The global forest industry is mourning the loss of a true visionary after the passing of Graeme Black.
Described by Eileen Newbury, former FWPA Head of Marketing and Communication, “as a beautiful and kind man with such vision,” directors company Lignor, Peter Burton and Steve Baldwin are remembering him for his “intellectual curiosity, kindness and resolve.”
Mr Black, CEO and major shareholder of Lignor was a former director of family-owned Craigpine Timber Ltd NZ and Simmonds Lumber Pty Ltd and will leave an indomitable mark on all around him.
His family was a significant shareholder in the first plant in New Zealand to produce the market-disrupting product, MDF, before selling the plant to Carter Holt Harvey in the early 1980s.
Driven by a commitment to environmental change, he was an entrepreneur ahead of his time. In 1987, Craigpine Timber voluntarily stopped milling NZ native forest well before it was legally protected.
A decade later, in 1997, he successfully pushed for Craigpine Timber – which exports radiata pine to 22 global markets – including Norway, Estonia, Latvia and other European countries, to become the first company in Australasia to achieve FSC certification.
That is, two years before PEFC was invented and several years before FSC established an office in Australia and New Zealand!
In 2007, he was instrumental in adopting DNA tracking technology to demonstrate that timber was legal – to prove the tropical hardwood Merbau could be sustainably harvested from Indonesia.
According to Kevin Hill, founder of Double Helix Tracking Technologies, “Graeme was instrumental in getting genetic-based timber traceability off the ground.”
More recently, the Wood Central Publisher had the pleasure of interviewing Mr Black about his latest project, Lignor – which he spent the last 16 years building.
According to Mr Black, Lignor is a new and patented timber stranding technology developing one of the world’s strongest portfolios of engineered wood products (EWP) from sustainable and certified eucalyptus hardwood.
The effervescent Mr Black approached Wood Central after reading Wood Central’s Senior Editors’ article on Scrimber as well as articles looking at how Chinese companies are using the technology in cross-laminated timber bamboo products.
According to Mr Black, Lignor “had proven results from 70+ tests in 15+ Global R&D centres and partners in Americas” and had support from global partners.
Over a series of interviews, he proudly told Wood Central that the company was negotiating with partners to commercialise the technology and, most importantly, “leverage the enormous growth potential of the markets both in the substitution of tropical rainforest hardwood and conventional construction products.”
“Lignor samples had to be useful, practical everyday items, which you could carry in your pocket or handbag to show their versatility,” he said.
Mr Black was motivated by making a difference for good and doing what he could to “help abate Climate Change in a number of ways.”
In the late 1980s, Mr Black’s family set up the first independent silvicultural, environmental and aboriginal accreditation for Australia’s largest privately owned Red Gum forest of 17,000 hectares on Yanga Station in the Western Riverina district of NSW.
In 2005, the family sold Yanga Station to National Parks 2005 to safeguard its fragile ecosystem and rich cultural heritage.
One of Wood Central’s regrets was that we couldn’t publish the article before his passing, as we delayed the release until after an important exhibition at the Industrial Wood-Based Construction Conference in Washington last month.
On Saturday, the Lignor team advised that after Mr Black’s passing, the management team would be changing.
In a media release, they said, “he will always be remembered as the heart of the business.”
They said, “He brought to the team a vast experience in business and a pioneering spirit that inspired us all every day,” before continuing that “Graeme will be greatly missed by colleagues, friends and loved ones.”
Mr Black was a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and holds an MBA from the London Business School.
Beyond forest products, he was an independent director and Chairman of Taltarni and Clover Hill Vineyards and a director of Goelet Wine Estates LLC for its wineries in Napa, in the US, France and Australia.
Before 1985, he worked for two marketing strategy consultancy companies in London and was involved in mergers and acquisitions with publicly listed and private companies in Australasia.
Perhaps his most proud posting was his patronage of Flora and Fauna International, which allowed him to meet Sir David Attenborough on several occasions.
Mr Black was, first and foremost, a passionate advocate for environmentalism and conservation.