The nature lover who never gives up

The nature lover who never gives up

Standing in the work room next to his office, Jason Chang, 60, the managing director of Pacific Forest Products, was eager to show off his "baby" - what looks like plank-sized samples of wood.

Admiring the fine grain on the surface of the rosewood-coloured piece, he muttered in Mandarin, with all the pride of a new dad: "The more I look at it, the more beautiful I think it is."

The thing is, what looks like wood is not wood, but an environmentally-friendly timber substitute made from waste plantation fibre.

No trees died in the making of Onewood, his name for the product.

And get this: It has been certified fire- and termite-resistant, has the same durability as balau wood and can be cut and processed by conventional woodworking machines.

Mr Chang, who holds a patent for the technology behind what he calls the "super wood of the future", said the innovation came from an awakening more than 10 years ago.

The year was 2000.

He had already built a successful timber-trading business that was generating a stable income that could afford him several weeks of time-off from work for long vacations and the pursuit of his favourite sports.

But the nature lover, whose business was supplying timber to resorts, home builders and furniture makers in close to 10 markets, was feeling a pang when he thought about the sustainability of the very forests that fed his business.

He became rhetorical, switching back to English during his conversation, saying: "From time to time, in the middle of the night, when you read news about the green (movement) and so on, don't you think I was having a bit of a guilty conscience?"

As an apparent salve for himself, he said his company's turnover for selling lumber was small, compared to the big players:

"We were peanut of the peanuts. Negligible. But even then I thought: 'Why don't we produce something which is almost the same as the trees that have grown for 100 years, so we won't have to cut down trees?' I thought: 'Certainly, we can do it, right?' "

It was the start of a long, arduous journey of experimentation and arguments with the company chemist.

Mr Chang, a Chinese-educated pre-university dropout, first set about sourcing the raw material for his wood substitute.

He was looking for the right type of fibre that could be combined with resins to form a product with the same attributes as naturally-grown wood.

He tried every possible material he could think of - even the fibres used to make gunny sacks.

His daughter and business development executive Sharon recalled that her father would bring gunny sacks home, peel the fibres off them layer by layer, and then apply resins himself in attempts to make them bond.

Pacific Forest's in-house chemist, hired for the project, used different types and mixes of fibres and resins.

Many a time, the chemist told Mr Chang this or that idea of his would not work, but the boss would not hear of it.

Mr Chang said: "For example, when we wanted to inject some resins into the fibre, the chemist would tell me the molecules of the resins are way bigger than the fibre pores, but I didn't believe that and we would have a long argument.

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