Structured Creativity: Recipe for an Industry in Transition

Trevor Stuthridge, Executive Vice President, FPInnovations


Attracting qualified graduates to the Canadian forest sector is one of the newly appointed Executive Vice President of FPInnovations' professional objectives.

Dr. Trevor Stuthridge intends to work towards that goal through a customer-based approach to innovation. In his view, positioning forestry and wood processing as a "sexy" profession calls for novel approaches to products and processes, as well as a profound understanding of customers' needs.

Paper Advance (PA): Congratulations on your new appointment. Please tell us more about your role.

Trevor Stuthridge (TS): My role is essentially to oversee the overall operations of the organization. I am also in charge of FPInnovations' strategic plan and of the organization's health and safety strategy. My appointment in Vancouver allows us to strike an interesting balance between the east and west coast in our business proposal: offering state-of-the-art solutions for every area in the industry's value chain.

PA: What brought you to FPInnovations? Can you tell us more about your research background?

TS: I have a Ph.D., in Environmental Chemistry focusing on clean technologies from the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Biofuels development, waste management and environmental risk assessment in the context of the pulp and paper industry were my areas of interest. Most of my workcan be described as applied research, in comparison to publications-based activity. Indeed, I spent much time inside the industry. My research responsibilities extended to topics like forest management systems, water use and system closure and effluent treatment technologies.

PA: What attracted you to Canada?

TS: I have visited Canada at least once a year for the last 20years. I established partnerships with several Canadian universities, including the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto. In fact, academic partnerships have always been central to the success of the type of research I do. In addition to the professional and personal connections I built over the years, I considerCanada to bea very forward-thinking country with respect to industrial sectorinvolvement in the bioeconomy. This allows for huge opportunities in forestry and makes Canada a great place to be a researcher!

Of course, the opportunity to work for an organization with a significant influence on the sector is a huge motivation for me. Forestry has a high profile in Canada and investment in innovation is clearly happening both for organizations like ours, as well as for colleges and universities all across the country. In light of this, the collective will to transform the industry is really what attracted me to Canada.

PA: Tell us more about FPInnovations' business model.

TS: Our business model is what makes our organization unique in the world. Its overarching mandate is the transformation of Canada's forest sector as a contributor to the sustainable economy. The sustainability of forest-based materials offers Canada a competitive advantage over other countries engaged in the bioeconomy. Also, in many other countries, when money is granted for research investors hold their breath and cross their fingers. FPInnovations uses an "appraisal of opportunity" approach prior to proceeding with investments. At FPInnovations, research and development initiatives are based on, and driven by,financial and scientific evidence.

FPInnovations' business model can be viewed as four-tiered: the familiarcollaborative research tier allows members of FPInnovationsto fund and take active partin scientific projects that are mutually beneficial to all stakeholders. This ensures that participants have direct access to scientific results, allowing them to innovate and engage in competitive markets. Secondly, the strategic research alliance tier brings technology to fruition. This typically involves adapting or scaling a technology, as well as developing a business proposition to support it. The two remaining tiersfocus on delivering high-quality solutions and scientific testing services on a commercial level to a wide range of markets, as well as on providing assistance with issues surrounding intellectual property.

PA: Are there any other not-for-profits that use collaborative research the way FPInnovations does?

TS: There is no universally-held definition of collaborative research and I'm not sure that any other country has what we have here. I previously worked for Scion, a Crown research institute in New Zealand. Active in forest science, it resembles FPInnovations in many ways. An important objective of Scion is the creation of economic value for its stakeholderswhile responding to the country's sustainability objectives. The VTT Technical Research Centre is a much larger research institution based in Finland. This is a very interesting organization, one that inspires me and one with which we will certainly explore further collaboration.

PA: What does innovation mean to you?

TS: Innovation is not a synonym for invention. Innovation must be of benefit to people looking for very concrete opportunities, and in our case, for very concrete business opportunities. Also, I believe innovation should, by definition, be implemented. FPInnovations is active at the front end of the process; we are consistently mindful of the key impacts we are trying to achieve and of the perimeters and properties of the products and processes that will meet market needs. As such, innovation must be built on a structured approach that isflexible enough to allow teams to implement practices that are not necessarily highly intensive. A positive innovation can sometimes simply be an inventive twist on a traditional practice.

