Canfor applying sustainability across its entire culture in bid to prosper in a post-pandemic world

By Tony Kryzanowski

Canfor Corporation recently grabbed headlines with its $420 million purchase of the solid wood assets of Millar Western Forest Products in Alberta, which includes two modern sawmills and a value-adding facility. But it is also drawing attention for what it describes as “a new era of sustainability for our company”.

Forest companies are very experienced with answering uncomfortable questions—but in today’s corporate world, the squirm factor has gone well beyond making sure to plant two trees for every one tree harvested. Canfor, one of Canada’s largest forest product manufacturers, with significant assets also in the southeastern U.S. and Sweden, seems serious about getting out front of issues like gender balance in its workforce, and increasing its hires of under-represented groups.

Canada’s forest industry understands that sustainability is a critical word that today is the key to doing business with customers, but it can be interpreted in many ways. Canfor is showing how it can be applied as a general principle right across its entire corporate landscape.

Large corporations typically operate within a closed culture. So it is rare that such a large corporate entity like Canfor is willing to pull back the veil and be so transparent about how it intends to manage its future environmental impacts, investments and human resources. Their efforts deserve our respect and admiration because it is not often that such a large organization is willing to admit that it can do better and then sets out a plan to accomplish tangible goals.

“Our strategy is built on three critical pillars of people, products and planet,” Canfor says. “It brings to life five focus areas in which the business can make the most tangible impact. The five focus areas and associated targets include: safety, health and wellness; inclusion and diversity; indigenous relations; sustainable forestry; and climate change.”

Typically, these types of statements bounce off the average skeptic as corporate fluff but it’s notable what Canfor has already accomplished toward achieving its corporate retooling. Those efforts have included the executive suite.

The company recently announced that by the end of 2020, 100 per cent of its executive team had received inclusion and diversity training. It also trained 85 per cent of its Canadian salaried employees and 78 per cent of its American salaried employees, with the goal of achieving 100 per cent across the board by the end of 2021. So company executives are setting the example and sending a message to the corporate world and employees, while setting the bar high for competitors who are finding it just as difficult to attract new skilled workers to the industry.

It’s also interesting that Canfor has acknowledged some gender bias in its application process. By eliminating gender bias, the company says that it realized an overall 12.5 per cent increase in applications from women in 2020, and 11 per cent of new hires were women. It has also stipulated in writing its goals for inclusion and diversity going forward. It is aiming for a 30 per cent increase from under-represented groups in executive leadership positions by 2030; a 30 per cent increase from under-represented groups in all other senior leadership positions by 2025; a 33 per cent increase from under-represented groups for new hires annually by 2025; and a 50 per cent increase from under-represented groups for new hires annually by 2030.

Furthermore, it may seem like a small issue but the company has mandated 100 per cent availability of gender-specific Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at all its operations in North America by 2023, sending another positive message to women in the Canfor workforce.

As always, actions speak louder than words. So it will be worthwhile to follow progress reports over the next decade to determine how successful the company has been in achieving its objectives.

Canfor is also demonstrating its enhanced focus on sustainability as far as the environment and climate change is concerned by supporting the construction of the first phase of Arbois Biotech’s innovative biomass to low-carbon biofuel plant in Prince George, B.C. Canfor says that the plant will use first-of-its-kind technology to convert sawmill residues, primarily bark, into high value renewable biocrude which can be further processed in refineries to produce low-carbon transportation fuels. Arbois is a joint venture between Canfor and Licella Holdings Ltd.

In 2020, Canfor also began to build a bio-innovation team to develop new sustainable solutions.

The company is aspiring to be a ‘partner of choice’ for Indigenous peoples with the aim to have 100 per cent of its operating area covered by agreements with willing Indigenous Nations by 2030.

It also set a goal of achieving 100 per cent participation in Indigenous Cultural Awareness and Understanding training for all Canadian staff by 2021 and has committed to five per cent total spending with Indigenous vendors for Canfor’s Wood Products Canada business by 2025.

Canfor has positioned itself in the post-pandemic world as an attractive landing space for prospective employees, and as such, has proven itself to be a company worth aspiring to for all hoping to prosper in this industry in future.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

March/April 2022

On the Cover:
Moggie Valley Timber, located in southwestern Ontario, is a sawmill that sells to lumber wholesalers and retailers, and has been in business for nearly a quarter-of-a-century. Moggie Valley Timber also carries out logging, cutting about 10 million board feet per year. On the logging side, in order to harvest the larger trees that Moggie Valley Timber comes across on woodlots in this part of Ontario, the company has invested in an Eco Log 590F harvester. Read all about how the Eco Log 590F is working out for Moggie Valley in this issue, beginning on page 34. (Cover photo and story photos courtesy of Moggie Valley Timber).

B.C.’s ILA show leading the pack …
B.C.’s Interior Logging Association is leading the pack when it comes to the re-start of forest industry events, with its equipment show and AGM coming up in May.

Cutting edge equipment—from cutting edge suppliers
A mill upgrade for Vicksburg Forest Products led to the company sourcing cutting edge equipment from a variety of suppliers—including from B.C. and Quebec.

Northland moves to partial processing—at the mill
Facing narrow log delivery windows, Alberta sawmill Northland Forest Products has decided to move to partial millyard processing, with two TreeKing processors.

Another successful convention expected for BC Saw Filer’s
The B.C. forest industry is facing challenges, but this year’s BC Saw Filer’s Convention & AGM—being held May 27 to 28 in Kamloops, B.C.—is expected to be just as big and successful as it was pre-COVID.

Iron investment handles bigger timber
Moggie Valley Timber has invested in an Eco Log 590F harvester to handle the larger trees that it comes across on woodlots in southwestern Ontario.

Canada’s Top Lumber Producers: West Fraser and Canfor on top!
Logging and Sawmilling Journal’s authoritative listing of Canada’s Top Lumber Producers—produced in association with leading forest industry consultants FEA—shows that West Fraser and Canfor are still the top lumber producers in the country.

New and Noted at the Oregon Logging Conference
The Oregon Logging Conference in February kicked off with great expectation following two years of in-person restrictions due to COVID. The OLC is widely known for its extensive, state-of-the-art equipment display—and we take a look at what was new at the show.

Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.

Tech Update
From power upgrades to production improvements, read all about what’s new in small scale logging equipment in this issue’s Tech Update.

The Last Word
Forest giant Canfor is applying sustainability across its entire culture in a bid to prosper in a post-pandemic world.


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