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Premiere for Luxinnovation’s Wood Cluster

The members of the Luxembourg Wood Cluster met for the first time on 19 September at the Chamber of Commerce. Addressing a packed room with about 70 representatives from member companies, Cluster Manager Philippe Genot emphasised that for the Wood Cluster to successfully further the use of wood at the local and regional level, all the members would need to demonstrate equal commitment and involvement. “Your presence here today in such numbers is the best proof that there is a real interest in this area,” he noted, pleased that members 102 and 103 had joined the Cluster managed within Luxinnovation. “The board members and I are very excited by the challenges that lie ahead,” added René Witry, chairman of the Cluster’s Board of Directors.

A sustainable ecosystem

The wood industry is a sustainable ecosystem and its circular approach affords it a high number of advantages. Although clusters have existed in neighbouring countries for some time now, this was a new concept for Luxembourg.

It is now a well-established concept aimed at promoting the activities of the relevant stakeholders while focusing efforts in Luxembourg and the Greater Region based on a three-pronged “value added – innovation – growth” approach.

The idea is to ensure that all companies in the sector get to enjoy the benefits of the wood product flow,” said Genot. “The diversity of the players and the available positions is a major boon for this sector in a market that extends well beyond our borders. We must think in terms of the Greater Region ‘.

Luxembourg’s forest area represents some 90,000 hectares. This is six times smaller than the Walloon region and ten times less than Rhineland-Palatinate or Lorraine. Luxembourg’s forests produce about 760,000 m3 of wood every year, 500,000 of which are used by humans.

In the absence of detailed official statistics — one of the demands of the Cluster — the number of companies directly or indirectly linked to the timber industry is estimated to be around 1,500 with 11,000 employees. By way of comparison, there are around 5,000 companies and 23,000 employees in Lorraine while Wallonia boasts another 7,900 companies and 18,000 employees.

One strategy – six objectives…

Genot explained that the efforts of the Cluster would focus on the realisation of six objectives, thereby seeking to

  • Optimise the sales and valorisation of wood as a premier sustainable and circular resource;
  • Stimulate and improve the flow of regional – in particular high value added – wood products;
  • Facilitate the diversification of wood transformation industries;
  • Promote the use of building timber in the construction industry, thereby fuelling the creation of green jobs (representing some 700 companies and 7,000 jobs alone);
  • Support the development of basic and vocational training through partnerships with training centres and universities in Luxembourg and abroad and
  • Stimulate the design of innovative products and processes, a key driver of development.

The path is well mapped-out and the action plan is taking shape with funding from the Cluster’s 100 members – three-quarters of whom originate from the private sector with the remainder comprising research centres, universities and local authorities. “We also differentiate between members and the strategic partners, with whom we are able to develop long term initiatives,” Genot said.

…and an action plan built on five pillars

The action plan is structured around five pillars: networking; technology and knowledge transfer; innovation; promotion and marketing; and defining flagship projects to be monitored directly from Luxembourg.

“It has come to our attention that all too often, industry stakeholders go it alone,” Genot noted. “The sector still lacks a true global vision, which is essential to success. So we’re going to try to mix genres in order to stimulate innovation. We want Luxembourg to position itself as a key player in terms of in timber industry innovation. 

Contacts have already been made with institutions such as the Ulg in Arlon, the Fachhochschule in Trier and the prestigious ‘Ecole nationale supérieure des technologies et industries du bois’ (Enstib) based in Épinal, just a two-hour drive from the capital. “There is currently no research centre in Luxembourg dedicated to wood. But there are tie-ups with research centres, such as the one dedicated to hardwood, and we are in talks about how to develop a strategic partnership. ”

Work in progress

A “Meet a Member” event, which is an open day visit to one of the Cluster members, complete with a discussion and networking part, is set to take place very two months with the kick-off on 3 October at Leko Labs and Neobuild. It will be an opportunity to discover an innovative load-bearing wall made of beech wood to be used in construction. Also,the Cluster will attend the Burfelt ‘weekend of wood’ (near the Upper-Sûre Lake) on 6 and 7 October with a focus on the wood processing industry.

Also planned for next spring are ‘Pake mer Holz un’ (Touch wood) tours reconciling the theoretical approach discussed in a symposium with practical on-site demonstrations. Finally, a major event is set to take place at the Home and Living trade fair in the autumn of 2018, bringing together the best carpenters and cabinet makers of the region.

 ‘We want Luxembourg to position itself as a key player in terms of innovation in the timber industry.’
Philippe Genot, Cluster Manager – Wood

In the meantime, internal working groups are already working on the theme of wood, processing and construction, on a Greater Region scale. ‘We work on how to develop wood and its markets in the best way possible as well as on issues related to labelling,’ says Philippe Genot. “Should we rely on already existing labels or should we create one with the specific features of Luxembourg? It is also clear that many certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Pan European Forest Certification (PEFC) are playing an increasingly important role.” If the Wood Cluster can help them in their efforts, it is ready to do so. ”

The presentation on Tuesday also provided an opportunity to showcase a very tangible example of value creation during the life cycle of a sustainable regional product. Philippe Eschenauer, project manager with the LEADER rural development community initiative, explained how 150-year-old oak trees grown in Luxembourg are sent to France to be transformed into casks that are then sent back to the Grand Duchy for use in barrel-aged wine production. What better way to promote and enhance wood thanks to another high-quality local product!

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