PA: How canFPInnovations foster innovation through its role as a broker between research and business?

TS: We are more than a go-between. I see FPInnovations as a trustworthy advisor. What is critical to me is the engagement we have with all stakeholders. Our partners: industry, governments, colleges and universities must have complete confidence in us before sharing dataor various types of privileged information. Our partners can use this information because we present it in a distilled manner. Our role in achieving innovation is also linked to our ability in pursuing avenues based on sound science. I like to say this type of innovation management is achieved through structured creativity.

PA: Which issues are specific to the Canadian pulp and paper industry in terms of research and development?

TS: I have a reasonable understanding of the situation in Canada but after only five months here I would prefer answering with a broad view of the challenges faced by the pulp and paper sector in general. Around the world, the industry is transitioning from the production of a broad range of traditional products like newsprint. Now the industry must ask itself how it can maintain the success it experienced with traditional products, while integrating the opportunities stemming from the rise of new biomaterials. The answers each company will give in the face of this challenge will allow us to envision how a broader socio-economic transition will come to light.

Historically, the industry was very successful in creating value from wood-processing residues. Now, it must embrace opportunities to move into the development of new products, lignin-based for example, or using new derivatives of fibre such as cellulose nanocrystals. Of course, the pulp and paper industry must ensure it has a long-term supply of wood material in the form of chips and other fibre material. The way these companies influence the upstream value chain in forest operations and related processing will be critical for a smooth and effective transition.

PA: What are your thoughts on what some people call the "dilemma" between competition and cooperation?

TS: We walk this line every day. FPInnovations' collaborative research model has been used over a solid period of time and has proved its merits. However, as soon as you are faced with issues surrounding intellectual property where there are commercial prospects, it is certainly not logical to assume there is a shared opportunity for every player. This balance is what some frame as the dilemma between competition and cooperation. The answer is perhaps to engage early intechno-economics and business proposition analysis. A 'coalition of the willing' becomes possible only when each stakeholder has a chance to grasp the value proposition offered to them. If you do not develop a project with that philosophy from an early stage, you encourage a situation of uncertainty where competition takes a heavier place in the balance.

PA: Has the disastrous decade from which the industry is slowly rising benefited the world of research?

TS: The same could probably be said of stricter environmental standards. These standards and norms have been steadily increasing since the 1980s and they galvanized innovation. Nonetheless, the rapid economic decline faced by the industry required quick thinking and the application of a range of consolidation methods. This led to frictions but also brought about some interesting opportunities to regrow. Canada has been fortunate to face this situation with serenity. Of course, many who suffered from the downturn will disagree, but I believe that the overall outcome will be positive. The industry had no choice but to undertake a significant transformation and to embrace the bioeconomy. In ten years or so, we are likely to look back at this period of time and understand this transition was a landmark in the journey towards a sustainable form of prosperity. We already see that the industry has redefined itself and observe that bio-economic development is underway. By February 2015 we will present results that demonstrate how recent innovations stemming from our work are being adopted on a commercial scale.

     Quick Facts about Dr. Trevor Stuthridge

     - Former Senior Research Leader and Executive Manager of Scion, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute ( specializing in research, science, and technology development for the forestry, wood product and wood-derived materials, and biomaterial sectors.

     - Founded and managed Scion's Sustainable Design group, a core provider of innovation in the areas of forest management, wood processing, pulp and paper and sustainability, and specializing in clean technologies, forest industry informatics, and value chain optimisation.

     - Initiated, co-invented or oversaw eight technical/product opportunities that have gone to pilot scale, full scale, or commercial development in the past five years, including New Zealand's largest current lignocellulosic-to-biofuels project, a forestry management software business, and a spin-off company (Terax 2013 Ltd - for an advanced organic waste deconstruction technology.

     - Has substantive knowledge of the Canadian research and forest sectors via more than 20 years of ongoing collaborative relationships with industry stakeholders, research organizations and universities. Since 2006, he has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, and in 1996 completed a sabbatical at FPInnovations' Pulp, Paper and BioProducts division.

     Source: FPInnovations