Fashions come and go. Wood industry economics also fluctuate. Yet there is every reason to believe that sugar maple and, to a lesser extent, beech will retain the favour of flooring and furniture buyers. In any case, the life span of trees vastly exceeds that of our economic cycles, and we have no better choice than to manage our forest resources according to existing value criteria.

There is no chance that 2008 will be a good year for the solid wood products sector. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. With that off my chest, here’s a brief look at what to expect in 2008 and beyond. Much of this information and perspective has been mined from the news & views section of our live website –  www.canadianforestries.ca – so for more
detail and regular updates, bookmark it today.

In bad markets, rumours spread like disease. Here are two hot ones right now:

Is China more of an opportunity to the Canadian forest products industry or more of a threat? The answer for individual wood product manufacturers may be in Wood Market Trends in China, a recently released study by the Markets & Economics Group of the Forintek Division of FPInnovations.
Written by some of North America’s most knowledgeable experts in Chinese wood market trends, it navigates the blizzard of information about the Chinese economy by focusing on 11 specific trends. Among these are: China’s continuing demand for fibre; increasing competition from Chinese exports; shift of investment inland from the Chinese coast; rising use of glulam; and the expansion of the Chinese value-added manufacturing sector.

If today’s news isn’t bad enough for you, take a look at the recently released Timber Supply and the Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation in British Columbia – 2007 Update. While the 2003 version spoke of 4.2 million ha affected in 12 management units, the 2007 version counts 13 million ha affected in 20 Timber Supply Areas (TSAs) containing almost 90% of the province’s mature pine available for harvest. If you’re wondering just how big that really is (I was), it’s the same land area as the Maritimes. For our European readers, that’s three times the size of Denmark.

It’s a sure thing – the wood pellet production industry in Northern BC is certain to grow. So says John Swaan, executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) and chairman of the Third International BioEnergy Conference and Exhibition slated for Prince George, BC next spring.

I’ve been given some grief through the years over some photos in which the subjects were not wearing all of the required safety gear, or at least not all the gear that some of my more safety-conscious readers wish they were wearing. Fair enough. Safety is no accident, and we have an educational role to play. Still, some explanation may be in order regarding the role of magazines like Canadian Wood Products, and the reality regarding safety in the wood products sector.


First, I fully understand that most in the industry would like us to show perfectly attired workers doing perfectly safe things in 100% safe environments. And we will – as soon as that’s all we see when we’re out in the field. For now, we’ll try to portray the industry as it actually is, which is our job.


The hard reality that I most often see is this – Large companies with well-oiled safety procedures that are for the most part strictly enforced, and mid- to small-sized operations that can be much more hit and miss when it comes to safety gear and procedures (don’t even get me started on the wide safety range among logging contractors). We see it all. We report it all, either in editorials or in photographs.


Of course, the managers we interview know full well why we are on site, and what we may do with the photos we take. To me it speaks volumes when they stand by and watch us take photographs of workers missing a key piece of safety gear for the environment involved (i.e., no one needs a hardhat sitting at a computer screen, standing next to a pickup in town, or in the fileroom). Worse still is when we remind workers that we may use the photo, so they should grab a hardhat, or glasses, or hearing protection, or that they should borrow my high-vis vest, and they and the manager just shrug. Admittedly this happens more often in the bush than the mill, but it happens. Hey, I had one logging contractor last year ham it up by jumping into the delimbing arms of a harvester head for a picture, before I literally knocked some sense into him and got him out. If it makes you feel better, he was wearing all the required safety gear, even a tear-away hi-vis vest and glasses.  


This range in safety behaviour narrows with each year as the industry’s overall performance continues to improve (we hope). Still, it is an industry challenge, and one the industry needs to know about, accept, and continue to improve. It is not something magazines can solve by doctoring photos or playing industry spin doctor.


So what should trade magazines do? I’ve listed a start below, and would welcome any more ideas or comments:


•    We should let managers and operators know who we are, and that we may be using any of the photos we take. Typically I have a magazine shirt or my billboard-style magazine jacket. That and the over-sized camera and flash make it pretty clear that I’m not on site to check the scanners.


•    Remind them as we take a photo that they may want to have all the safety gear required for their situation and jurisdiction.


•    Wear appropriate safety gear ourselves, which in my case includes safety boots, hardhat, hearing protection (in mills), eye protection, hi-vis vest (thanks to the folks at Bowater Thunder Bay for my new tear-away version), and tight-fitting work gloves for operating my camera. Not all of this is required in all circumstances, just as I do not expect every worker in every part of the mill to be wearing all this at all times (i.e., control rooms). Still, if you see me in the woods, mill yard, or mill floor without this range of gear, give me hell (or worse – take my photo and run it in your corporate newsletter).


•    Ask about safety in the interview process, and mention innovative procedures when we see them. Once again, the clear identification of student workers at Bowater Thunder Bay springs to mind, but there have been many over the past 15 years.


•    Mention the issue from time to time in these pages, as I am doing right now, or as we have in recent years regarding young worker safety, the plight in BC, etc…, to help keep things moving in the right direction.   


