Ep 121 - The Timber Ecosystem and Forest Health

27 min 06 sec

In this episode we speak with Arnie Dider, COO and Founder of the Forest Business Network. With a rich background steeped in forestry and supply chain expertise, Arnie sheds light on the burgeoning realm of mass timber and its global growth trajectory. We chat about how the supply chain is transforming, from ramping up capacity to introducing new products. Arnie offers insights into areas where innovation thrives and elaborates on legislative changes impacting the industry worldwide. Finally, we reflect on how conversations about mass timber have matured over the years and what the future holds for this revolutionary building material.  


Timber Talks Series 6

Series six of WoodSolutions Timber Talks, provides the latest informative and entertaining information about the best design practices, latest innovations and interesting case studies and interviews with world leading experts in timber design, specification and construction.

Episode transcript

Adam Jones (00:07):

Well, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Arnie, can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your history in the industry?

Arnie Didier (00:16):

Yeah, thanks for having me, Adam. It's just nice that modern technology can combine a few little things and one's in Montana and one's in Australia, and we're together. It's really fun. So I've been in the wood business for 35 plus years when I went to college and went down to play baseball and do all that kind of stuff. But my main reason was it had an incredible forestry school, and so I got my undergraduates in forestry and with a wood science specialization, and then along the way picked up a degree in communication and that really started the foundation for my career. And so I've spent it really in the building products community. So that meant a variety of things, but I always gravitated towards the wood side. And so that's really where it began and went from that to where we are today. So that's kind of the start of where it's from.

Adam Jones (01:21):

Yeah. Awesome. And can you tell us a little bit about how the category has evolved since the start of your career and what sort of changes that you've seen over that time?

Arnie Didier (01:32):

Yeah, you hear the name Mass Timber, people are like, oh, what? It was kind of, we needed a term that people could gravitate around. The mass timber is not new. You think of these beautiful cathedrals with glue, lamb beams and other engineered lumber. But when I think of mass timber, and some people may have a little different definition. It's really another term for engineered lumber in a sense, but it's also a term that brings together some categories of sustainable building, sustainable development. What can we use to enhance that capability? And you hear of glue lambs or nail laminated timbers or a variety of different products, certainly CLT or cross laminated timber is kind of that big sexy term, right? That product is newer in North America. When you look at the roots of that, it goes quite a ways back, considerable a ways back. But you think about it in Europe in that 35 year old range, so relatively new, but that's a product that you hear a lot about. And then it really took hold really in Canada and then moved down to the us. So it's really pretty new in a sense. And the energy around using mass timber is really new the last several years.

Adam Jones (03:17):

How's the, going back, so you've got a forestry degree, so I understand you've got a good understanding of the whole supply chain from the sawmill or from the forestry side through to the saw mill, through to engineered wood products. Starting from the start, from the forestry and sawmills, has there been much change in your career? And then we can probably do the same question, how it's changed through to mass timber and what is the net benefit of society of these innovations and improvements in the supply chain there?

Arnie Didier (03:46):

Well, it's a big question, and I guess the way I'll approach that is if you think about just wood products in general, you think of, some people have a impression, oh, we're going to cut every tree down to use the wood. But the reality of it is, and I can speak more to North America, but there's more timber today than there was a hundred years ago. Most people don't think of it that way. Some of it may not be as easily utilized as it was when there were bigger trees, and it lent itself to engineered lumber. How do you take smaller diameter trees and create products through engineering your expertise and create products that are really strong and lightweight and all of those things? But it comes down to forest health. If you think of that, it's all around the world. When you think of forest health, a lot of people gravitate towards forest fires or clear cutting or different terminologies, but forest health really is a great start. And there's been some comments. Russ v and v and Timbers, he's an entrepreneur, his family's been in the business, we've been associated with 'em for 40 years, almost. They're family. But he says something that's compelling to me is mass timber is an outcome of forest


And forest health. You need to manage the forest through cutting timber, through fires, through prudent management of the resource to then be able to utilize a product like CLT or Glulam or Dimensional Lumber that has a tremendous amount of beauty to it and has some really sustainable benefits that come to it just from the product itself, if that makes sense.

