OP-ED BY DAVID LINDSAY
The Canadian forest products industry is growing and transforming under the strategic roadmap called Vision2020 thanks in part to a unique collaborative model involving many players in the Canadian economy.
Vision2020 was launched in May 2012 as a 10-year journey to help the forest sector in your community and others reach its potential. The initiative issued a challenge to industry as well as governments, academics, researchers, policy thinkers, environmentalists and others to find ways to improve coordination among everyone involved in the forest products industry. The vision set three ambitious goals: To refresh the workforce with an additional 60,000 new employees; improve environmental performance by a further 35 per cent; and generate an additional $20 billion in economic activity from new products and markets, all by the end of the decade.
The maxim “what gets measured gets done” is one of the underlying principles of Vision2020. Holding ourselves accountable for making progress ensures continuous improvement and the ability to correct course. Having a strategy with measurable goals is the mark of any good business. Having a strategy with measureable goals for an entire sector is a novel and challenging concept. Still, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) has made a commitment to report publicly on the collective progress of the industry every two years. This month FPAC released Pathways to Prosperity, the first report card which shows progress on all three parameters.
The report covers the baseline year of 2010 to 2012, a time when the Canadian industry was recovering from the recession, when jobs were shed and mills closed. However forest product companies in Canada are hiring again and the sector recruited 8,000 workers in the period 2010 to 2012, with the pace of hiring expected to increase as the industry transforms.
The progressive environmental record of Canada’s forest sector is widely recognized—a recent international market survey showed Canada is considered the best forest products supplier in the world in terms of environmental reputation. The report card shows further headway. The industry’s environmental credentials improved by 6 per cent over the two years based on 12 parameters. This includes lower water and air emissions, reduced energy use and less waste to landfill.
The Canadian industry saw only a modest increase in economic activity of $0.5 billion. However, this does not tell the whole picture. The report card reflects a time when the industry was stabilizing after the downturn yet also making strategic investments for future growth. Adopting new innovative products and entering new markets does not happen overnight, so the results do not yet capture the full extent of the effort being made by the industry and its partners.
The federal government is helping with programs such as Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT); FPInnovations has developed world first innovations including nano-crystalline cellulose (NCC) and cellulose filaments (CF) – two new materials with vast potential; the creativity of the academic community is being tapped through Forest Innovation by Research & Education (FIBRE) network which involves eight research networks and 27 universities. More recent figures do show more robust growth — for example, in 2013, wood exports went up 27 per cent and the GDP of Canada’s forest industry grew by 3.4 per cent, faster than the 2 per cent of the overall economy.
So progress is being made thanks to the joint effort involving many partners, but more must be done. Realizing Vision2020 will continue to require a collective effort, bold thinking and determination. The industry must continue to work with governments at each level, including those in communities, policy thinkers, academics and others to find the best technological, social, environmental and economic pathways to progress. Together we can ensure the Canadian forest products industry remains a world-leading dynamic and innovative forest sector.
David Lindsay is president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada.