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Adopt build, live with wood attitude, keynote says (04/04)

When it came to redeveloping Finland’s forestry industry, it required bringing together all the players to work collaboratively.

When it came to redeveloping Finland’s forestry industry, it required bringing together all the players to work collaboratively.

Bo Borgström, chief executive officer of Moelven Industrier ASA, says Finland is similar to Canada in a number of ways, including its reliance on its forest industry. A study was undertaken in 1997 to examine the future of the Finnish forest industry, but the first step in that study was to examine its history and what challenges it has faced.

Borgström was the guest speaker at the Reinventing the Forest Product Industry conference at the Canadian Ecology Centre in Mattawa on Mar. 25.

“Finland, fortunately, had an early wood culture,” he says. “We have many beautiful buildings made from wood.”

However, with the events of World War II, Finland lost some of that wood culture with the influx of people into the country and the need to find housing for them, Borgström says.

The result was a trend between the 1950s to as late as the 1990s where there was a greater reliance on other building materials such as concrete and steel.

The study showed that Europe is oversupplied with single wood products and there were no technological or new product trends in the wood industry identified up to 2010 that the industry needed to adapt to, he says. What the industry did need to realize, however, was the reality that consumers were not looking for single products such as dimensional lumber, but were looking for more value-added finished products.

He says three major players were identified in the Finnish forest industry and they included the forestry companies, interest groups and the various municipal and federal governmental authorities.

In order to make the industry work most effectively it requires a unified of effort in its promotion and development, says Borgström.

As a result of the efforts in Finland and the rest of Scandinavia to increase market awareness, he says consumption of wood products has increased and the work is continuing to increase awareness and competence in the industry. That included “regenerating” the country’s wood culture by encouraging the development of value-added products and more construction of public buildings using wood.

“What have we learned?” he says. “Someone has to strengthen co-ordination and co-operation. Don’t try to solve all the problems. Focus on the few and make them the success. That was the Finnish experience.”

Borgström says Europe’s forest industry was in a similar position as Ontario’s, redeveloping itself from a strictly single-products oriented configuration to one taking in new products and markets.

If there is one advantage that Ontario’s forestry industry has over the European Union is the fact it has a unity of language and culture that is not shared by the EU, which currently must contend with more than 10 different languages. It also has to deal with the exchange of several currencies other than the Euro, which has not been adopted by all its members.

“We have Scandinavia to the north with a different culture than countries on the Mediterranean. We have a different culture on the British Isles than that in the Slovakian Republics,” he says. “We have, from the north, the south, the east and the west 18 different cultures and we still have several different currencies.”

That problem will only be compounded by the impending addition of more members from the former Soviet Eastern Block to the EU, he says.

Borgström says the biggest problem that Europe faces is that there is too much focus on each other as competitors instead of realizing that its competition comes from outside its members’ borders and has to intensify its efforts in that direction.

“There are two directions we can go: building with wood and living with wood,” he says. “That’s where they are going. By 2010, wood will be (Europe’s) leading building material.”