Adam Jones (06:09):

Yeah, it does. And it seems a bit of a paradox like cutting trees and or even burning sometimes adds to health. So can you maybe just drill down on that one a little bit further and how does actually that improve your overall health? Because there is that perception out there that just leaving it alone by itself over time is better.

Arnie Didier (06:31):

It's interesting is parts. There's pieces and parts to all of that. There is some forest that can do better just left alone, and there's reasons for that. But in a lot of cases, depending on the species, there is a certain benefit to managing that forest selective timber cuing of prescribed burning treatment on the actual site itself. So there's a lot of things that play into that. But when you think about it, it's a little bit like a garden or a little bit like a, I'm a farmer. I grew up on a farm. We grew sweet corn, right? That was in a sense, a little bit like a forest with a much shorter length of duration. We plant in the spring, we harvest in late July, and then you redo that again. Lumber and forest products, depending on the species, has different lengths of growth cycles, different cycles of harvesting capabilities. You may have a longer term species that needs 40, 50, 60 years to be ready to harvest. You may have more plantation style products that may be ready to harvest in 15, 18 years. So it depends on that. But it comes back to treating the land with respect, treating the whole view of the forest as a living organism, and how do we create that so we can take products out of it that we need for building and burning and all of those kind of things, but at the same time, treating with the respect that it deserves.

Adam Jones (08:30):

Yeah, that's awesome. The other thing you mentioned is new products or a diversity of products like CLT can add to the forest an outcome of forest health. Can you also explain a little bit more about that and how that works?

Arnie Didier (08:44):

Yeah, it's not real complicated. Even I can understand it, right? I don't have the brain power of a lot of folks, but if you think about it, you need to take some smaller trees out of the forest and you need to make that economically viable. So where does that go? I've mentioned not so much today, but I've mentioned it to you in the past. My partner Craig Rawlings, he's got 50 plus years in the industry, and the last 20 years or so, he's spent most of his career around utilization of small diameter timber that's in North America, but it goes across all kinds of different forest. But if you think about it, if you can take a smaller diameter tree and process that tree and make two by fours and two by sixes, let's just use that example. And then through engineering processes like in a CLT where you're stacking them on top of each other and depending on the species and what the need is for the building, the strength characteristics, you put that together. Maybe it's a CLT, maybe it's a glue lamp, maybe it's another product and engineered eye joist. But you think about that and through engineering, you put that together and then can make these beautiful panels that can not only replace other products, but also create these beautiful structures that people are really enjoying and seeing the benefits around the world. It's a pretty cool thought process. It's really relatively simple, but there's a lot of complications in the stream of it.

Adam Jones (10:37):

Yeah, absolutely. I don't know what it's like for North America, but there's one supplier and some suppliers in Australia, New Zealand, who use lower grade material in the middle layers of the CLT, which previously had no home and now has found a high value use, structural use, meaning the actual value of the tree grows up. And when you've got the value of the tree grows up, it goes back to treating something with a bit more respect as well in economic terms.

Arnie Didier (11:06):

Yeah, it's fantastic. And that lends itself to, I'll mention 'em again, Craig Rawlings says, entrepreneurs win it out in the end, not unlike what you're doing in your business and others are doing. They're looking at this momentum of mass timber products that are going to be changing. It could be the inner panels or different species, different grades. There's some variations that are going to come with that. You're going to see thinner CLT panels that can be used in residential, maybe in comparison to three, five or seven ply that are being used in commercial or tall wood buildings. You're seeing products like the Friers company in Oregon, the mass plywood, who would've thought we would see? It looks like LVL laminated veneer lumber, but it also looks like plywood. They're veneer experts. But you're going from what you would think of maybe three quarters of an inch in regular plywood or LVL up to 24 inches in depth, and then 48 foot long and eight to 10 foot wide. What can be done with that? There's going to be new things that are brought out every day. That's what makes it exciting because Wood's been around forever, but the thought processes are just really starting to gel, which is for a guy that's been in the industry pushing 40 years. It's pretty cool to see. We're kind of on the cusp of things now.

Adam Jones (12:49):

Yeah. Well, it's an awesome segue. So you mentioned Craig a few times and yourself, Arnie, you've been lucky to be, well, not lucky, you've been running the world's biggest conference on timber, and it's been growing to be what it is today. So you've been lucky to see where things have been in 2016 with the biggest thought leaders on the pulse of where things are. So yeah, where is the most innovation, most broadly across the industry, not just across everything, basically, what are you seeing and think's the most exciting stuff that's happening and about to happen?

