The Canadian forest industry is a place to grow. It is a place to grow a career, investments and innovative ideas.
In a previous column, I talked about the changing face of the forest sector in Canada. After a difficult decade, there’s a new buzz and a fresh, new face to the forest products industry. It has become more competitive and productive, aggressively cultivating new products and markets, leveraging world-leading environmental credentials in the marketplace and vigorously pursuing ways to extract more value from every tree in the form of bioenergy, biochemicals and biomaterials. The industry is transforming, brimming with opportunity and on the move.
Yet after years of mill closures and lost jobs, the industry realizes that it still suffers from an image problem. We want to increase public and government buy-in and belief in our transformation. And we intend to convince investors, potential partners and future employees that there is indeed a dynamic future.
So under the leadership of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), the forest sector will be striving to go even further to reinvent itself. In the months ahead, FPAC will be unveiling a new inspirational vision – which includes challenging the forest industry as well as government and other partners to do more to attract workers, to improve our environmental performance and to develop new markets and new innovative products from wood biomass.
A Job-Rich Future
A recent report by the Conference Board of Canada on the human resource needs of the forest industry concluded the sector will need a minimum of 40,000 new recruits by 2020 to maintain the status quo. There is already a pressing need for many industry-related skilled trades, but there will also be a need for environmental engineers, biochemists and other innovators to help transform wood biomass into new products. We intend to convince Canadians, including women, Aboriginal Peoples and immigrants, that there are long-term employment opportunities for those with the desire to work and build a career in the forest products sector.
An Innovative Future
In the area of developing new markets and new products, the industry has become the number 1 Canadian exporter to China and India for lumber, pulp and paper products, and the future potential is staggering. Canada has also made breakthroughs in innovation including being home to the first commercial plant to produce nanocrystalline cellulose in the world.
The forest sector is now gearing up to produce more innovative products, such as airplane wings, food additives and construction systems. The forest industry generates about $57 billion for the Canadian economy, and it will be challenging to grow that by 2020.
A Green Future
Many Canadians do not realize the improvements that have been made in the past decade. The sector has cut 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions. The pulp and paper sector is producing two-thirds of its energy from renewable waste, and some are selling surplus energy to the grid. The industry has also reduced water consumption and seen a 90% or greater reduction in pollutants. In addition, the industry is now working with environmentalists in the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.
However, we should do more.
It won’t be easy. Besides the international competition and the race for niche markets, forest companies are struggling with difficult challenges such as a high dollar, a monopoly rail system, a decline in the demand for paper stemming from the computer age and the unsettled global economy. That’s why we intend to work on developing new products, new markets and new relationships, as well as a challenging industry and government to help us realize that dream.
There is no doubt that the vast forests in this country can be considered “Canada’s natural advantage,” a renewable resource that has long provided prosperity.
So stay tuned – later this year you will be hearing more about Challenge 2020. We hope to mobilize Canadians with an inspirational vision that will convince skeptics that our forest products sector is a place to grow.
Catherine Cobden is the senior vice-president for FPAC. With over 20 years experience, she is responsible for files affecting economic competitiveness in Canada’s pulp, paper and wood products sector. She is also responsible for the bio-pathways project, an innovative look at the opportunities available for the forest products industry in the emerging bioeconomy.