Making biomass the intuitive solution
Nov. 24, 2016 - I’ve been to a enough biomass conferences to have a basic understanding of one of the industry’s largest hurdle: public opinion.
A speaker at the recent BioCleantech Forum explained the challenge of public opinion well. Most technologies relating to biomass are relatively new, he said, and as with all new technologies they must be tested, and often fail. But in this industry, when technologies fail, they fail spectacularly in the public spotlight.
I’ve been in the media business long enough to understand that the news cycle is a constantly hungry beast that responds to public demands. The public wants a solution to climate change, but they don’t want to pay for it, and they don’t want to be misled. It’s big news when any of the above happens because of a biomass technology. That makes it understandable when industry players prefer to keep a low profile. Yet we should be doing the exact opposite. To get our spot on stage we need to feed the beast. Share your story with the media. Yes, share with us at Canadian Biomass, but also with your local newspaper and national news sources.
Worst-case scenario, you write a few emails and make a few calls that are ignored by busy reporters. Best-case scenario, story by story the public gains an understanding of what biomass companies can do, and are doing, to help offset carbon emissions and build a greener Earth.
There are many people on your side who are ready to help. The associations in the biomass industry all want to see your company succeed. This industry is too new for players not to be engaged.
The forest industry, too, is tuned into climate change. Natural Resources Canada’s 2016 State of Canada’s Forests annual report, released in September, is themed around climate change. (cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/stateoftheforests.)
“Using wood-based biofuels for heat and power can be a cost-competitive, economically sustainable and reliable alternative to non-renewable energy sources,” the report states. The authors spotlight Whitesand First Nation, an off-grid community 250 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., where a plan is in place to build a pellet manufacturing plant and a heat and power biomass facility. Another interesting note in the report speaks to public perception of woody biomass: “Given the current and projected impacts of climate change on Canada’s forests, it may seem counterintuitive to think that forests can also be part of the climate change solution. However, the carbon-storing capacity of forests, together with the ability of wood products to replace fossil-fuel-intensive products, can contribute to keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere.”
While government has an important role to play in setting policy direction to grow Canada’s bioeconomy, the role of biomass companies must include educating the public about that “counterintuitive” solution. Story by story, companies can perhaps change the public’s mindset to make biomass an intuitive solution.