What could lead the use of forests out of the woods?
Self-concerned points of view threaten the sustainable use of forests
The importance of forests has not become anything less in the past decades, but it has gained new layers instead, brought on by climate change and sustainable development.
While forests have grown increasingly significant from multiple perspectives, their sustainable use has simultaneously become a polarising topic. Discussions dominated by extremes and simplifications may obscure the overall picture, which is why the sustainability aspect can quickly become lost in the woods.
The benefits that forests provide to society are multiple and broadly recognised. It has proven difficult to assign an economic value to them since forests provide countless ecosystem services to nature and society. However, to give a rough example, forests in Finland have been evaluated worth €240–510B, even though the figure is considered incomplete.
In addition, forests are valuable in producing renewable raw materials, i.e. wood, and sequestering carbon. Alongside these, other benefits that forests provide are increasing, such as reinforcing and supporting the principles of a circular economy. The biodiversity of nature is essential for forestry companies because any business based on forests and the use of wood is entirely dependent on nature. Taking it into consideration is valuable in itself, but it is increasingly required in business to secure future prerequisites for operation, and from a financing perspective, for instance.
When you add aesthetic, sentimental and cultural values into the equation, forest owners' objectives, decision-making and interests related to forests become even more complicated. Forestry plays a key role in the Nordics, North America and Brazil, for example, and different cultures also view forests in a different light. As a result, what forest owners value and aim to achieve with their work varies worldwide, not only because of diverse habitats but also due to cultural differences.
Seeking personal benefit may hurt ecosystem services and forests’ sustainability
When different parties have strong interests in forests, it is easy to end up in a situation where they selectively use circumstantial evidence and research findings to advocate for their benefits and views, even in a broader context. Excessively simplified discussions characterised by conflicts of interest will cause people to lose focus, not seeing the forest for the trees.
Forests inevitably change despite human activity
The multidimensionality of forests is spiced up by the fact that forests are complicated ecosystems with unique environmental conditions and flora & fauna. Just in Finland, there are approximately 40 types of forest nature, and they are manifold on a global scale. Therefore, there is no single type of homogenous forest the use of which different parties discuss from their perspectives. This complicates the global discussion about the sustainable use of forests even further, as measures and solutions that work well in one place may not be applicable elsewhere. Since forests and cultures differ globally, who has the right to declare that their point of view is correct? A fragmented premise is not ideal for dialogue that strives to seek consensus.
Forests also affect other ecosystems, such as water ecosystems. They are a dynamic resource that changes over time due to climate impacts and other external factors that are not necessarily under anyone's control. Time is essential when assessing the climate benefits of forests or the effects of different forest management alternatives and operations that consider forest nature.
There is room for various local and global ways to manage forests sustainably
We should recognise the multidimensionality of forests to an even greater degree when discussing, making and implementing decisions. We can get out of the woods and sustainably increase the value of forests worldwide so that the different dimensions are considered, and targets can be set. To achieve that, we need technology, research and other developmental work that enable the mapping, measuring, tracking and monitoring of the objective and transparent values and benefits of forests. In addition, we need to gather more new data to build objective indicators for the different dimensions of sustainability.
AFRY assists forestry players in many ways, whether in strategic planning, business sustainability, digitalisation or forest management planning. Together with our clients and other parties, we aim to promote a comprehensive way of approaching forests, to cherish forests' value and discussion based on extensive research to harmonise different objectives and interests globally.
As silvicultural needs and objectives vary between countries, there is room for different ways of managing forest nature or preserving it as-is, producing renewable raw materials to replace fossil fuels and improving ecosystem services even further. This leeway enables harmonising ecological, climatic and economic interests together and, in doing so, achieving the objectives behind them.
This article was originally published in Kauppalehti as a piece of partner content.