The next federal election will feature a useful debate about the role of natural resources in Canada’s economic future. Canada’s forest products industry offers a story of the innate potential of Canadians to make better products, create good jobs and improve our environment too.
An international survey earlier this year reported that Canada’s forest products industry has the best environmental reputation in the world, testament to almost two decades of hard work to adapt and improve.
Canada now exports forest products to more than 180 countries including China to which our exports increased 275% in the last decade. At the same time, Canada has been building a formidable story of environmental stewardship.
Our customers and citizens expect sustainable forest practices and independent verification that things are being done properly. Canada now has 150 million hectares of forests that have been independently assessed and certified as sustainably managed. This is 40% of all the certified forest in the world, by far more than any other country.
Deforestation has been replaced by an era of greater conservation: the industry has been working with environmentalists through the breakthrough Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, the largest conservation agreement every signed.
Conservation and reforestation are helping in the fight against climate change but that’s not our only effort in that area: pulp and paper mills have cut greenhouse gas emissions by 70% since 1990.
We’re not sitting on environmental laurels. We pledge to reduce our environmental footprint by an additional 35% based on twelve parameters such as wood and energy use and recycling.
Our opportunities are changing and expanding too. We are looking to refresh our workforce with another 60,000 people by the end of the decade. A major push will be to involve more Aboriginal workers in the forest sector.
Later this week I will be in Winnipeg to hand out the FPAC Aboriginal Youth Skills award.
This year’s winner is Shownoo Blackbird-Williams of the Walpole Island First Nation in Ontario who is part of the First Nations Forestry Technician Program at the Anishinabek Education Institute in association with Frost Campus of Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario.
The forest products industry needs skilled and committed individuals such as Shownoo. The Aboriginal population is amongst the fastest growing and youngest in Canada with a median age of 27― making this group a key source of future employees and business relationships as our sector grows.
A major part of our growth plan for the future will feature new uses of wood fibre. It’s now being used in ways that might surprise you: everything from car parts to clothing and cosmetics.
The industry is diversifying into higher-value niche areas including bio-energy, bio-chemicals, nano-technology and advanced construction materials. Canada is scoring many world-firsts and positioning itself to be an international leader in the race to produce a remarkable new range of innovations sourced from tress. More and more products will contain renewable wood fibre such as smartphones, bone replacements, sports equipment and more.
Our overall goal is to generate an additional $20 billion in economic activity by the end of the decade, while continuing to operate sustainably and to reduce our environmental impact wherever we can. Success will lie in recruiting a next generation workforce including more Aboriginal workers, contributing to an array of new products, and reaching new markets in other parts of the world.
In the forest products industry – we’re big believers in Canada’s talent for building great resource based businesses, while improve our environmental performance at the same time. Our employees have proven what can be done, when we all set our minds on a new course for the future.
David Lindsay is President and CEO, Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC)