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How is the forest sector changing?

The forest sector is undergoing major changes because of shifting global markets for traditional forest products, as well as growing demand for non-traditional products that can be used in innovative, environmentally friendly and sustainable ways, advancing Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

The forest sector is at a crossroad

Demand for print media, such as newsprint and printing and writing paper, has continued to shrink as consumers increasingly turn to digital media. In 2019, global demand for newsprint fell 13%, and demand for printing and writing paper fell 6% from the previous year. In addition, declining fibre supply, growing protectionism, and the cyclical up-and-down markets of many commodities are pushing the forest sector to diversify product lines and pivot toward higher value products. The growing focus on climate change and sustainability offers such opportunities and demand for cost-effective, low-carbon solutions from the forest sector is expected to grow.

Adopting innovation

The development of innovative new products and the discovery of new applications for existing products is helping the forest sector adjust to challenges, improve financial performance, and demonstrate a commitment to environmental performance and green growth.

For example, advances in engineered wood products and building systems are boosting demand for wood products. The advances are enabling the construction of taller, more sustainable, and more energy-efficient buildings made primarily from wood, helping to reduce the carbon footprint of construction.

Additionally, wood-fibre residues and by-products of forest product manufacturing are being used to make bioproducts, a fast-growing category of products that includes biochemicals, biomaterials, and bioenergy. For example, compostable bioplastics are already a flagship of the forest sector’s potential. Importantly, low-carbon biofuels from sustainable forest biomass, such as those produced from sawmilling and harvest residues, are currently the only alternatives for conventional aviation and marine fuel and will be central to the transition toward a low-carbon economy.

Photo of GCUP Technology Corp.’s new bioplastic coffee pods, for use in single-serve coffee machines.
An estimated 5 billion cups of coffee are brewed in single-serve machines in Canada each year. GCUP Technology Corp. is developing an alternative to the plastic pods used in these machines by creating pods made of bioplastics reinforced with wood fibre. The new pods are bio-based, 100 percent compostable and brew a great cup of coffee.

Restructuring to adapt to new trade patterns

The expansion of trade has led to increased global integration across many industries. Many Canadian forest sector firms now operate facilities in the United States, and some have invested in European facilities as well. Considering that China and Japan have become key destinations for many Canadian forest products, the sector’s structure has changed from Canadian companies competing in North American markets to North American companies competing in global markets.

Calling for a new generation of workers

In 2016, women comprised only 17% of the workers in the forest sector, while immigrants, which represent 25% of the Canadian workforce, made up only 12% of the forest sector. Indigenous people made up 7% of forest sector employment compared to 4% for the Canadian workforce. The sector’s transformation creates an opportunity to attract workers with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, higher technical skills and more diverse backgrounds.

Sources and information
Photo credit
  • G-Cup photo by GCUP Technology Corp.

Table of contents — The State of Canada's Forests Report

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