Let’s be honest. The industry does not yet have a level playing field when it comes to safety attitudes and behaviour. But we won’t help resolve that by pretending otherwise in the pages of this magazine. Here’s to a year where I don’t even have to worry about which picture to use, because they’re all safe.

Scott Jamieson, Editor
888-457-3155 Ext. 24

Canadian wood products manufacturers would do well to hitch their wagons to the green building movement, since climate change is increasingly becoming an important market driver in global construction. There is also strong evidence that wood has a substantial edge over competing building materials on this front.

Perhaps we need another environmental standards system like we need more lumber on the market. Yet more than anything else, the solid wood products industry should view the emerging green building guidelines from the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as an opportunity to get ahead of the curve when it comes to customer and public demands. It may also be a chance to develop some niche markets that in the end may become far more.


For those not familiar with the NAHB, it is a first-rate industry association that represents millions of our direct customers across the US, many of whom are the vanguard of the home construction industry. If they see a developing market worth dedicating millions in resources to serve, we should take note.


As this magazine goes to press, the consensus committee on the new National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is publishing a report on its second week-long meeting held in Washington, DC, July 9-13. The committee discussed a wide range of proposed green building guidelines brought to it by NGBS task groups tackling issues from energy efficiency and land development to air quality and resource efficiency. The latter is of most interest to us, and fortunately the resource task group includes representatives from both the American Forest & Paper Association and the APA-Engineered Wood Association. The goal is to unveil the new national standard at the International Homebuilders Show in Orlando in February 2008. The latest working draft policy is now available for public comment, with a deadline of September 24, so you may want to check it out at www.nahbrc.com. You can also stay posted on this issue at www.canadianwoodproducts.ca.


Making Green
The new standard deals with everything from carpets to drainage, and will assign points to builders who comply with standards in each area. The more points, the greener the building, with bronze, silver and gold standards. Based on the proposed standards, there are several areas where our industry can score, or lose points with our own clients. Here are a few to consider.

 

  • House Size: Basically, the smaller the house for a given number of bedrooms, the more points a builder gets. The bad news for us is that smaller homes use less timber. Still, convincing the affluent crowd that will typically build green homes to scale down will be a tough sell, so home designers and builders will likely focus on the many other ways to green up a building. I don’t expect home sizes to go anywhere but up in the near future.

  • Builders Treat: Builders can get points by using ready-to-go materials that do not require staining or treatment on site. I assume this is because environmental handling and disposal of treating agents at building sites is much looser than at manufacturing sites. If we’re not careful, this may further promote the use of non-wood alternatives for window and doors, siding, and decks. Still, many home owners favour the look of wood, and wood scores points for being renewable. It will be up to smart industry players to make and market ready-to-wear materials, whether pre-painted or stained components, treated products, or even a new line of non-chemical torrefied (heat treated) wood panels and decking.

  • Waste not, want not: Modular design (i.e. in 2-ft increments) and the use of pre-fab or pre-cut systems that eliminate on-site construction waste will garner green points, so truss makers will do well here. So too will anyone who can make custom or near-custom components to spec to save on-site trimming, a service that will also help builders with the skilled-labour shortage. Advantage will also go to makers of engineered wood products that use fewer resources to do the same job, such as I-joists, LVL and glulam.

  • Certified green: Wood products that are third-party certified gain points too. The good news is that so far a wide range of certification regimes are acceptable, including CSA, FSC, ISO, and SFI.

  • Low-emission wood: Wood-based panels must be third-party certified to low formaldehyde emission standards.


On the whole, the new standards can be a positive force for suppliers willing to adjust their product line or customer service. It’s worth keeping in mind that even the savviest of green builders will have a wide range of issues to deal with in both designing and building these new-age structures, and will face a steep learning curve as the green building market continues to grow.  


We could do him, and our marketing, a big favour by tailoring our products and product labeling to meet the new national standards. Why not include labels that tell the builder how many NGBS Green Points he’ll bag by using a given piece of lumber or building component, once all the related benefits are tallied?


If you are not convinced on the importance of this niche market, remember that the scale of the US housing market means that even a niche can be a massive market by Canadian standards. Calli Barker Schmidt, director of environmental communications with NAHB tells Canadian Wood Products that she expects green building to represent 10% of the US housing market by 2010, just three years from now. Given expected housing starts by then, that will be 180,000 houses, or an annual housing market equivalent to all of Canada. That’s a niche you can live in.


Perhaps you find those numbers a tad optimistic. I admit to shaking my head a few times when Schmidt told me her predictions. But then I figured the best and brightest of US homebuilders probably know their customers a lot better than we do. It’s time to go green to make green.

 

Scott Jamieson, Editor
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tell the average Cana­dian that the 16 million tonnes of excess tree bark in this country has an energy content in the same order of magnitude as Alberta’s tar sands, and they’d look a tad suspicious. Add another 11 million tonnes of harvest waste burned or left to rot, and the suspicion grows.  And then mention the massive pine beetle devastation in BC, with infestation rates of 90 million m3 of wood in 2006 and one billion m3 expected by 2016. Then mention the dry nature of this wood, and the increase in forest fires out west. If the eyebrows haven’t risen enough yet, mention that the pine beetle is taking up residence across Canada’s boreal forests, starting in northern Alberta.

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