Imagine a more sustainable future where forests supply the basic materials for life. Most materials would be grown and recycled; the forest products sector would have a net-positive environmental impact; and consumer markets would be dominated by innovative forest-based products, enabling the industry to attract the best talent while meeting demand for sustainability.
While realizing this vision will take time, the societal, market and economic forces to make it happen are in motion. Products made from “grown” materials are typically seen as more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, consumer interest in sustainability—and willingness to pay for it—offers the sector an advantage and opens up big opportunities.
of surveyed consumers plan to buy more eco-friendly products over the next five years.
perceive paper-based packaging to be the most environmentally friendly.
But fierce competition and the slow pace of change in the forest products industry is setting the stage for disruption. According to Accenture research, the paper products, paper packaging and construction materials segments are all vulnerable. So, companies face a choice: wait to combat the challenges or go on the offensive now to disrupt other industries.
Plant the seeds of success
The forest products industry survived an initial disruption years ago when online formats overtook paper as the preferred means of communication. Now, disruption is again at the industry’s doorstep, and forest products companies must determine how to successfully turn impending change to their advantage. There are three ways to make this happen.
Dominate the competition through innovation
Although forest-based products are widely seen as more sustainable, other materials producers and new entrants are also looking to leverage circular business models to accelerate production of better, more sustainable, single-use and durable goods. To seize new revenue opportunities, from fiber recovery to nanocellulose production, forest products companies need to embrace new trends fast and support the infrastructure and ecosystem required to manufacture with next-generation products.
Embrace waste and drive it to zero
Forest products companies are keenly aware that waste is a pressing industry issue, with about two billion tons of waste—mostly as wastewater and sludge—generated each year. Both can largely be eliminated by rethinking freshwater use and repurposing waste as an input to generate revenue, say in manufacturing. Companies can also capitalize on their data while using artificial intelligence, remote sensing and other new technologies to improve forest management. As access to data is democratized, it can inform better decisions while driving down waste and maximizing carbon sequestration.
Be generation forward
With rising urbanization and increasingly diverse sources of forest-based materials, companies must embrace changing supply models and changing demographics. Allied to this, they’ll need to rethink employment strategies and improve the employee experience to attract next-generation workers and tap into the best talent. Key to this will be leveraging digital technologies and adopting fresh skills to manage operations smarter, reinvent manufacturing processes and develop more innovative products.
Forest products companies need to begin reinventing themselves now in order to become the disruptor, rather than the disrupted.
Nurture deep-rooted, sustainable growth
During the next few years, strong industry leaders will emerge with an ever-increasing focus on the circular economy and sustainability. The opportunities are vast, but so are the challenges with intensifying competition from other sectors, including agriculture, chemicals, metals and energy. Against this backdrop, there are three building blocks of reinvention.
1. Adopt a transformative purpose
Claim the high ground with respect to sustainability by tackling social and technical problems, implementing new technologies and elevating the employee experience.
2. Invest in innovation
Build an innovation culture and capabilities to accelerate change, embracing strong leadership to manage risk while challenging conventional thinking and legacy products.
3. Pivot wisely and quickly
Execute a winning strategy by addressing emerging technologies, sustainability and the circular economy with the agility to turn market change to your advantage.
By taking these transformative steps and leaning in to positive public sentiment, forest products companies can secure their future as the world’s preferred suppliers for sustainable global manufacturing across multiple industries. This transformation will require bold leaders who are ready and equipped to embrace disruption, invest in innovation and attract top talent.
It’s time to start seeing the forest for what’s beyond the trees. Are you ready?