yet significant victories and ambitious yet attainable goals.
Melissa Filion is not worried about being bored on the job. Ever since she took over as Interim Director of Greenpeace Quebec last month, she’s divided her time between briefing gung-ho activists preparing to chain themselves to buildings and trying to calm down the inevitably flummoxed CEOs on the receiving end of the group’s sometimes forceful brand of eco-justice.
Filion, who is 32, took the position following a four-year run on the organization’s Boreal forest campaign. She’s replacing Eric Darier, who’s off on sabbatical until next June after a year on the job.
“It’s serious work; we’re dealing with serious issues. You have to take some strong stances, and not everyone likes you,” she says. Victories haven’t come easy, but Filion says that recent campaigns against Abitibi-Bowater and Kimberly Clark (the makers of Kleenex and Cottonelle) have shown her that persistence can pay off.
Greenpeace’s long battle with Quebec’s largest logging company, Abitibi-Bowater, began in July 2007, when three activists scaled the façade of the Sun Life Building, draping a 11 x 8 metre banner branded with the words: “Abitibi-Consolidated: Looters of our forests” over the building’s austere neoclassical columns. The company denied allegations it was overcutting Quebec’s forests, but their intransigence only meant that Greenpeace’s next action would apply pressure from a different angle.
“We did some shipment actions where we blocked a shipment of pulp from one of their customers,” explains Filion. “We do a lot of work with their customers. Some of them are quite sensitive about the boreal forest question.”
Filion says these actions have led some customers, such as Rona and Office Depot, to put pressure on the company, either by calling to demand they change their practices or by reducing their contracts with the company. She cites the example of Rona, who launched a new forestry policy last November, as a success story.
“For Greenpeace it was one of the best policies in North America for the retail sector, because they set some targets and a timeline to reach those targets with regard to forest management certification.”
As part of the policy, Rona announced that it would only buy lumber that had been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international non-profit that issues guidelines for sustainable forestry. Filion says this announcement put pressure on Rona’s suppliers, including Abitibi-Bowater, to change their own management to be able to feed this demand.
“Abitibi-Bowater have decided to reach that certification on some of their management units in Quebec and in Ontario. So clearly there’s pressure that can come from organizations like Greenpeace to be able to change the marketplace, change the supply, to be able to make an impact on the forest.”
The possibility that companies like Abitibi-Bowater will eventually get with it was bolstered last year when Greenpeace announced a victory in its five-year stand-off with Kimberly Clark. In the deal, the company committed itself to obtaining 100 percent of its wood fibre from sustainable sources and gave itself until 2011 to phase out use of non-FSC-certified wood fibre from the Canadian boreal forest. That’s quite an about-face for a company that Filion says had refused to even meet with Greenpeace for years.
“There were more than a hundred direct actions, photo-ops, demonstrations. There were thousands of emails and faxes sent to the company. There were articles about Kleenex tissues and their impact on the forest and their link with climate change published all over the world. There’s really been constant pressure on the company,” she says, adding that Greenpeace’s job now will be to follow-up to make sure changes make a difference to the forest.
In the meantime, Greenpeace is busy working on its Oceans campaign. Whereas other ecologists have concentrated on distributing lists of which fish you should avoid grilling, searing and tartare-ing, Filion says Greenpeace has made a “tactical choice” to go to the source and target supermarkets. “We’re asking them to not buy certain fish that are on our Redlist,” she explains. Their website lists 15 endangered fish and crustaceans as well as tips on how to choose greener seafood (eat local, choose farmed fish, and eat lower down the food chain). They’ve also ranked Canadian supermarkets from indiscriminate fish-floggers (last place: Métro – 0.1/10) to the slightly more selective (first place: Loblaws – 2.4/10).
This fall will also see the organization gearing up for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Along with a coalition of environmentalist groups, they’ll be pushing for Kyoto Plus, a plan to “strengthen and extend” the Kyoto Protocol after 2012, the year specified for emissions reduction in the original agreement. The new plan calls for Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020. However, Filion isn’t holding out hope that the Harper government will figure out greenhouse science any time soon.
“We’re targeting not only the Harper government but all MPs so that they take a position on Kyoto Plus,” she says.
For information about current Greenpeace campaigns see: www.greenpeace.org
Montreal Mirror 10 September 2009 (this is the unedited text)