Arnie Didier (13:26):

Well, it's a great question, Adam. I guess I'll approach it this way. When we did the conference, the first one in 2016, we had done conferences before. They were called the Small Log Conference, which was about utilization of small timber and small diameter timber, lots of uses, pellets, feedstock, energy, biomass, turning that into fuel, and then engineered lumber played a big role in that. And so we decided to shift and move our conference from a town called Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to the I five Corridor in Portland, Oregon. And we were hoping to maybe have 200 to 250 people, and all of a sudden we kept going higher and higher and higher, and Craig and Tom and I, all of a sudden we hit 450 people and we're like, shit, how many can we hold? And we called and the answer was five 50. Well, we hit 5 48, so we just made it, but it was different.


And it immediately took the lumber people, the long-term lumber people by caught everybody off guard. We were in a hotel, literally the exhibit hall was in the basement. We had 30 folks down there. We didn't know what to do, all that kind of stuff. But the audience was way different. It wasn't a bunch of fat old white guys like me. It was diverse. They were smart. They had a variety of backgrounds, engineers, architects, land developers, developers, money people. So it was a new audience. And what was exciting about that is it was new enough that people, they didn't know what CLT was. They knew what a glue lamb was, but it was kind of, you had to go back and you started there in what was mass timber? Mass timber 1 0 1 type of thing. And we had some incredible speakers, I think of Susan Jones, who a lot of people have heard of out of Seattle.


She's one of the most incredible architects in the world around mass timber. Michael Green, who a lot of people know his name. He had done the TED Talk, which reached over a million views. He did that in somewhere around 2014. And he came on. So we had this conference and there was just a buzz about it, and it's evolved from that. And the industry has evolved very quickly from 2016 in 2023, this year in March, we had 3000 people from 39 countries. And so it comes back to your question, Adam, and the question was, where do you see things happening that are cutting edge in a sense? And the cool thing is lots of places who would've ever thought we were going to have at the conference, an African pavilion that was, we had 35 or 38 people from the continent of Africa there. And what are they talking about?


They're talking about how can they utilize their current timber supply to solve some pretty big societal issues, affordable housing and housing, utilization of products, climate change, all of those things incorporated. But so I look at them doing some small scale stuff along with some really big stuff, nine story buildings north of Cape Town Towers being thought of, but also apartment complexes of structurally produced products to make those affordable housing structures. So that's just one example. And then you go to the southeast US and all the research that's went into using utilization of Southern Yellow Pine people didn't think, oh, it's going to warp, it's going to twist, it's going to crack, it's going to check. And they're finding out some great things, not unlike what's going on in your backyard, New Zealand, Australia, whether it might be Eucalyptus, it might be a different species. You take that into Asia and now into Europe. Europe has refined, right? They're experts. They've got technology that is really great, but everybody around them is catching up and we're learning from each other, which is the critical piece.

Adam Jones (18:35):

Yeah, a hundred percent. Well, looking towards the future, what do you see is the future? And you might want to touch on legislation, some of these sorts of things because, and paired with that question, what are the current hurdles and bottlenecks and what other things have we addressed and what does the future, so there's a lot in that one, Arnie, so you can pick what you like.

Arnie Didier (19:00):

Well, I'll kind of approach it this way. In 2016 at the conference, we had 30 projects to talk about. In North America today we've got 2000. That's a huge change. And that's just here. You think about the structures in Asia, in Europe, in New Zealand, Australia, all those

Adam Jones (19:28):

2000 buildings in North America is absolutely insane.

Arnie Didier (19:33):

It's come strong on, but what's interesting is people go, oh my God, are we going to have enough lumber? Right? The answer is it's using about less than 1% of the fiber. So it's a big number, but it's a small number at the same time. But legislation does play a role. It wasn't long ago that communities, whether they were rural or urban, didn't really know what to do with mass timber. Is it going to burn down? Is it going to rot? Is it going to do this? Lots of questions, reasonable questions to ask, right? So it's taken legislation and then code changes, not only in North America, but in Europe and other communities in your area, Asia. It's taken the research to catch up and then along with that production capabilities to catch up. And it's not all there yet, and there's a lot of learning to be done. That's why we see the conference that we host, it's a learning conference. There's lots of pieces and parts of that.


There's just some game changers that affect that. And probably in my estimation, one of the biggest game changers was the big tech companies. So Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others. They came to the first few conferences, 16, 17, 18. We literally couldn't show their name on their badges, otherwise they get pestered, oh, they got a lot of money. People are going to kiss their ass to get business, whatever. That's just the way it works. But finally, it was 2019, a brilliant lady, her name is Michelle Kaufman, got on stage at the end of the conference. It was a fireside chat. We were famous for getting some really cool fireside chats. So Michelle Kaufman was on there. They had the development for Adidas. David Ramos was on there. We had, at the time, mark Wishney, who was with the Nature Conservancy, the forestry program with them was on there. And so we had this dialogue on stage, and Adidas had just built their new North America headquarters in Portland, all out of mass timber, incredible building.


And they had stories about that. Michelle was basically saying, Hey, we're Google and we're going to start building our own buildings. Most people don't know that. Most of the time they rented buildings, all the tech companies did. Now they're building their own. Well, why are they doing that? One, they got a lot of money that's evident. But two, they wanted the buildings that housed their facilities, but whether it was offices or data centers to meet certain E S G requirements, that's a new term that's come out in the last couple of years, and there's variations of it. But one of the things they found was that mass timber and using wood products helped with that. And they wanted to be proved. They wanted it to be proved that there was good things happening in the forest. Who would've ever thought, here's Craig and Arnie taking them on a Woods tour, Oregon and Washington with these people that their Facebook and all these big names.


It turns out they're really regular people. They just wanted to be convinced that we were doing the right things. We're not perfect to put industries, not perfect, but it was enough for them to see that, boy, this makes sense. And then since then, the Google building, just finishing in San Francisco, their new building in the uk, Microsoft's got 14 buildings. Who would've ever thought that a new headquarters for Walmart and Arkansas was going to be mass timber? I mean, so you think of that or North American focus, but think of the uk, think of the projects in New Zealand, Australia, Asia, Europe. It's just fun to see it unfold. But there's some game changers that happened. We've been privileged to be a host of a lot of those conversations, which is what we strive for at the conference. It's all about people talking to people in the network, right? In the end, the entrepreneurs and the people willing to collaborate is what brings an industry to the next steps.

Adam Jones (24:36):

Yeah, a hundred percent. Well, that's so good. It's been so great to speak to you, Arnie, especially people with so much experience and getting it out there through a podcast. I always love doing. If people want to find out more about yourself or the conference, where should people go? So just plug anything and send the audience where you want.

Arnie Didier (24:58):

No, it's great. LinkedIn is a great communications method. We met via that, and now you're going to come to the conference and your team, I'm excited to have you, but Arnie Didier, you look it up and LinkedIn and reach out. I love to chat with people. The conference itself is in Portland, Oregon. It's March 26th through the 28th. We hosted at the Oregon Convention Center. The first day. We do tours, and then we have seminars, kind of 1 0 1 seminars, advanced seminars, and the 26th of March. And then the meat of the conference is that Wednesday and Thursday. We make it fun. It's all about education, but then it's about the network. We have long breaks. We have great food, which sounds strange, from a conference, full breakfast and a full lunch. And we do that by design. We have 60,000 feet just for the food area, and we do that specifically for people like yourself, exhibitors.


We don't open it for breakfast. We don't open the exhibit hall because we want people to be able to have meetings, sit down, have a thing of eggs and a cup of coffee. There's a lot that can be done over a breakfast table or a lunch table. And then we have a couple of events, the socials or whatever, and grab a beer or whatever, whatever you like. But yeah, I would encourage you to do that. And then one side note, we do put out a report every year. It's called the International Mass Timber Report. There's some free downloads on that. You can just pull that up. Websites. We have the Mass Timber Conference. The Mass Timber report, and then if you want to connect with me on LinkedIn or get ahold of me, I'm all these ears.

Adam Jones (26:57):

Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Arnie. That's great. Awesome podcast and appreciate it.

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