This Giant Canadian Conservation Project Will Protect One Of The Largest Temperate Rain Forests

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements just won a major award for its ingenuity.

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge, named after the eclectic American architect and theorist, takes an appropriately eclectic view of what constitutes an “outstanding design solution.” Previous year winners have included a system for harvesting seaweed, mushroom packaging pioneer Evocative, and a new economic model for Appalachia.


This year, the choice of design innovation is similarly broad-minded. It’s a Canadian conservation project from three environmental nonprofits: Greenpeace, Sierra Club British Columbia and (formerly ForestEthics). The Rainforest Solutions Project helped secure most of the 15 million acre Great Bear Rainforest, in British Columbia, from logging, while creatively finding ways to accommodate both 26 First Nations groups, and logging companies.

Under the agreement finalized in February, 85% of the old-growth forest is off-limits to logging, the First Nations have greater forestry and other economic rights, and the logging companies can still log, but only sustainably and within certain areas.

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements protect one of the largest “intact” temperate rainforests remaining in the world, and are touted as a model for multi-stakeholder management of key, endangered forests. The environment groups began their “War in the Woods” in the early 1990s, targeting the loggers with sit-ins around huge old-growth trees. They started consumer boycotts, forcing retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s into the defensive about their wood sourcing, and eventually brought affected industries to the table, including a German printer that was using Canadian paper and was also being targeted by protesters. At the same time, the groups brought together 26 First Nations communities (making up many of the 180,000 people who live in the area), who wanted a greater role in decision-making within the forest. The conservation blueprint fashioned by Rainforest Solutions Project had to bring together multiple parties if it was going to work.

[Photo: Marlene Cummings]

“Efforts to conserve and regenerate these environments face significant–and often seemingly intractable–challenges,” say the Buckminster award judges. “To be effective, they must simultaneously take into account social, cultural, ecological, technological, and economic considerations.”

In its award, the judges say BFI is expanding design to mean not only conceptualizing something–say, designing a new bike, but also to conceiving something within a complex of human relations. This is a “provocative point in the evolution of the Challenge, as design is being recognized as an integral part of business and society,” says award committee member Bill Browning.

[All Photos (unless otherwise noted): Andrew Wright]


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.