In tough times companies and governments look to cut costs. Unfortunately, those cuts may come at the expense of future opportunities, such as new product development. A new report released today finds that the forest products manufacturing industry invests less than one-seventh as much as the average U.S. manufacturing sector, seriously undermining the industry’s capacity to remain viable in the face of intense, global competition. The report, A New Model for Forest Sector Research and Development in the United States, was released by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (the Endowment).
“In an age when more and more consumers are looking to use green, sustainable products, the forest products industry has the potential to be among the nation’s biggest growth sectors,” said Endowment President Carlton Owen. “But, this isn’t likely to happen without a more strategic and collaborative investment in research and development for state-of-the-art science such as green-building and wood-based nanotechnology.”
“America has for decades been the world’s leader in innovation in the forest products sector,” Owen continued. “That leadership is rooted in on-going research and development. Without a new commitment to research and development, and a new model for harnessing the power of public-private partnerships, the outlook for the forest products sector is uncertain at best.”
“In a post-recession economy where literally hundreds of sawmills have closed and more than 40% of the nation’s pulp and paper mills have been permanently shuttered just since 1990, this report should serve as a wake-up call for the forest industry and the broader U.S.-based forestry sector,” said report author Dr. Robert Kellison, Professor Emeritus at North Carolina State University. “If we are to have a bright future we must develop new, more sustainable models to re-light the fires of innovation,” he continued.
The report reveals that some of America’s strongest international competitors sustain a vibrant research and development initiative through public-private partnerships where industry and government collaborate. Kellison notes that current work led by the Endowment and the USDA Forest Service could serve as a model for building an approach that fits the U.S. system. Their collaboration focuses on forest biotechnology to address burgeoning forest health issues and more recently, a commitment to look at wood-based nanotechnology.