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Seeking Opportunity

BC company 3D Wood Design is seeking opportunity in two areas: FSC certification and birch utilization. 

By Jim Stirling

Darren Levitt views aligning with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards to be an outstanding and not-to-be-missed opportunity for secondary wood manufacturers in British Columbia, allowing them to be elevated from their "unknown stakeholder" status. He predicts the FSC will open new global markets and effect real change by creating a middle ground where more people can participate on a sustainable basis. 

Doug Colebank (left) and Darren Levitt of 3D Wood Design with an altar being made out of birch.

Levitt and partner Doug Colebank have sought FSC certification for their company 3D Wood Design. The Prince George-based enterprise produces a range of imaginative cabinetry and furniture products in which they champion-by example-the use of birch. "We've been preparing ourselves for change for 10 years," says Levitt. "Through the FSC, consumers and environmentalists enter a new era, a new working relationship." 

3D Wood Design has bided its time and chosen not to follow the course- adopted by many in the so-called value added sector-of entering into agree ments with primary industry, joint ventures or timber sale applications. He says there's been lots of talk about diversification, innovation and change. "These are all excellent words," says Levitt. 

But the partners feel it's been so much smoke and mirrors. "R and D has been all from and all for the same group," he adds. He says central and northern BC has the fibre resource and an underutilized hardwood forest which doesn't necessitate re-constructing an existing infrastructure for FSC training and design. 

"We have to prepare, prepare the cuts and prepare the people." Although the FSC is in its comparative infancy in North America, (regional certification standards for BC remain in the consultation stage), Levitt believes time is of the essence. He figures there is a two to five year window to train and certify people to take the maximum employment advantages of new product and market potentials. 

He estimates the re-manufacturing sector will be 85 per cent short of the people it needs in two years. But Levitt believes BC can be a leader in the initiative, not a follower. "We're not trying to portray ourselves as crystal ball gazers. We're firmly on the ground," continues Levitt. "But words are not enough anymore. 

There's no time for strategic planning and consultation. It's time for implementation-and getting capital applied to the right place." Levitt says FSC as a marketing focus is an exciting prospect to First Nations. "They can get more people involved and more products developed. First Nations people can also become trained in marketing and business management and they like that concept," he adds. 

Birch: more than just good firewood, it can be milled and dried for conversion into furniture parts and flooring.

The FSC is no magic solution but Levitt says FSC, more than other certifying agency, has a wide appeal to people. And, he contends, the organization has proven itself open to suggestions and investigation. The partners firmly believe FSC certification has real long term benefits to small companies like 3D Wood Doug Colebank (left) and Darren Levitt of 3D Wood Design with an altar being made out of birch. Design. Levitt concedes, however, it took considerable time and expense to get up to speed on the FSC certification process. But he believes the potential is there. 

"We're trying to create an awareness that there's a new opportunity for jobs out there. We feel it is the right thing to do and now is the time to do it." Levitt and Colebank have contributed more than lip service to another awareness issue. The pair bought a booth at 1999 year's Forest Expo in Prince George. It provided a showcase for 3D Wood Design's birch furniture, but it was also a rallying cry to give the species some respect. 

The theme was: Birch-The possibilities, the jobs, the opportunities. There is no limit if we use our imagination. A few other entrepreneurs in the Prince George area have recognized birch is more than just good firewood. Most recently, a small operation began accessing birch from private land, putting it through a dedicated primary breakdown sawmill and shipping the wood for drying and conversion into furniture parts and flooring. But for the most part, birch languishes where lodgepole pine was until some 35 years ago. That, of course, was then. 

Now lodgepole pine is recognized as a kingpin commercial species in BC's interior forests. Levitt says other countries haven't been so derelict in recognizing birch's virtues. He says Japan and other Asian countries have long admired the light colour and attractive grain of birch wood products. Closer to home, birch can command high stumpage in the US, he adds. And contrary to popular belief, birch is stable and takes to machining and staining, he says. And there's lots of it. 

Levitt estimates the Prince George region alone could sustain an annual harvest of 1.6 million cubic metres. Kiln dried birch converted to high end wood products commands up to five times the value of green birch lumber, says 3D Wood Design. "Within the secondary manufacturing sector of the BC forest industry, there is an employment co-efficient that suggests eight to 10 jobs exist per 1,000 cubic metres of wood. 

If the harvesting of birch is actively pursued and if we calculate with a very conservative figure of one-third of that ratio, it could result in at least 300 sustainable, direct jobs in the region."

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