Canadian Bioeconomy Conference Wrap-up — Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration!

By Rob van Adrichem, Director of External Relations, City of Prince George and Chair of the Canadian Bioeconomy Conference
Tree Frog News Editorial
June 23, 2021
Category: Special Feature
Region: Canada

Summary Remarks by Rob van Adrichem, Director of External Relations, City of Prince George

The Canadian Bioeconomy Conference wrapped up on Wednesday, boasting 518 delegates, the most they’d had since launching their event in 2004. Before summarizing the event, conference chair Rob van Adrichem thanked his speakers and sponsors. The first two are critical to making an event successful, but his emphasis was on the delegates, saying, “we do this because you show up and get engaged!”

[The Tree Frog News is grateful for Rob’s clear enunciation and are pleased to share his concluding remarks as best as we could transcribe them!]

Rob van Adrichem

“I’m here in Prince George on the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh. I’m going to start at the beginning and quote Suncor CEO Mark Little when he described our collective net zero ambitions as a journey. Our two keynote speakers, Mark Little (President & CEO of Suncor Energy Inc.) and Dr. Niklas von Weymarn (CEO of Metsä Spring) talked about collaboration a lot, but they also prepared us to think differently and not be too surprised when we see energy coming from garbage and sinks made out of wood chips.

“That idea of moving from niche to mainstream was picked up by BC Minister Ravi Kahlon and his reference to mass timber as the construction material of the future. Together with his colleagues Katrine Conroy and Bruce Ralston they talked about a cross-government approach to a recovery that’s inclusive, based on innovation and low carbon. And having three BC Ministers at our conference was a first, just like having the Federal Minister of Natural Resources, but it also felt unique, and like the conversation just now (between Derek Nighbor, President & CEO of Forest Products Association of Canada and Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources) it felt special to be part of such a casual conversation, almost like it was literally a fireside chat.

“We got much deeper into the role of government in the Building Blocks panel (Bioeconomy Building Blocks: Policy, Funding and Partnerships) featuring senior staff at the provincial, federal and municipal levels. As BC Chief Forester Diane Nicholls said, “doing something new requires funding and programs”, and we certainly heard about them: The Green Municipal Fund, IFIT (Investments in Forest Industry Transformation), the Clean Fuels Program, and the Mass Timber Demonstration Program. We were also introduced to the idea that Tara Shannon (Assistant Deputy Minister, Canadian Wildlife Service) called the ‘mainstreaming of biodiversity’ and that an increased focus on biodiversity may actually increase opportunities for diverse bioeconomy opportunities. That’s certainly something for us all to watch in the years ahead.

“Day two started where discussions about the bioeconomy should always start: in the forest. According to Rolf Björheden (Senior Researcher at Skogforsk) the carbon story in the forest is a lot about trees, a little about soils. And that active forestry is needed for long term climate benefits. In fact, Kirsten Vice (Vice President, Sustainable Manufacturing & Canadian Operations NCASI) reminded us that the biomass carbon cycle story has five elements, and only one actually takes place in the forest. Another involves replacing carbon intensive products, which is so key to the growth of the bioeconomy.

Implementing those elements falls to government, industry, communities; and on the Communities Panel (Communities in the Bioeconomy:Push or Pull), Joensuu Finland, was showcased and despite success in wood buildings and district energy over decades, Lauri Sikanen (Group Manager, Natural Resources Institute Finland) expressed that they’re still not satisfied and they have much more ambitious goals.

“At the other end of the spectrum and a little bit closer to home for me we heard about Kluskus, a small remote community of only about 30 people who have implemented a biomass energy system to replace diesel and manage for wildfire risk.

“The Scaling-Up Challenge panel highlighted opportunities and challenges. Starting with feedstock and continuing through investment decisions, the role of incentives, codes and standards, and the partnerships that are critical in operations and product distribution. As I listened to the remarks, I actually started to wonder if collaboration was a strong enough term. Is it now really about real partnership?

“So as we wrap up this conference, some key words are in my head:

  • collaboration (and not just among levels of government or between government and industry)
  • The use of story to communicate and inform, and even influence and persuade.
  • Innovation
  • Flexibility and adaptability. What Don Roberts called “optionality”
  • Action – let’s not overcomplicate things or be discouraged by old structures. As Beth MacNeil said, there has never been greater policy alignment for the Bioeconomy.

“As Beth McNeil said, “there has never been greater policy alignment for the bioeconomy”, and we heard it again from Minister O’Regan, when he said, we’re absolutely committed to the bioeconomy. And finally, patience knowing that significant change in policy and technology can take time and not everything can or maybe even should be done overnight. But I want to save one last quote, courtesy of Beth McNeil, who reminded us that forests are simply good for the soul and we have to remember that too.”

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