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Industries join hands to promote bio-economy

From car parts to clothing to cosmetics, wood fibre is being turned into innovative new products and positioning the Canadian forest products industry to be a dynamic player in the growing bioeconomy.


February 15, 2013
By Catherine Cobden

From car parts to clothing to cosmetics, wood fibre is being turned into innovative new products and positioning the Canadian forest products industry to be a dynamic player in the growing bioeconomy.  But the sector cannot transform and develop new bioenergy, biochemicals and bioproducts on its own.

That’s why the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) first started the Bio-pathways Partnership Network aimed at exploring new business-to-business ventures to help exploit the economic opportunities of the emerging bio-age. It has brought together more than 250 organizations from the chemical, energy, pharmaceutical, auto, aerospace and plastics industries as well as other technology providers. The success of this network speaks to the eagerness for mutual co-operation in the biospace.

In addition, late last year FPAC joined with eight other industry groups to form the new Bio-economy Network or BEN, a cross-sector forum supporting bio-industry. It brings together a diverse membership across the Canadian economy, including the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, BIOTECanada, the Canadian Bioenergy Association (CanBio), the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, CropLife Canada, FPInnovations and the Sustainable Chemistry Alliance.

All together they represent 800 member companies, two million jobs and $266 billion of total annual revenue. BEN members share a strong belief that Canada can use its abundant renewable resources of forest and agriculture residues in innovative ways to feed the bioeconomy and create solid jobs and future economic growth.

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And what is the bioeconomy? It unlocks the potential of Canada’s natural resources by embracing the manufacturing of a broad spectrum of products used in medical applications, diagnostics, foods, energy, chemicals and industrial materials from our forest and agricultural resources.  In fact, the bioeconomy is already a huge and vibrant contributor to Canadian GDP ― about $87 billion a year with an annual growth rate over the past four years of 12%. More than a million Canadians are already working in bioeconomy related jobs.

The emerging global market for bio-based products is nothing less than staggering. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that the bioeconomy already represents one-third of the total world economy, with growth rates continuing to accelerate. Canada, with its plentiful resources, should certainly aim to get a healthy share of a global biomarket opportunity estimated at $200 billion by 2020. 

Key trading partners and competitors have already developed comprehensive bioeconomy strategies. For example, the Obama administration in the United States in April 2012 released a National Bio-economy Blueprint that lays out strategic objectives to realize the full potential of the U.S. bioeconomy.  The European Union has released Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for Europe, which highlights innovation for environmental sustainability. In comparison, Canada has been moving forward slowly but surely, but in individual silos without an overall strategic frame.

That’s where BEN comes in. Individual associations felt it was time to explore new business models and partnerships across sectors to enhance co-ordination, outreach and advocacy for a supportive policy environment in Canada. At the very least, this will mean improved information sharing, reduced duplication and other increased
efficiencies.

BEN members are hoping to demonstrate an integrated vision of the bioeconomy that will focus on the priority policy areas of investment climate; the regulatory environment, including standards; innovation; cross-sector collaborative partnerships; market diversification; and value added production.

The new group wants to enhance the profile of the interests and needs of the collective members in supporting the emergence of a national bioeconomy; it wants to provide a forum for government to meet engaged and co-ordinated participants; it seeks a supportive policy framework to drive sector innovation and competitiveness; and it wants to position Canada as a bio-investment destination within the global bioeconomy.

BEN represents notable progress in breaking down traditional “silos” and the lack of co-ordination between key players in bio-industry. As the industry organizations pledge tighter collaboration, BEN wants partners in the federal government to improve co-ordination across key departments as well. The key is to work together.  

Our overall goal is ambitious – BEN seeks to work with our government partners to develop a comprehensive bioeconomy framework to unleash Canada’s natural resource advantages and serve new markets.

BEN would welcome other associations to join our cause, from the mining to the agriculture to the plastics industry. Together we can turn Canada into a true powerhouse in the global bioeconomy, generating green and innovative products from our natural resource wealth.


Catherine Cobden is the executive vice-president of FPAC. Over her 10 years at FPAC, Catherine has steered the organization’s economic and regulatory programs aimed at improving the forest sector’s competitive position. She played a key role in developing the Canadian Forest Sector Transformation Strategy, shepherded the landmark Bio-pathways study and led the 2012 launch of the industry’s new Vision2020.


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