Home » Environment » Protecting Canada’s Forests: Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

Bob Fleet

Vice President of Environment & Forestry, Tolko Industries Ltd.

The effects of climate change can be seen across the country in droughts, insect outbreaks, floods, increased wildfire intensity, and melting glacial ice. In an effort to slow the warming of the earth’s surface, Canada has committed to reducing the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Closely related to climate change is the earth’s natural carbon cycle.

The carbon cycle refers to the continuous transfer of carbon from land and water to the atmosphere and living things. Forests are a vital part of this cycle, both storing and releasing carbon in a dynamic process of growth, decay, and renewal.

The challenge for the forest industry is to remove 30 megatonnes of CO2 per year by 2030, representing 13% of Canada’s overall target.

“There exists a perspective that is held by many that forest fires are solely the result of climate change and not the result of forest preservation and fire suppression,” says Bob Fleet, Vice President of Environment and Forestry at Tolko Industries Ltd. “Although the release of carbon is inevitable during a forest fire, it’s important to remember that this process is part of a natural cycle that’s necessary to help rejuvenate our forests over time.”

Canada’s forests are a vital global ecosystem, absorbing tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), and an important renewable resource that contributes to our economy. Carbon is stored in wood fibre products, with storage prolonged through the recovery and recycling of forest products. As Canada faces the challenge of reducing GHGs, maintaining healthy, vibrant forests and furthering the use of wood-derived products will be important in the transition to a greener, low-carbon economy.

Tolko’s role in mitigating climate change

Sustainable forest management practices, leading-edge manufacturing facilities, and the ongoing development of innovative wood products lay the foundation of Tolko’s commitment to mitigating climate change. Tolko helped shape the collective forest industry’s commitment to fighting climate change through the development of the Forest Product Association of Canada’s “30 by 30” Climate Change Challenge in 2016. The challenge for the forest industry is to remove 30 megatonnes of CO2 per year by 2030, representing 13 percent of Canada’s overall target.

Supporting sustainable forest management

Proactive forest management is an important tool to mitigate and combat climate change. Tolko is committed to sustainable forest management that follows strict regulatory systems, environmental standards, and continuous monitoring.

“Sustainable forestry practices maintain the long-term health of forest ecosystems for present and future generations,” says Fleet. “Tolko’s practices, such as the use of new technology in forest inventories, continuous research, prompt reforestation, support of Indigenous partnerships, and harvest planning imitating natural forest ecosystems, all support sustainable management.”

Tolko forests are certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standard, an independent third-party certification that demonstrates the rigorous level of planning that’s involved to harvest and ensure successful reforestation of the forests it manages. SFI-certified forests and products are powerful tools to achieve shared goals such as fighting climate change, reducing waste, conservation, fostering biodiversity, educating future generations, and sustainable economic development. SFI standards are recognized and accepted by governments and customers around the world. The SFI Forest Management Standard requires a number of practices with direct climate benefits, such as ensuring forests remain as forests, requiring harvested areas to be promptly regenerated, and requiring practices that reduce the likelihood of wildfire or damaging invasive species.

At Tolko, research on the state of the forest and its evolution help shape the company’s understanding and informs its management strategies. In Saskatchewan, for example, ecosystem-based forest management is implemented by mimicking natural forest patterns in harvest plans. Careful planning and harvest play an important role in how forest blocks regenerate. Regeneration strategy not only includes replanting, but also allowing trees such as aspen, pine, and poplar to regenerate naturally. Deciduous forests successfully regenerate naturally through suckering in the Meadow Lake, Slave Lake, and High Prairie regions.

In Alberta, Tolko is using state-of-the-art technology and satellite imagery to capture real-time forest metrics such as tree species, height, and volume. These data help predict future forests, discover climate change impacts, and understand the dynamic forest ecosystems landscape. Healthy forests maintain their ecological and carbon functions, which are essential to providing long-term ecosystem, economic, and social benefits achieved through proper forest management.

Leading the way with modern manufacturing facilities

Over the past five years, Tolko has undertaken several initiatives to reduce its emissions through facility modernization and clean energy systems, such as:

• Investing in a new thermal oil energy system modernization at its High Prairie Division with the plant reopening. This is a closed-loop energy system that uses wood waste to heat oil. The energy systems will reduce Tolko’s natural gas consumption by 500,000 gigajoules per year, which will reduce its GHG footprint by 22,000 tonnes per year of CO2, equivalent to taking 4,750 cars off the road.

• Decommissioning High Level Division’s beehive burner in August 2020 and replacing it with a thermal energy system that runs new world-class continuous dry kilns. These changes have enabled the utilization of over 100,000 bone dry tonnes per year of formerly incinerated sawmill waste.

• In a partnership with Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc., a new pellet mill at Tolko’s High Level Division that utilizes the sawdust from the sawmill to produce energy-rich pellets, greatly reducing wood waste and replacing coal for electricity generation.

Innovative wood products

Wooden buildings store more carbon than competing products. Tolko’s innovative engineered wood products allow architects, engineers, and builders to maximize their use of wood in new ways. Building more with sustainably managed wood can deliver significant emissions reductions.

Additions to Tolko’s engineered wood portfolio include Athabasca Division’s new rip line to produce laminated strand lumber and Heffley Creek Division’s engineered parallel-laminated veneer product. Both provide a consistent high-strength wood option for the industrial sector.

Tolko’s Soda Creek Division recovers short-length lumber produced in the sawmill from logs that would otherwise be left in the forest. This lumber is converted into a highly sought-after finger jointed stud product. To help mitigate climate change, Tolko is committed to building leading-edge manufacturing facilities, promoting wood products as viable building options, and supporting science-based forest management.

About Tolko

Tolko Industries Ltd. is a leading manufacturer of a wide range of forest products for customers around the world, including lumber, plywood and veneer, oriented strand board, co-products, biomass power, and a growing number of specialty wood products. It holds third-party certification on the forestlands it sustainably manages in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan and plays an active role in the communities where its employees live and work.

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