Ecorazzi caught up with Forest Ethics Founder Tzeporah Berman, who was featured in Leo Dicaprioâ€™s The 11th Hour. Tzeporah talks about saving forests, her involvement in The 11th Hour, and meeting Paris.
E: Tell us a little about Forest Ethics.
FE: Forest Ethics works to protect critical Endangered Forests like the Canadian Boreal (one of the world’s largest reservoirs of fresh water, breeding ground for billions of North Americaâ€™s birds and one of the biggest storehouses of carbon) by harnessing the power of major corporations such as Staples and Victoria Secret and creating demand for recycled paper and products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. So far we’ve stopped logging in over seven million acres of Endangered Forests. We’re known for public campaigns like our Victoria’s Dirty Secret campaign, which wound up transforming a forest offender into a major environmental advocate. What makes us unique is that in addition to running public campaigns against companies that destroy forests, we also work collaboratively with companies that are ready to protect forests as well as with indigenous peoples to create conservation based economies. Corporations have tremendous leverage, and when we can channel that leverage into forest protection, we can achieve some pretty amazing results.
E: How did you get involved with the 11th Hour. Who does the film speak to, and what sort of change do you see happening because of it?
FE: It was really just chance. I was at the Bioneers conference in October and I overheard Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, the directors of The 11th Hour, saying that they needed a forest expert. I told them that what they really needed was some of the satellite data that shows that 80% of the world’s intact forests are already gone, and that there are only three countries left â€“ Canada, Russia and Brazil â€“ that have enough forest to maintain ecological integrity and biodiversity. They both kind of did a double take, asked who I was, and we went from there.
As far as the film’s impact, I think it will encourage individuals to call on decision-makers to support new solutions. It’s like An Inconvenient Truth in that it’s a wake-up call, a warning to all of us. But The 11th Hour is also, I think, ultimately inspiringâ€”I think that new ideas and innovations will come out of it.
E: What was Forest Ethics first campaign? How has it evolved, or how has your vision changed since that experience?
FE: Our first corporate campaign was against Staples. We looked at the office supply industry and saw that none of the major players had any environmental standards in place for their paper supplyâ€”and as you might guess, that industry uses a lot of paper. After two years of public protests, Staples relented. We ran a subsequent campaign against Office Depot, and that was successful as well. The results were incredibleâ€”in 2005, recycled pulp mills were operating at record-high levels specifically because of demand from Staples and Office Depot.
We’ve refined aspects of our strategies since then, but the vision for corporate reform has remained the same. What’s evolved is what happens after a corporate campaign ends. We’ve found that once we have corporate support, logging companies begin to listen. Then, once we have support from logging companies, governments begin to pay attentionâ€”which is what led to the government of British Columbia committing to protect five million acres in the Great Bear Rainforest last year, a campaign we were involved in for ten years.
E: Youâ€™ve had so much success in moving the masses. What have you found is the best way to get people to listen and act? For organizations and individuals.
FE: Companies are one thingâ€”a lot of times you have do something confrontational and public to get their attention. But when you start communicating with them directly, you’re communicating with individuals. One of ForestEthics’ core values is to always approach individuals, regardless of the context, from a place of respect. At every level, people don’t want to be lectured, they don’t want to be shamed, they don’t want to be overwhelmed. They want to be empowered. If you can approach people without putting them on the defensive and then give them an achievable goal, it can be really amazing to see what happens.
E: We have to ask – what was it like meeting Paris? Can and how do celebrities and Hollywood make a difference?
FE: It was surreal. I’ve been in a lot of unusual situations, from physically blockading logging roads to negotiations with CEOs, but I never really imagined standing side by side with Paris Hilton at a major Hollywood premiere. We talked about Canada’s forests, and how absurdly wasteful it was to turn one of our most precious natural resources into junk mail.
Really, celebrities make a difference in the same way all of us can make a differenceâ€”by speaking out and using the influence that we have.
E: Whatâ€™s next for you and Forest Ethics?
FE: Right now we’re looking at launching a new campaign against another major catalog retailer sometime next month. We’re also in the planning stages of a new campaign that I’m really excited about: the Do Not Mail campaign. It will do for junk mail what Do Not Call did for telemarketing: empower consumers to exercise their right to opt out. The difference is that the production and disposal of junk mail has a tremendous environmental impact, destroying forests and exacerbating global warmingâ€”and a lot of people don’t realize it. Yet.