Workforce implications of innovation in Canada’s Forest Sector

On May 4th, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources  released its report,    Value-added products in Canada’s forest sector : cultivating innovation for a competitve bioeconomy . The report  is the latest discussion of  advancing Canadian value-added forest products and a forest-sourced bioeconomy, and addresses five themes: (1) protecting Canadian forests and primary resources (which recognizes the threats of climate change and beetle infestation); (2) advancing industrial integration, innovation and talent development; (3) strengthening partnerships with Indigenous peoples; (4) maximizing market opportunities in Canada and abroad; and (5) a case study on building with wood, with a focus on advanced mass timber construction.

Discussion of the issue of training and talent development (beginning on page 18), calls for  more internships and employment opportunities for engineering and science students and highly trained post-graduates;  the need to develop a well-educated forest-sector workforce in rural areas; and the need for diversity and gender equity.  Employment implications are present in the discussion of wood-based construction of homes, where witnesses talk about transforming wood construction from a craft-based industry to a more mainstream manufacturing process, where “prefabrication in a factory environment would make wood construction more cost competitive and less wasteful, with greater potential for automation, customization and design accuracy.” The report also provides a case study of two Canadian examples of “tall wood buildings”: including Brock Commons, a new 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia , and Origine, a 13-storey building in Quebec City’s Pointe-auxLièvres eco-district.

The United Steelworkers , who represent over 18,000 forestry workers after their 2004 merger with the  Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA), presented a Brief to the Committee in November 2017.  The Brief identifies  the main challenges facing the sector, as low harvest volumes, insufficient infrastructure funding, and decreasing raw log exports, and concludes  that, although it’s a provincial jurisdiction,  “The Steelworkers submit that Canada needs a national forestry strategy that recognizes while the challenges within the lumber, pulp, paper, or value added sector are unique, … the whole sector is highly integrated, and dependent on each facet of the sector succeeding. “  The Brief also states  “The costs that the industry as a whole faces will further increase with the federal government’s plan to roll out a $50/tonne price on carbon by 2022. This new carbon pricing regime will not only risk further impacting tight margins in regions like Ontario, but also risks leading to carbon leakage. Canadian companies are now operating in the southern USA which does not have a carbon pricing regime.”

Unifor, which represents approximately 24,000 forest workers, also issued a report (not submitted to the Committee)  in October 2017:  The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry .  A key message from Unifor is the need to involve workers in a in  a national  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”  Also on this topic, a 2017 report by the Innovation Committee of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers,  A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada . 

Unifor, Government visions for Sustainable Forestry

The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry was released on October 16 by Unifor’s Forestry Industry Council, representing the union’s 24,000 members in the forestry sector.  The report provides an overview of the size and health of the forestry industry, and after the past several years of declining employment, asks, “What could lie ahead?” The answer given:  “Technologies that put forestry resources to uses never previously imagined; transformative innovations in building materials and green construction, and a sustained transition toward higher-value growth products and markets. There is also a coming wave of retirements that means the industry could need upward of 60,000 new workers within the decade.”

The report sets out Unifor’s aims for each of five focal points in an integrated forestry policy, involving the federal and provincial governments and prioritizing the role of First Nations.  The report calls for “ sustainable rules for wood harvesting that secure investments and jobs while meeting the highest environmental standards. There must be stable and appropriately priced hydro-electricity; as well, transportation infrastructure, pricing and access need to be modernized. Trade policies need to support high-value forestry exports, maintain stable access to key markets, while ensuring we are not the target of unfair trade measures. And we need to control the export of unprocessed raw logs.”  A key message is the need to involve workers in a sustained dialogue for  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”

Related reading: In mid-September, Natural Resources Canada released the 2017 edition of The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report and L’État des forêts au Canada.

At the September annual meeting of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM), their Innovation Committee released A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada , with the vision to make Canada “a global leader in the use of forest bio-mass for advanced bioproducts and innovative solutions” including as a source of renewable energy.   Note the first of the 4 pillars of the framework: “Communities and Relationships. This section in the Framework advances policies towards  “creating green jobs, offering opportunities for rural communities through education and skills training, improving overall quality of life, and enhancing partnerships with Indigenous peoples.”

Also at the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers annual meeting, the Minister of Natural Resources announced a call for proposals   for the next wave of projects through the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) program, a federal grant program to encourage :

  • new or increased production of bioenergy, biomaterials, biochemicals and next-generation building products by the forest sector;
  • increased deployment and encouraging broader adoption of first-in-kind innovative technologies, particularly Canadian, across the industry; and
  • the creation of innovative partnerships with non-traditional forest sector partners as a way to develop new business models for the sector.

Canada’s Forest Sector commits to a voluntary emissions reduction target

On May 2, 2016, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC)   announced its 30 by 30 Climate Change Challenge  – a pledge to remove 30 megatonnes (MT) of CO2 per year by 2030.  FPAC claims that the forest sector is the first to voluntarily contribute to the federal government’s climate goals under the Paris agreement;  the target is “more than 13% of the Canadian government’s emissions target” for 2030.  The details are not yet clear, but  FPAC states generally that it  will rely on improved forest management, increasing “the use of innovative forest products and clean tech to displace materials made from fossil fuels, and by further efficiencies at mill sites.” According to the  Globe and Mail , “the association endorsed the adoption of carbon pricing – either taxes or cap-and-trade systems”. See the Vancouver Sun coverage here    .

Resolute Forest Products on Notice after 3M Announces a new Sustainability Policy for Paper Procurement

Following a review of its procurement processes conducted in collaboration with ForestEthics and Greenpeace, multinational 3M released a revised Pulp and Paper Sourcing Policy in March, with high standards for environmental protection and human rights. 3M will no longer use the Sustainable Forests Initiative (SFI) label. Its new policy requires improved monitoring and reporting of source materials, and “free, prior and informed consent by indigenous peoples and local communities before logging operations occur”. The company has already cancelled its contracts with Indonesian Royal Golden Eagle Group-owned suppliers and has warned Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products that it must quickly improve its controversial relationships with First Nations, as well as its practices of logging of caribou habitat and in High Conservation Areas. Read ForestEthics Applauds 3M’s New Industry-Leading Sustainability Plan (March 5), or 3M’s new pulp & paper policy impacts Resolute Forest Products (CBC, March 5). For an excellent history of Resolute’s controversial environmental record, see “Resolute and Greenpeace at Loggerheads” in the Montreal Gazette (Feb 13).

Blue and Green Authors Promote Sustainable Forestry over LNG Development in B.C.

An article written jointly by Arnold Bercov, President of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada (PPWC), and two campaigners with the Wilderness Committee environmental group states: “We believe the B.C. government has gradually abandoned the province’s forestry heritage in pursuit of an unsustainable pipe dream: liquefied natural gas exports to Asia. The better option – for a resilient economy and for our climate – is to rebuild an innovative, sustainable forestry sector…What B.C. needs is legislation that supports an innovative and adaptable forest industry that creates local jobs and moves products up the value chain. Raw-log exports must be banned. Strong laws should also be enacted to protect the ecological values of our working forests for future generations”. See “Trees are the Solution that LNG will never be” in the Times Colonist (Dec. 21). The same article appeared in The Tyee (January 5, 2015) under the title “Prosperity? Forestry not Fracking”. The PPWC has also been critical of the unequal distribution of funds in B.C.’s 2014 policy document, Skills for Jobs Blueprint, whereby training support for LNG jobs appears to come at the expense of funding for other sectors, such as forestry. See Local Knowledge and Government Funding Vital to Training the Next Generation of Foresters.