Sustainability Articles

Sustainability and Forestry

by David Saunders

To a forester, the word "sustainability" has long been part of their technical vocabulary, defining a process of continuous productivity from an area of land -or  taking no more than is growing to meet our needs in perpetuity.  This is akin to living off the interest, rather than spending the capital, but rather than investments or bonds, the forester's definition is based on the growing stock of trees.

With more recent concerns about global environmental change, largely caused by expanding human populations and ever increasing demand for resources, the definition of sustainability has taken on a wider meaning, and has been  formalised by NGOs to include respect for both social and environmental processes, rather than the purely economic perspective of maintining a continuous income stream.

Internationally, the loss of forest area has a serious impact - both with the immediate polluting effects of timber that is burnt to clear ground for agriculture, and also the loss of the Carbon dioxide storage that these huge aeas of tropical forests provide.  Clearly some constraints on over-exploitation of these irreplacaeable forest resources are urgently needed, and governmental regulation, now backed by NGOs operating fair-trade and environmental certification measures has begun, with the intention of reassuring consumers that timber has been responsibly produced. 

In our local context the picture is somewhat different.  Forests in Europe are expanding, both in area, and in rate of growth, and we are certainly cutting less than is produced annually.  UK forestry is tightly regulated, and wood from managed forests is certainly sustainable, with, or without, a certificate to prove it.  Certification is a costly process for smaller woodland owners, and many feel unwilling to embark on this route especially as there is little, if any,  additional sale premium received as a reward for the cost and effort involved.

To buy local, without the certificate, or be reassured by a label generated and purchase timber grown half-way around the world - now there is a dilemma for the concerned consumer!

This article was posted on 25 November '08

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