October 16, 2012
By Isabelle des Chenes Vice-President Market Relations FPAC
Carbon dioxide, that simple chemical compound of two oxygen and one carbon atom, has been rebranded as the greenhouse gas believed to be a major culprit in causing global warming and climate change.
Carbon dioxide, that simple chemical compound of two oxygen and one carbon atom, has been rebranded as the greenhouse gas believed to be a major culprit in causing global warming and climate change. The forest products industry has a complex relationship with carbon – on the one hand storing it in the forest ecosystem and on the other spewing it out when burning fossil fuels at its mills. Now, as part of its environmental leadership, the industry is working hard to rebalance that equation to limit its carbon footprint and help mitigate climate change.
The Canadian forest products sector is globally recognized for its accomplishments on the environmental front: having the most third-party certified forests in the world by far; regenerating forests; attempting to maximize the value of every tree harvested; reducing greenhouse gas emissions and using cleaner energy. The forest products industry is a leader in co-generation, also known as combined heat and power, which is far more efficient than conventional electricity generation because smaller amounts of fuel are required and fewer greenhouse gases are emitted.
To top it off, the industry has set a new bar for environmental responsibility and action on climate change by pledging to be carbon neutral through the life cycle of its products by 2015, without the purchase of offset credits. Achieving carbon neutrality generally involves three steps: measure the existing carbon footprint; develop targeted goals to reduce emissions; and buy offsets to achieve zero net emissions. Canada’s forest products sector has completed the first step, is working on the second step – and aims to avoid the third.
In 2007, FPAC commissioned the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement to produce a groundbreaking research report, The Greenhouse Gas and Carbon Profile of the Canadian Forest Products Industry. Canada’s forest industry became the first in the world to assess its total carbon profile throughout the entire value chain.
Investigators analyzed direct emissions from mills, most resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels. They also explored indirect emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, as well those related to harvesting and transporting raw materials and products. They looked at carbon sequestration, both in the forest products industry value chain and in carbon stored in forest products.
The carbon profile has provided FPAC, its members and its partners with a roadmap on how to reduce emissions and store more carbon through the entire carbon cycle – from the forest to product manufacturing to end use through to disposal. This includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions by switching to renewable energy sources in mills or by improving transportation networks. In the forest, carbon storage may be increased by planting faster growing trees, or through alternative harvesting and planning techniques that consider carbon along with other values such as biodiversity.
As emerging economies improve the standard of living and quality of life for their citizens, demand will increase for many wood-based products. This will exert even greater pressure on global ecosystems.
However, markets can be comforted by the fact that forest products from Canada come from an environmentally responsible industry striving to be carbon neutral. And Canadians walking in the woods can feel proud that Canada’s forest products industry is a world leader in reducing its carbon footprint.
Isabelle Des Chênes is vice-president of market relations and communications for FPAC. With more than two decades of experience, she is responsible for files affecting the environmental reputation and market acceptance of Canadian pulp, paper and wood products in international markets. She is also responsible for FPAC’s trade files.
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