When it comes to transitioning our economy to recognize the global shift to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there are things happening in Prince George that simply aren't happening anywhere else that are creating good jobs and wealth in our province while lowering greenhouse gases. A tour to showcase leading, low-carbon initiatives throughout the City of Prince George was developed in partnership with the City of Prince George and Tourism Prince George.
This special event took VIP delegates of the BC Natural Resources Forum to:
Lakeland Mills: This sawmill processes timber that becomes lumber which sequesters carbon in buildings and reduces the need to use carbon-intensive products such as steel and concrete. Residuals from lumber production - sometimes called "wood waste" - are used in bioenergy systems to further offset fossil fuels for heating. Lakeland uses its residuals to completely offset the need for natural gas in lumber drying and space heating. Enough energy is produced that the excess is used to provide heat to the City of Prince George's Downtown Renewable Energy System (DRES). The DRES has cut greenhouse gas emissions from City operations more than any other single initiative and is considered to be the largest municipal heating system in Canada that can operate 100% on renewable energy year-round.
Winton Homes: Some of the lumber produced at Lakeland Mill is used at Winton Homes to prefabricate home packages and large commercial buildings. The prefabrication process is conducive to building more energy-efficient homes due to the precision and quality control in factories. Winton has developed new wall and floor assemblies to offer solutions that meet the BC Energy Step Code requirements for all new buildings to be net-zero ready by 2032. These solutions enable high-performance buildings to be built in Northern BC's climate with less-to-no fossil fuels required for heating and cooling.
Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC): Lumber is also used to make mass timber, which allowed for the construction of the 30m WIDC in downtown Prince George. When it opened in 2014, it was the tallest wood building in North America.
During the tour, WIDC hosted presentations about three sustainable energy projects currently in development in Prince George:
- Tidewater Renewables is building Canada's first large-scale project to produce renewable diesel.
- Hydra Energy is developing the world's largest hydrogen refueling station for heavy-duty trucks as part of a Western Canadian Hydrogen Corridor that the company is building out and will produce low-carbon hydrogen right on-site starting in early 2024.
- Arbios Biotech, a joint venture of Canfor and Licella, uses cutting-edge technology to convert wood residues and biomass into renewable biofuels that can be used for low-carbon transportation and sustainable biochemicals.
- Northern Analytical Lab Services (NALS): NALS is a research lab at UNBC and is part of Northern BC's Environmental and Climate Solutions Innovation Hub. The leading professor presented on their research testing and findings of how low-carbon products is helping industrial partners be more efficient.
- The award-winning Wood Innovation Research Laboratory, next door to WIDC, is the result of hard work and innovation from UNBC staff, faculty, and numerous local companies including Winton Homes and IDL Projects Ltd. The Lab is one of the most energy-efficient buildings of its kind anywhere, barely using any fossil fuels for heating. Research in the Lab is exploring how timber can be used in more, and taller, buildings.
The tour was completed in half a day and finished in time for delegates to prepare for pre-conference networking opportunities. Personal protective equipment was provided by the City, transportation was covered by Tourism Prince George, and lunches were sponsored by participating businesses to create a free tour for delegates. Communications staff followed the tour and produced photo and video content to share the results of the tour, and the media were also notified to gain some earned media in a positive light.
Due to the collaborative nature of this tour, the intangible benefits like relationships and reputations improved with the participating businesses and a positive sentiment in regards to a duplicate tour in the future, and special-interest groups even providing positive sentiments towards the event. The relationship and attitude towards partnerships between the City and Tourism Prince George, although positive beforehand, improved and opened possibilities that pushed the boundaries between what is tourism and how it can connect into industrial sectors.
News of the tour and the excitement in each individual element was spread by the VIPs on the tour throughout the conference and it quickly became a topic of discussion at numerous networking events throughout the week. Companies like Shell Canada, TC Energy, and the Council of Forest Industries (COFI) took note of what is going on locally, resulting in leads for the economic development division at the City, and business contacts for groups like UNBC NALS.
An additional goal and indicator of success was the potential for this tour to be used as a product in future conferences that come to Prince George, such as the COFI Summit happening in April of 2023. Fortunately, the President and CEO of COFI, Linda Coady, was one of the tour VIPs and she has requested a similar tour for their upcoming conference, showing the value of the tour to industry groups.
Thanks to the videos, photos, and shared reach from the partners and businesses, the news of the tour reached over 17,000 people on Facebook and LinkedIn, with strong B2B engagement from businesses on LinkedIn. Media coverage included local outlet, CKPG, and the Tree Frog Forestry News newsletter.
The project is replicable in Prince George, exemplified by the repetition at the upcoming COFI conference. It may look different for various communities, but depending on key sectors and local activity, this type of tour can be replicated in any community for any sector, industrial or otherwise.
Lessons learned were around the duration of the tour and the presence of networking opportunities. By splitting the tour in half, where participants could go for the first half, second half, or both, it creates an 'out' for those with limited schedules, and an opportunity for networking between the halves would break up the tour and create opportunities for all involved.
On the administrative end, although not 'sexy', the work to register attendees through Eventbrite, gather photo release consent via release forms at the start of the event, and sharing content with partners was established in advance and went smoothly.