Just Agriculture, Alimentation Sovereignty and Forest Use

Reduced, long-lasting and efficient use of wood

What's the problem?

When wood is used as a material, the carbon bound by the construction remains stored in the wood product for the time being. Therefore it becomes relevant how long the wood product is used. At the moment a lot of wood is exported and imported (as raw material or in processed form). The associated transport routes and trade flows cause emissions. The aspired regional wood processing is becoming increasingly difficult, as traditional sawmills are no longer profitable or have been driven out of the market by large companies.

What’s the measure?

In long-lasting products (used for a long time) such as furniture or wood as a building material, carbon bonding is still present. Products made out of primary wood must therefore be designed for a long-life use. If fewer products are used over a longer period of time, the wood consumption will not increase even with the increasing use of wood for example as a building material, but rather decreases instead. Wood as a substantial substitution material is particularly relevant as it can replace other non-renewable materials such as cement, which are very energy-intensive in their production and have numerous ecological and social consequences (especially in mining areas). In addition to the efficient and long-lasting use of wood, cascade use is also relevant. There wood is used several times and at different levels for different areas of use. In contrast to material substitution, energy use (as a substitution for fossil fuels) must be viewed critically. When wood, in the form of pellets or wood chips, is used to generate heat and electricity, the carbon previously stored in the wood is released again. On a very small scale the energetic use of wood is a possibility, if it only concernes wood waste that cannot be used in any other way, but this should not be developed as a large-scale business model. Especially the import of non-sustainably harvested wood such as wood chips or pellets from international forests is highly problematic.

How can the implementation look like?

More local and regional value added chains are needed to process wood as a building material. Small, local and regional sawmills that process the raw material for construction/material should be supported by appropriate assistance measures. In addition, architects and planners who give priority to wood as a building material, timbermen who construct durable buildings with wood as a building material, and carpenters and joiners who can build durable furniture and floors from wood, are needed. A focus on this in the respective training of the professions is therefore necessary. Furthermore administrations and politicians who, for example, give priority to wood as a building material via building regulations, are important. Such as generally corresponding laws, which consider e.g. the ecological balance of products in particular building materials. For products made out of wood, regulations regarding a minimal utilization time and an obligation to guarantee the usability of the objects over correspondingly long periods of time, can be associated. Many construction projects are commissioned by governmental decision-makers. In addition, the use of wood products (paper!) in public spaces is of large proportion. Here the priority has to be shifted away from the cheapest procurement towards the selection on the basis of ecological and social standards. In some areas (e.g. hygiene articles, which necessarily represent the end of the usage cascade, but also paper/cardboard/many packaging products) the use of primary fibres could simply be banned and an obligation to use recycled materials could be introduced.

How would this work against climate change?

Forests and wood products are in themselves carbon sinks. This storage and lowering function must be taken into account and maintained in the use of wood. Long-lasting woodproducts would therefore be carbon sinks too. In addition, more efficient use of wood and cascading can reduce the wood consumption in general and wood can replace GHG-intensive and problematic substances elsewhere (e.g. in construction), thus saving significant amounts of GHG. Regionalisation also helps to combat climate change by avoiding emissions from transport.

What other positive effects does the measure have?

Further positive effects are the strengthening of rural areas by local processing industries. Because of the fact that the total number of building materials does not increase, and may even decrease (depending on the extent to which other building materials are substituted and the extent to which overall consumption is reduced) the overall share of forest, that is not used economically, can be increased, which would have a positiv effect on the biodiversitiy and the resilience of the forest-systems. The proportion of hardwoods, especially beech and oak, which also occur naturally in Germany, could also be increased in the course of focusing on long-lived wood products.

How quickly can the measure be implemented?

Some restructuring of the processing chains (cascade use or restructuring in occupations) take some time. However, this restructuring can begin immediately. Corresponding laws, regulations and guidelines, e.g. with regard to state construction projects, can be implemented immediately and thus initiate change in the required direction.

How long does it take the measure to have an effect?

Effects through more long-lasting use of wood products or cascade use show immediate effects through the reduction of logging or wood imports or the dismantling of the use of, for example, cement. The reorganisation of occupations and production chains associated with the measure takes some time, but the measure itself is effective from the very first implementation.

References to social, global or generational justice

In particular, the two aspects of regionalisation of wood use and material substitution by local wood have very positive effects on global equity. Imports of wood or wooden products are currently outsourcing the clearing and destruction of forests to other countries, often indirectly supporting unsustainable forest use. Here, the destruction of primary forests, that are especially deserving protection, and the associated impact on the local population living off forests and dependent on intact forests, is particularily relevant. The extractivism of cement, for example, is associated with massive impairments of ecosystems (often very sensitive ecosystems such as karst areas), resettlement and human rights violations of the indigenous local population. In addition, mining is generally carried out by transnationally operating large corporations (example: cement mining in Indonesia). Strengthening local and regional value chains and skilled manual work also contributes to social justice and the strengthening of rural areas.