Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Seeing the forest for the trees

Forest

Since colonial times, wood from Atlantic Canada’s forests has been harvested for everything from fuel, to building houses and seafaring vessels.

With Atlantic Canadian wood products still in demand around the globe, the sustainable use of resources is more critical than ever. Luckily, many companies are rising to the opportunity.

Take Finewood Flooring & Lumber from Middle River, Cape Breton Island. This traditional wood products company has been selling high-quality Nova Scotia hardwood flooring throughout Canada, the U.S. and Europe since 1982 – all the while working towards full usage of its resources and introducing Nova Scotia hardwoods into public school gymnasiums.

And, according to David Harris, vice-president of sales and marketing at Marwood, a New Brunswick-based wood products company, it’s this quality, combined with responsible harvesting, that Europeans expect from Atlantic Canadian wood products—and they are prepared to pay a premium for it.

“Canadian forests are harvested in a responsible, sustainable way and this helps elevate us above the crowd. Things are done properly here. That means a lot to Europeans.”

Both Finewood Flooring and Marwood are certified with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international network that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests.

David points out that for Marwood, FSC certification helped them penetrate these European markets, particularly Germany, the U.K., France and Holland.

Back in the 1960s, this family-owned company pioneered the use of Wolmanized© preservative, a process that extends lumber’s life by a factor of six. Today, Marwood sells pre-fabricated lattice panels, fence panels, deck railing components, finished wood siding and more through commercial, industrial and retail market channels in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

Their desire to use all of the tree’s components has helped Marwood create new markets for the by-products of lumber production. Since 1996, Marwood has been using the bark and wood chips that were once essential for the pulp industry to make pellets for wood stoves, animal bedding and kitty litter.

“Our business is unique and it generates a high ratio of jobs per tree while maximizing the economic value,” adds David.

This is a trend that Doug Jones, vice-president of forestry at Remsoft, understands.

Based in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Remsoft is the world-standard supplier of computer software that helps plan and do analytics for the natural resources sector. In the last ten years, Doug says that the industry has realigned its focus from regional competition to global competition.

“What happens in Brazil has an impact on Canada in terms of pulp prices and our competitiveness,” Doug explains. “Instead of competing on a commodity basis, companies are trying to adapt and get more value out of the end product.”

Established in 1992, Remsoft has developed a technology that helps public agencies, traditional forest products companies and other organizations manage their timber assets, feed in a myriad of variables, and examine the possible outcomes.

“Our software solution helps organizations run business scenarios,” explains Doug. “The magic is that it really empowers them to do what-if analysis and to support the decision-making process.”

The company has users in 20 countries and six continents around the world.

Doug says their advanced analytics software is a good fit for the forestry sector, because managing assets that are up to a million hectares in size can be challenging.

“Forestry assets have high value, into the billions of dollars, but they’re also complex because they’re biological. They’re dynamic, they change over time.”

The way that forest assets in the region are viewed is changing, too.

“Whereas before it was about bringing in as much wood as possible,” Doug adds, “now managers are asking, ‘what’s the best supply of wood from a dollars and cents point of view?’”

According to David and Doug, ACOA’s assistance has been provided through much more than simply financial contributions. ACOA helped Remsoft acquire certain technical and marketing expertise and David is quick to mention how ACOA helped Marwood with innovative programs for marketing, export development and quality control initiatives.

Though the industry is still experiencing a period of change, the adaptability that characterized Atlantic Canada’s colonial ancestors is alive and well in companies that continue to meet the changing needs of their customers around the world.

Published February 19, 2014