The word sustainability is associated with changes in management practices, particularly in relation to economic, social and working conditions. Just as integrated manufacturing in factories and agricultural practices in rural territories have long been associated with this concept, adequate forest management is also an important driver of sustainable development.
Forests, as an ecosystem, undergo continual change and adaptation in the environment. In the Mediterranean region, this implies a high degree of biodiversity that contributes to global sustainability. At the same time, Mediterranean forests are subject to fire risks and are expected to be cost efficient for society.
This unique cocktail of circumstances makes it necessary to promote the holistic and sustainable management of forests, together with the surrounding rural areas. This is a considerable challenge at the present moment, a time when governments, businesses and citizens are called by the United Nations to reduce activities that contribute to climate change and meet universal goals established in relation to health, the economy, the environment and other spheres.
But what is a sustainable forest? And, what contribution can it make to the development and well-being of society? What is the specific context in Catalonia?
Computer chips, bicycles, reading glasses, kitchen rags, car bumpers and many other products made of wood are already a reality in Catalonia. In fact, 61% of Catalonia’s surface area is classified as forest, and 31% of the territory is protected natural space.
Forest products are a strategic and renewable resource. Moreover, the use and management of forest products within the framework of a bioeconomy grounded in the principles of sustainable development, do not interfere with the goal of conserving territories of natural interest, which is also guaranteed by specific regulatory legislation.
In this context, the use of both wood and non-wood forest products can once contribute to humanity’s progress (as was very much the case prior to the industrial revolution), so long as these activities are carried out in a manner respectful of forest ecosystems.
This includes the sustainable use of surface and even underground waters, hunting, domestic animal care, herding activities and the harvesting of forest plants, (herbs, mushrooms, pine nuts…) to feed and heal people, and aromatize rooms and buildings. Likewise, the collection of fruits and bark from trees and, particularly, the use of wood in our day-to-day lives, are activities that generate social value and the commitment of land owners to manage forests appropriately. At the same time, businesses in the primary sector emerge to develop new products and bring them to market.
At the same time, the use and incorporation of forest products in construction can increase both energy efficiency and the life expectancy of buildings, and ultimately, their sustainability. Sound-proofing and insulation materials, furniture and structural wood are all areas to be developed further to offer adequate materials in a society that must seek alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels to transport unsustainable materials.
The business fabric formed by saw mills, furniture designers and manufacturers and carpenters are all well-established sectors throughout Catalonia, often family-run business deeply rooted in the local territory. This talent and potential should not be wasted and could even thrive as international business.
Perhaps the only thing that is still missing from the equation is the necessary coordination of private forest managers and a fiscal regime that encourages innovation in line with sustainability criteria. For example, farmers’ cooperatives that group together the resources of their members should also be common among forest owners in the form of commercial societies.
Numerous associations for the economic defense of the world of forestry must be able to work together to win back the market share that has been lost to inappropriate, obsolete or otherwise limited (non forest-based) materials.
The word sustainability will gain significance when it becomes clear that economic activity is not in conflict with either cultural values or the well-being of society. In Catalonia this is possible, and the reasonable use of forest resources can be an important part of this advance, as an ideal way to promote environmental sustainability, human development, dignified work and economic prosperity, in line with the ambitious sustainability and climate change mitigation goals established in global agreements.
By Albert Rubiol, Technical Advisor to the Hub of Forests and Sustainability