By David Lindsay, President and CEO, Forest Products Association of Canada

Did you know that Canada’s forest products sector employs almost twice as many people and contributes twice as much to Canada’s manufacturing GDP than auto manufacturing according to Statistics Canada? Naysayers who write off the forest industry as a sunset sector might be surprised to know that 2014 was a relatively good year with exports up about 10% from a year earlier.

It is of course true that some traditional pulp and papers mills have shuttered recently, but there is positive news as well as the sector has been refocusing and reinventing itself.  It can  look to the future with cautious optimism because of its idealistic vision, pragmatic approaches and smart decisions by both industry and governments. 

For pulp and paper mills, innovation is emerging as an engine of growth.  Wood fibre is now being used in everything from car parts to cosmetics to chemicals and clothing. Turning traditional mills into bio-refineries  will help create new growth but also help “green” the economy since these new products, based on a renewable resource, can replace those made from more carbon intensive materials.

Marketing the new wood-based bio-products as green can only enhance the industry’s already  strong environmental credentials.  Canada is recognized for its progressive forest management practices with 40% of the world’s independently certified forests.  Pulp and paper mills have cut greenhouse gas emission by about 70% since 1990.  About thirty mills now generate green electricity on site using residual materials from their operations – enough to power all the houses in Calgary. Forest companies belonging to the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) continue to work co-operatively with environmental groups in the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA).  And under Vision2020, the sector is aiming to further reduce its environmental footprint by 35% by the end of the decade.  FPAC is gratified to see that a 2014 international market survey by Leger Marketing showed that Canada’s forest products industry had the best environmental reputation in the world.

So even with bumps along the way, the industry is growing and further greening itself as it looks to a future where it continues to support jobs and prosperity especially in rural Canada.