The Forest Industry: A Green Contributor to Canada’s Energy Future

March 04 2014

By Catherine Cobden, Executive Vice-President, Forest Products Association of Canada

For anyone who thinks wood energy simply means tossing another log on a crackling fire might be surprised to know that Canada’s forest products industry is a green energy power house.  In fact, it produces the equivalent of three nuclear reactors of electricity, while producing about 80% of its own energy requirements.  The vast majority of this energy production is green energy. 

So when it comes to Canada’s energy future, don’t just think about traditional oil and gas, and newer alternatives such as wind and solar ― there’s a growing role for bio-energy produced from an abundant renewable resource in Canada ― trees,  mainly using by-products from our manufacturing processes that might otherwise have gone to waste.

I was pleased that the Forest Products Association of Canada was invited to take part in the Canadian Energy Innovation Summit held in late February in Toronto. The summit was a valuable input to the provincial and territorial “Council of the Federation” efforts to develop a diversified Canadian Energy Strategy to help drive economic development and job creation while improving our environmental performance.

As both a major user and producer of green energy, the forest industry has already taken on this challenge by adopting innovations that have had both economic and environmental benefits while providing Canada with a green source of renewable bio-energy.

The forest industry is the second largest industrial energy user in the country representing about 20% of all industrial energy consumption.  But what makes the sector unique is that by developing and deploying new technologies, mills now produce 80% of this energy demand from their own operations and are aiming for complete self-sufficiency.  

Energy is a major component of the cost structure for the industry.  It has made billions of dollars’ worth of investment in this area driven by the desire to both improve the sector’s competitive position and to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Both have been accomplished.  

The adoption of energy technology in over 80 existing manufacturing operations has had a dramatic result ― elimination of the use of coal and a 95% reduction in the use of oil. That has meant a reduction of greenhouse gases by 62% since 2000 across Canada. These fuel substitution strategies have reduced our energy costs by more than a third since 2000.  This shows environmental and social responsibility and also helps support the near 240,000 direct jobs in the industry and the 200 communities that depend on it.  

Embracing bioenergy has been an important step in a journey of transformation for the forest products industry.  The sector believes the path forward is about finding new ways to serve new markets and create new products made from wood fibre ― clothing, TV screens, pharmaceutical coatings and more― it’s certainly a far cry from being just hewers of wood and drawers of water!

In fact, our confidence led FPAC to unveil “Vision2020” last year with three aspirational goals. By the end of the decade, we want to generate $20 billion of new economic activity through new innovations and new markets; further improve our environmental footprint by 35% and hire 60,000 new recruits, including women, Aboriginals and new Canadians.

The forest products industry has understood that it can’t stand still as the world continues to evolve with game changers such as the “Apple” revolution, 3D printing, the ongoing development of key emerging economies and the International Energy Agency predicting a tripling of the global renewable energy supply.  The forest products industry is doing its part to adapt to this evolving reality and intends to do more― but we can’t face this brave new world alone. The answer is collaboration.

Friday’s Canadian Energy Innovation Summit was an important event as it brought together governments and stakeholders on the question of how to develop a forward–looking energy strategy for Canada.  The role of government will always by crucial, including risk sharing across the innovation development system, market development, regulatory certainty and leadership. We also need to work with others in the private sector on a new business model that promotes the integration of new innovations such as bio-energy into traditional industries and its existing infrastructure.

I left the Energy Summit with a strong sense of hope. By working together, we can ensure a prosperous future and make Canada a smart global leader in energy development.  The forest industry will make an important contribution to this future.



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