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September 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal


By Avrim Lazar

Deep re-engineering — rather than a shallow approach — has been the key to the Canadian forest industry’s success story in reducing greenhouse gas emissions

In my previous column in Logging & Sawmilling Journal, I talked about the effects of climate change and how it has—and will—impact the forest industry. From here, it’s clear that Canada needs to adapt policies to the reality of climate change. We need to “go deep.”

Our history with environmental problems somehow tends to drive us toward a fairly shallow approach. For the most part, we have come to understand environmental pollution as a hygiene thing, put a filter on top of the stack and scrub out the dirt, and you are fine. We have basically thought of pollution as that bit of dirt that comes out of the process.

Because of that, we have tried to think of how to fix climate change with small fixes to our processes. But the truth of the matter is that we have integrated the use of fossil fuels into the very structure of our society, our lives, and our economy. All our industry depends upon fossil fuels. So we have to go beyond this kind of concept that you have to clean up a little bit of the dirt or find some new filter and we have to understand that this requires going deep—rethinking, re-engineering, retooling in a way in which we are less dependent upon fossil fuels.

Let’s take a look at the forest products industry, what we have done and how have we done it.

We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 by 30 per cent. We have also increased production by 28 per cent. As a result our greenhouse gas efficiency has increased over 40 per cent since 1990. We have done it only a little bit by becoming more efficient. We are getting more efficient every year, but you don’t get to 40 per cent with minor process changes.

We have done it through deep reengineering— we have reduced, yearby- year, our dependence on fossil fuels and gone to biomass, biofuel. We have reinstated ourselves in the carbon cycle. Instead of sending sawdust, bark, black liquor (which is part of the production of pulp and the sludge that comes out of it) to landfill, it all goes in the burners and gets used for energy—reduced emissions are the result. Additionally, we have reduced air pollution.

We have reduced what we send to landfills by 30 per cent. But most importantly, we have re-thought where we get energy from. Instead of using fossil fuels, we are using the fuels that have resulted from our manufacturing processes. We are right inside the active carbon cycle.

We have not done this just a little bit—in fact, we produce enough renewable energy today to replace almost three nuclear reactors. We produce enough energy from green sources, completely renewable sources in our mills, to power all the electricity needs of the city of Vancouver, forever.

We are going to become energy selfsufficient in our industry. We have that as part of our medium-term plan. In fact, we plan to be net exporters of electricity so the remote communities don’t have to take the inefficient route of those long power lines. They can actually use the local mill, burning local biomass, as an energy source.

I am not going to say that we did this because we are smarter and we are righteous. We did it because it made sense. But it certainly illustrates the point that unless you go deep, unless you reengineer, unless you get radical with your approach, you cannot make the sort of projects that have to be made with the size of the problem we have. So we need
to “go deep.”

But the forest industry is just one part of the equation. With climate change, we have the most dramatic challenge to our capacity to be a community, a global community.

We have to adapt to climate change as a global community, not just a local community. There is the temptation to say, “I really believe in fighting climate change,” and then let your neighbour pay the price and not do your share. In some countries, it shows up as comments like,“You have to be kidding, I am not doing this,” other righteous statements and little action.

Perhaps central to all this is we have not yet figured out how to live in a globalized world. We have not really solved the puzzle or dilemma of adapting to the technology which has made us a global village with some kind of global community spirit. But if we could do it for climate change, we might be able to figure out how to do it for a number of other things.

Maybe Canada, with our history, our values, our international reputation, and our history in global public affairs, can actually make a made-in-Canada contribution to the global community’s capacity to behave itself.

Avrim Lazar is president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada.

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