By Tony Kryzanowski
Activist Sacha Gendron knows full well that information is both powerful and empowering when matched with social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.
That’s why she has launched a communications company that is helping Ontario wood product manufacturers and women involved in the industry tell their stories by filming their efforts, placing them on social media, and helping them to expand their reach.
Operating as Cutting Edge Sacha, she says that she already has a backlog of over 50 Ontario wood product manufacturers and organizations eager to use her services to professionally build their image and business presences on social media.
“There is kind of a void in understanding how social media works and how to be most productive on it,” says Gendron. “That’s something I’ve learned and it’s been key to my success—and will be key to helping others succeed as well.”
The daughter of Sid Gendron and Sheila Storey, who have established a highly successful urban wood salvage and repurposing business in Ontario called Sawmill Sid, Sacha can still be found on a daily basis working with her father in their yard in Mississauga, sawing lumber from urban salvage wood on their Wood-Mizer LT40 band sawmill. She works in the business as a sawmill operator, social media manager, and sales and operations manager.
Sawmill Sid has gained access to Toronto’s wood diversion lots. They salvage and transport logs to their yard, and saw them into higher value wood products. Typically, these logs would have been chipped.
It is Sacha’s experience working at Sawmill Sid that has helped to build her social media business through the industry connections the company has established over the years. Her work experience has also served to fuel her passion and desire to become a social media activist in three main areas—promoting the forest industry as positive for both the economy and the environment; promoting greater involvement by women in the male-dominated wood products industry; and, promoting the value of trees as a positive contributor to both the environment and combating climate change.
“I noticed two things throughout my journey,” says Sacha. “One is that there is a void in effective wood product promotion such as messages about the benefits of building with wood in particular, as well as demonstrating the effort to do so. Second, I noticed that there is a lack of female representation in the wood industry itself.”
The environmental benefits of trees and wood are also a key part of her advocacy.
“Wood products hold on to carbon for decades, so you can actively fight climate change by using wood products,” she says. “As climate change progresses, we are going to see more storms, more damage, and therefore more wood waste. Utilizing these natural resources is incredibly important.”
She points out that several hundred thousand trees are removed annually in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone, “so it is incredibly important that we make use of these trees, especially if this number is expected to increase.”
One of the biggest challenges she constantly encounters is a lack of education among people she talks to about forestry in general, a lack of understanding about responsible forest management, and how Sawmill Sid’s urban wood salvage efforts are positive for both the economy and the environment.
“For the most part, after a lengthy conversation, they do understand and we actually get a thank you,” she says.
But it is her knowledge about the power of social media that has been a strong driver in her advocacy efforts.
Sacha has been able to elevate her advocacy quickly, from being a relatively anonymous employee at Sawmill Sid to being recognized for her leadership in promoting the wood products industry, as well as encouraging more women in trades. This is a testament to the power of social media to educate and influence in today’s globally connected environment.
The fact that she has been able to parlay and monetize her social media communication knowledge into a communication company, Cutting Edge Sacha, is also another example of how the world is moving more and more quickly away from exclusively brick and mortar businesses to digital commerce. Canadian communication guru Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “the media is the message”, in 1964, meaning that the tools being used to communicate are as important as the message being conveyed.
In this case, the power of instant messaging with text, photos and video, instant feedback through e-mail, posts, and texts, and being able to change the message frequently and instantly is what’s new with this generation. The danger, of course, is that wood product businesses that ignore this new foundational form of communication either miss out on their true potential—or disappear off the radar completely. For example, would Sawmill Sid be the success that it is today if it hadn’t had a strong social media image and messaging?
When Sacha decided to take to social media to share her industry experience, observations and opinions, she started with educating herself in how to effectively use social media, which led to the launch of her Instagram account under the moniker of @cuttingedgesacha. Today, she has over 18,000 Instagram followers and 2,000 followers on Twitter.
“I definitely am media savvy, but I wasn’t before I started demonstrating my effort online,” she says. “Once I started to gain recognition, I started to realize that social media is one of the most powerful forms of communication, so I spent hours and hours educating myself on how to effectively promote messaging.
“I think if I was doing what I am doing without social media, I would not have a public face and so I absolutely would not have made the progress that I have made today.”
Having discovered the power of communication platforms like Instagram and Twitter in today’s digital world through her own success, she now wants to share her social media expertise with those who need it.
She particularly likes Instagram, which she describes as a photo and video blog where individual followers can see immediately what activity she is involved in, and provide feedback. She describes Twitter as more of a news feed, where it is easier to get lost among all the messages being posted.
But her activism goes well beyond social media. She works with a Toronto non-profit, Forests Ontario, as an awareness specialist. Sawmill Sid and Sacha appeared on a Toronto CTV morning television show to promote her experiences as a woman working in the wood products manufacturing industry, as well as the value to the environment of repurposing salvaged urban wood. She has a one year contract with the Small Arms Society in Mississauga to promote environmental work, which includes building an online platform for them. The Small Arms Society and Sacha have also partnered with Sheridan College to develop an online promotional campaign about a wood repurposing and building project they have launched.
Sacha is also participating in a program called, Girls Can Too, hosted by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, for young women who have not generally been encouraged to pursue a skilled trade as a career, to learn these skills in a safe environment. She demonstrated her work operating the band sawmill.
“It showed them a hard working woman working behind the mill, which is something they otherwise would not have seen,” says Sacha. “The response was incredible and I got a lot of thank you’s.”
What she is hoping to get across through both her media messaging and awareness work is that skills, abilities and passions are personal and not gender-specific. That message seems to be garnering the most activity on her social media sites.
“There is such a lack of women representation in this field, so it inspires me to get these e-mails and positive feedback, and know that I am being a role model for women sawmillers and other women in the wood industry,” she says.
Sacha has also been asked, by photographer Lisa Macintosh, to take part in an inspirational women’s series called ASK, which is focused on her efforts to convey positive environmental messaging to the world and simultaneously empower women and contribute to causes that she says need attention, while using social media platforms for social good.
“I have also been working with Habitat for Humanity in Mississauga, because they have the only revive centre in either Canada or the United States,” she says. “It’s an upcycling centre that includes a workshop, a do-it-yourself space and a kids build room. They have been turning locally salvaged wood into usable wood products. I help to promote these activities.
“The main thing that excites me is that it’s working,” Sacha concludes. “It is empowering and educating people.”
On the Cover:
A commitment to staying innovative and cutting edge through continuous improvements has been the key to continued business success for Vancouver Island company Coastland Wood Industries—and recent capital investments reinforce that solid approach (Photo courtesy of Coastland Wood Industries).
Cutting Edge social media for the forest industry
Through her company Cutting Edge Sacha, Ontario’s Sacha Gendron is very ably demonstrating the power of social media in promoting the wood products industry—and encouraging more women to work in the Canadian forest industry.
Perseverance pays off for B.C. sawmiller
Perseverance has paid off for sawmiller Jason Alexander, with his cedar operation in Valemount, B.C. now having a new wood supply agreement, allowing him to expand the operation, and employ more local people.
COFI Conference coming up
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Canucks head south … to Louisiana
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B.C.’s Resources Expo show gears up
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Family forestry legacy
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Coastland’s continuous improvements
Veneer producer Coastland Wood Industries’ business strategy of continuous improvements has delivered solid results for the Vancouver Island-based company.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, is a major feature story from the Canadian Wood Fibre
The Last Word
Timber shortages in B.C. are now hitting home, says Jim Stirling.