Canada’s forest industry can be renewed by linking it to existing mega industry in the country

By Professor Mohini Mohan Sain, Dean and Professor, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto

Canada’s forest is one of its largest resources. We have about 10% of the world’s forests and we actually have 27% of the boreal forest. It is one of our most valuable resources, like other resources such as mining, oil, and others. I think it is time for us to look at our natural resources not as a commodity but as a value-added hi-tech technology throughout, and as a service.

Today we live in a global world, which I say is one world. There is no difference between east and west, south and north, China or India, or Brazil and Canada. Therefore, my first and foremost recommendation to the committee would be, even if you are looking as the softwood lumber industry and the softwood lumber treaty with the U.S., we should find ways in terms of regulations, policy, and other trades to facilitate this conventional, very profitable industry going beyond the United States, particularly to reach people in China, India, Brazil, Colombia—which has now become very important—and Chile.

Therefore, we have to think about this and how to capture the market. China is the largest market, which we can’t deny. India is the second-largest market, and yet we haven’t tapped into it. That’s one important thing I want to stress.

The second thing I would also like to stress is that as dean of the faculty of forestry, I see many aspects of forestry and what you often don’t think of as a forest product. For instance, the by-products from a pulp mill that we are manufacturing from near Montreal have a much higher value compared to our conventional fibre today because of the global economy and the expectations from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brazil, where they are making eucalyptus at about $40 to $50 per tonne. I’m referring to two simple materials coming from the pulp and paper industry. One is the lignin, which is known as black liquor. My dear colleagues all know that the term is black liquor. The second is fibre.

We all know and very familiar in this country with making paper and boats. I would like to say, let’s think in a different way and use those extremely valuable products in a different way. So with these two particular resources, I would like to call for a transformative change in our landscape of technology, and at the same time in commerce or business.

How do you want to encourage that? First and foremost, please do not undermine the brilliance of this country. I’m a citizen of Canada. I’m very proud to be a citizen of this country. I know the talents we have coast to coast. You go from British Columbia to Alberta to Quebec to Ontario and you have the largest intellectual capital diversity in the world. I can guarantee you that because I go everywhere in the world.

Therefore, if this young generation comes out with a new idea that uses some of this, particularly sources from the forest industry or forest biomass, please give them some chance to exploit their idea into a process of business.

What do I mean? I mean that you have to use strategy; you can’t give to everybody. You have to link the forest industry to the existing mega-industry of this country. What I’m talking about is spectrochemical. I’m talking about automotive. I’m talking about the packaging industry. I’m talking about electronics and the biomedical industry.

Personally, I believe that if these two ingredients, lignin and fibre, are carefully and in an innovative and transformative way nurtured as a spinoff, each industry can be served, and that will benefit us, not only by getting substantial economic and job creation, but also by making our country’s image a greener one, a leading country in the world.

I would like to mention some of these products that we’re talking about, specifically, fibre-derived products like the one I mentioned: a dissolved cellulose derived value-added product like rayon. Go beyond that and make it a carbon fibre. You can do that from lignin, which is one of the transformative materials coming into play for the right application of the transportation industry.

Today, if you see a Boeing 787, that Boeing 787 is 40% lighter. The wings are lighter. They need less fuel. That particular carbon fibre can be derived from lignin sources.

As another example, today as I speak our cars are using forest product biomass from micro- and nano-derived fibre. Introducing biotechnology and nanotechnology as a synergy, and introducing that as a commercial product, is not a new thing for Canada. We are the leaders in the bioeconomy, and we have to lead that and foster that the way we can.

The other thing I want to mention is to facilitate research institution, academic base innovation commercialization by promoting young entrepreneurs—not by seeking jobs, but by creating jobs. Ask them to create jobs and they go and create their own jobs and innovations in those areas. The areas I mean are biocomposites, bionanocomposites, carbon trading, by nurturing biorefinery and the bioeconomic platform.

Facilitate policy and regulations to capture new market and better spinoffs for the forest product industry in novel green products and ecological and health services. I also want to mention that forests can serve our health sectors. Forests can serve our ecological success in the urban communities.

I’ll go into that in a little bit of detail. Encourage them by giving a tiny amount of seed money to make one commercial product. That might lead to the rise of our conventional forest product industry. I would encourage the conventional forest industry to look for this successful spinoff for licensing or acquisition. Why is it so important? Branding and the mechanism of international strategy are important. The small company can do that. If a company like Resolute, or others like Timbec, come forward and acquire this company and become a megacompany in the world, they can make this happen much better.

The other thing I want to mention in these few minutes is to promote legislation that includes a government procurement policy aspect. If a small company is thriving to get its first commercialism product, we should have a procurement policy so that we can buy their product the fastest and so that they can have in the world market one commercial product. It’s important for China to know if this company already has a commercialized product. They will not trade with us unless this company has a new commercial product. Therefore, government has the role and should continue that role in the landscape.

One more important thing that we’ve not realized yet is the urban forest economy. Here I refer to carbon trading and the health of the forests. Today’s economy is about sustainable cities. Seventy percent of our citizens live in urban landscapes, which is is concrete and big. Tall buildings should be considered, with all kinds of legislative challenges overcoming that and making it happen. This is the time we should make it happen. This is the platform. We have the technology and we should have the will and guts to make all those drivers. I know that in Toronto it’s the firefighters. We should have sufficient landscape to make it safe, and we know that we have that safe. This is the time to make it happen.

Recreation and the health service should be a tool in that particular area.

I wanted to mention that in today’s economy, if we want to survive, it is all us. There is no division between Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Quebec. We have to work together, not repeat what we are doing, and not repeat the funding what we are doing. We have to have a synergy so we can have the maximum use of our resources.

[Photo Credit: Ben Alman/Flickr]