BLOG: Converge 2013 panel "Preference policies: When promotion becomes legislation"

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by Journal Of Commerce

John Winter, the president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, was the moderator on the "Preference policies: when promotion becomes legislation" panel at Converge 2013 in Vancouver.

John Winter, the president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, was the moderator on the "Preference policies: when promotion becomes legislation" panel at Converge 2013 in Vancouver.

Other panel members included entrepreneur Daniel D. Veniez, Charles Kelly, the president of the BC Ready-Mixed Concrete Association, and Ed Whalen, the president and CEO of the Canadian Institue of Steel Construction.

Veniez’s presentation was called “Wood First: Good Intentions, Unintended Consequences.” He called himself the “wood guy” but said he thinks the wood first policy is a bad one.

Historical problems in the forest industry are well documented, Veniez said. Profit margins were negative or below the cost of capital, and no new capital meant a constant erosion of productivity.

Collective agreements were inflexible, he said, and there was an onerous industrial tax property burden.

Boards and managers also weren’t willing to make tough decisions or invest in technology, Veniez said.

The environmental movement also cut down the forestry industry, Veniez said, and for good reason. Poor logging practices in environmentally pristine areas made for a public relations disaster.

The NDP government enacted the Forest Practices Code but it was a regulatory and bureaucratic “nightmare” which, combined with new competition from the Southern Hemisphere, hurt the industry.

Gordon Campbell’s government changed the forest code but it wasn’t enough, Veniez said.

The end result was an industry that has been shrinking ever since, Veniez said.

The Wood First act was at once a move to promoting wood in China and also as a run up to the Olympics. It was meant as public relations, Veniez said.

Wood First was “good politics, but bad policy,” Veniez said. It is discriminatory to other industries.

Veniez also said the wood industry has lobbied very successfully, but that they cannot be blamed for that. Rather industries such as steel, construction and concrete should look at themselves and start generating awareness with stakeholders and the public, as well as engaging with the wood industry on how to better collaborate with one another.

Charles Kelly gave the perspective of the concrete industry. He said the Wood First act requires the use of wood as the primary building material in all new provincially funded buildings, but as a result has brought the wood industry into the procurement process.

The first phase of the Wood First initiative, from 2009-2010 was building Wood First capacity in the forestry ministry. All BC capital project RFPs must comply with the Wood First initiative, and the wood industry designed the Wood First Initiative. ..dThese developments caused the hostility of major ministries, and no major regulations were enacted.

Real targets of Wood First are governments and key influencers accepting wood practices as sustainable, enacting code changes favouring wood, promoting embedded carbon and a low carbon footprint, as well as responding to negative campaigns.

Wood First initiatives have been defeated in other provinces and states, Kelly said.

Kelly recommended being proactive about alternatives to wood, as well as calling for an independent review of the Wood First Act and the Wood First program. Industry should also act in support of LEED, and participate in activities to protect primary ecosystems, he said.

Whalen said to him, Wood First is “all about money.” He said one should question why the wood industry should get preferential treatment, and why the building code of BC is different than that of the rest of the world and the rest of Canada. ..dPlenty of countries have wood industries and are not enacting the same policies, he said.

Whalen contended that the preferential policy aspect of Wood First was not intentional. He added that architects and engineers are a barrier to wood first, because they won’t design in wood generally. Whalen contended that the wood industry has attempted to push wood use at a federal level but have been rebuffed.

Whalen said wood is pushed as a sustainable product but are also anti-LEED, and said that their contention that wood is the most sustainable material is not actually factual.


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