As the world’s nations work towards reducing their dependence on fossil fuels in favour of cleaner and more sustainable alternatives, industries must either adapt and innovate or face obsolescence.
This fact is not lost on the Forest Products Association of Canada, which recently announced a plan for the sector to reduce its emissions by 30 megatons by the year 2030.
“This is not a fashionable cause for the forest sector,” said Derek Nighbor, the association’s chief executive officer.
“We wanted to be clear with governments about the forest sector’s ability to do more.”
The association is quite proud of the role the forest sector has played in climate change in recent decades, and strongly believes that by 2030, the industry can contribute to a reduction of 30 megatons of CO2. That would in other words represent more than 13 per cent of the federal government’s total planned emissions reductions for the whole country, he recently told the Gazette during a phone interview.
The 30 by 30 Climate Change Challenge was issued by the association, which made the forest sector the first to voluntarily contribute to the federal government’s climate goals. Canada has signed the Paris agreement on climate change and is now promising to reduce emissions by 30 per cent, the equivalent of cutting 225 megatons of CO2 a year by 2030, said a press release.
Canada’s forest sector already has a positive track record of reducing greenhouse gases from its manufacturing processes. For example, the pulp and paper industry has since the early 1990s reduced emissions by about 66 per cent, said Nighbor.
“Our industry is uniquely positioned to be a crucial part of the solution to climate change because our renewable forests and forest products all store carbon. We want to step up to the plate and do our part to help Canada reach its ambitious targets.”
The federal government has been collaborating with its provincial counterparts to actively engage in conversation about the issue of climate change, and the prime minister will again meet with the premiers in September to come up with a plan for Canada, he said.
The association’s 30 by 30 challenge “is the forest sector saying we can make a real contribution,” he said.
The plan is three-pronged. First, there are still efficiencies to be found with mills. Although most of the emissions reductions at such operations have already happened, there are still some opportunities for improvement, including moving to bio energy and using wood byproducts for energy. However, these initiatives are expected to reduce only about one to two megatons of the planned 30, he said.
Secondly, the association also believes that about half of its target to reduce emissions by 30 megatons can be achieved through further innovation as well as research and development in forests themselves, which act as a carbon sink. Trees basically absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and the industry plans to focus on sustainable practices by moving away from “slashing and burning” branches and instead using every part of the tree and turning them into value added products, he said.
“We believe there’s a huge opportunity in that area,” he said.
There have also been efforts to research ways to make sure trees are more climate resistant while providing improved yields, he said.
And thirdly, the industry aims to develop new, innovative wood products. For example, some consoles in vehicles are now being manufactured from wood fibre based products instead of plastic, he said.
“When would you have thought a motor vehicle’s console would be derived from wood fibre?” he said.
This would reduce the need for petroleum-based plastics while making vehicles lighter and thus more fuel efficient, both of which have environmental benefits. Developing new wood products also creates growing market opportunities for forestry companies, he said.
“We’re starting to see some new markets open up for wood fibres,” he said, adding the association sees in coming years the potential for growth in that area.
“We’re able to manufacture and develop products we never would have thought of just decades ago.”
The industry is also lobbying to have building codes changed to allow for the construction of taller wood structures.
“We’re starting to see building codes across the country change to allow for construction of taller buildings made of wood,” he said. “It’s much less fossil fuel intensive to do the manufacturing and construction, plus the wood stores carbon, so there is a significant environmental benefit to taller wood buildings.”
Nighbor pointed out that a prominent Vancouver architect by the name of Michael Green has said that a 100,000-square-foot structure made from wood as opposed to competing products like concrete is equivalent to taking about 1,400 cars off the road.
This represents a “significant opportunity” for wood building and innovative wood products. The association sees coming a lot of changes that will not only be good for the environment but also good for the industry and business as well, he said.
The modern forest sector is very high-tech and innovative, and the industry is not just producing the same products it always has. Of course there will always be a market for traditional wood products like lumber, but innovation is the key to growth and improved environmental stewardship. Collaboration with governments will be an important part of that process, and elected officials need to understand the potential the forest sector has to contribute to climate change action in Canada, he said.
“We have a very unique opportunity to contribute to climate change and provide continued economic development and good jobs in rural areas throughout the country.”
After all, the 30 by 30 plan is not just about developing new innovative products and growing business in an environmentally friendly way — it’s also about keeping people employed with good jobs, he said.
“According to a survey of international customers by Leger Marketing, Canada’s forest products industry has the best environmental practices and reputation in the world,” said Richard Garneau, the president and CEO of Resolute Forest Products, in a press release.
“The forest sector is already ahead of the curve, for example in significantly cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Now our industry is taking the next step by raising the bar yet again, helping Canada reach its new climate goals.”
Ted Seraphim, president and CEO of West Fraser, said, “30 by 30 is an important challenge, and one we have the determination to achieve. Our sector, in partnership with governments at all levels, has been able to accelerate our progress to reach our ambitious targets. We are ready to step up again and make a significant contribution to Canada’s climate goals.”
Anyone interested in seeing the plan in more detail can visit www.fpac.ca and click on the “30 by 30” Climate Change Challenge tab for more information.