Circular Bioeconomies and Improving the Domestic Economy

After listening to Warren Parker’s (Chair of Pamu) presentation last week at our Annual PF Olsen Company meeting, it became increasingly apparent that we as caretakers of our land are capable of doing much more to enhance our legacy as borne out by a number of strategic initiatives Pamu is executing.  In this vein of doing better, I could talk to social licence, environmental improvements, or the pure commercial value of afforestation.  However, given the political environment around investment in forestry at the moment, coupled with encouragement provided by our Minister of Forestry Shane Jones at the same meeting to support domestic log supply, I thought it appropriate to aggregate a couple of contemporary concepts.

According to research, the major contributors to green house gas (GHG) emissions for NZ are fossil fuel use in transport, agriculture, and materials used in construction.  Both transport and construction are addressed through migration to a circular bioeconomy.  In a likely oversimplification, this concept promotes utilising renewable natural capital, refining it for consumption in its various forms, recapturing the waste streams, and recycling when the product reaches the end of its life.  A simplistic example is growing trees, transforming the fibre to create building products and paper, using the waste streams to create energy for the transformation process, and recycling the product at the end of the life cycle into new building materials or fuel. 

This simplistic view is not intended to be detailed nor educational, there are any number of papers and articles written by more well-informed people to discuss this in detail.  This view is intended to be thought provoking in terms of what we might do if we subscribe to the idea that climate change is occurring as a result of GHG emissions, that a circular bioeconomy might be a way to address this, and by doing so we can improve our domestic economy.  This occurs when we utilise timber products as a replacement for concrete and steel in construction.

Concrete and steel require significant usage of fossil fuels in the manufacture and distribution processes that add to GHG emissions.  Replacement of these with timber products increases carbon sequestration, are products we can produce locally, and come from renewable natural capital.  This would also likely result in increased domestic manufacturing capability required, resulting in jobs and capital investment.  Whilst innovation is required to replace some uses for concrete and steel, we are able to construct substantially more using timber products right now.

So, to circle back to the minister’s encouragement to support domestic supply opportunities which PF Olsen proudly says we do, we should also encourage our government to pull through demand of renewable natural capital by utilising more timber in all construction activity.  I didn’t realise until reading an article by Marty Verry that the government has a policy called “Wood First” not currently implemented, that requires this very thing.  We can help ourselves in this space through product and design innovation that makes timber increasingly attractive as a substitute for other building materials, and the government could certainly help by increasing demand that would result in scale efficiency and increased innovation.  A self-reinforcing virtuous cycle as a prelude to a true circular bioeconomy?

Acknowledgement to:

Warren Parker – presentation to PF Olsen Company meeting

Honourable Shane Jones – Dialogue to PF Olsen Company meeting

Elspeth MacRae (Scion) – Scionresearch.com (Wood Energy Symbiosis 2019)

Marty Verry (Red Stag) – Stuff 2019.