While the debate about forests might sound polarised, we believe that the forest issue is neither black nor white. It is green. And while we might all agree that the forest is important, there are varying views on how to utilise it best. Some argue that it should be left alone, while others believe that it should be managed. Whatever the opinions we hold, the forest is a green solution to many of the big challenges facing us today.
Swedish forestry rests on three dimensions of sustainability: ecological, economic and social. We often talk about these dimensions as if they are three separate things. However, they constitute three pillars of the same idea. And they are also dependant on each other. Here are a few examples:
- Ecological sustainability is dependent on economic sustainability. Keeping the forest from being managed results in a lower income for the landowner. And implementing environmental measures incurs costs. Therefore, the landowner must be able to maintain profitable forestry that both covers costs and provides a surplus to live off. The economic sustainability is in turn dependant on the ecological aspect. The forests must be resilient enough to grow and generate financial gains.
- Economic sustainability is also the foundation of social sustainability. The forests are an important source of income that allow people to live and work throughout the country. This is a give-and-take relationship. If no one wants to work within the forest industry, there will be no economic sustainability. And if the forest is not ecologically sustainable, it is not socially sustainable, since spending time in a forest without a rich diversity of flora and fauna becomes unfulfilling.
The fact that the three dimensions of sustainability are dependent on each other means that we cannot focus on just one of them. All are needed for sustainable development. Therefore, it is necessary to always consider how to create and maintain the balance between them.
The forest – you can have your cake and eat it
In Sweden we have a long history of sustainable forest management that we can take pride in. It has resulted in us having twice the amount of forest today that we did a hundred years ago. This is in part due to the political decision made in 1903 that landowners must replant when they harvest trees. Today we plant around 380 million seedlings per year. It might seem a zero-sum game.
However, in Sweden the regrowth is so strong that even after harvesting around 90 million cubic metres per year, roughly the equivalent of 1 percent of the acreage of the forest, there is more forest at the end of the year than there was at the start of the year. In other words, in Sweden harvesting and growth go hand in hand. What we need to do is continue thinking in the long-term, replant, and nurture the growing forest.