The Canadian forest products industry is on the move.
Recent columns from the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) have alluded to the dynamic transformation in a sector that has become more innovative, environmentally friendly and global in its reach.
However, FPAC member companies are now stepping up their game with the unveiling of Vision2020, which sets ambitious goals to propel the industry forward in the area of products, performance and people. It is not a public relations exercise, but a vigorous effort by industry officials to ensure a vibrant path for the sector in the years ahead.
The first goal is to generate an additional $20 billion or about a 35% increase in economic activity from new innovations and growing markets by 2020. Canada needs to build on the work already underway to research and develop new and innovative products made from trees. Pulp mills are already producing dissolving pulp to make rayon for clothing, adding on the production of methanol, the production of specialty cellulose for pharmaceuticals and more. FPInnovations brought the world’s first state-of-the-art demonstration plant to produce nanocrystalline cellulose from wood fibre for use in everything from bone replacement to cosmetics. Other firsts and game-changers are now in the pipeline.
The forest products industry has already had remarkable success in diversifying markets. For example, forest products are now Canada’s number 1 export to the Asia Pacific region, including China. Still the industry is setting its sights much higher for new innovations and growing markets.
The second goal is in environmental performance – to deliver a further 35% improvement in the industry’s environmental footprint. The Canadian industry is emerging as the “greenest” forest products sector in the world. For example, Canada has the most third-party certified forests on the planet – 151 million hectares – demonstrating the industry’s commitment to opening its doors to scrutiny and transparency in its forest management practices. The industry has also cut its greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds since 1990 and mills currently produce the bioenergy equivalent to the output of three nuclear reactors. The forest industry has also received global recognition for working in concert with environmental groups in the landmark Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. Still, FPAC has identified 12 parameters where the industry will attempt to further its environmental credentials, including greenhouse gas emissions, forest management practices, caribou action planning, energy and water use, recycling, air contaminants and waste.
The third goal relates to “people” and a desire to hire at least 60,000 new recruits, including women, aboriginals and immigrants. After a decade of decline, the Canadian forest products industry is now recruiting and offering solid careers for those with the skills, knowledge and desire to work in the sector. There is a pressing need for workers with traditional skills such as millwrights and electricians, but as the industry transforms, it will also need technologists, chemical engineers, innovators and more.
There will be challenges, but forest companies are determined to reach the goals outlined in Vision2020 to chart a bold new future for Canada’s forest products industry.
But companies can’t do it alone. We intend to talk to governments both provincial and federal, as well as to innovators and researchers. Partnerships must also be made with the chemical, plastic, auto sectors and more to find innovative new ways to use wood fibre especially for pioneering bioproducts.
The Canadian forest products industry is aiming high and determined to succeed. We fully intend to be a global leader that will create new jobs and prosperity for Canada well into the future.
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.