Point of view: Sustainability indicators for nature use must be developed

Timo Lehesvirta
Timo Lehesvirta
Director, Forest Global UPM
24 July 2017

The urban see them through the window of a plane. The brave dare to wander beyond the asphalt and embrace the age-old truth with all of their senses: Finland is covered in forest. So what does this mean?

Wood is an important raw material for bioeconomy. This is why the majority of Finnish forests produce wood for industrial uses. In Finland, producing wood does not require a change of land use. Spruce, pine and birch are grown in their original forest habitat.

The human population is growing. Among other factors, global environmental issues relate to the depletion of non-renewable natural resources, the sufficiency of renewable natural resources, global warming, sustaining biodiversity, water resources and the quality of water, nutrition and the wellbeing of people.

The key question becomes how to use land in a smart and responsible way. As to my opinion, the responsible way is to replace non-renewable resources with renewable ones, such as wood.

This also is a question of local responsibility. What are the local impacts — ranging from employment to environment — of different land use solutions and, for example, forest use, and how do they relate to global responsibility?

In the end, what is the responsible and sustainable way to use land, and how should this be measured?

The benefits of Finnish commercial forests have an incredibly wide sphere

The benefits, or ecosystem services, that Finnish forests offer to us are supreme in terms of their variety. The wood from our forests replaces fossil materials and can be used as raw material for a growing number of products. Forests and products made from wood serve as carbon sinks as well, mitigating global warming.

The majority of natural Finnish forest species live in areas where wood is produced, sustaining biodiversity. The trees in forests use and purify water. These forests are full of food, for humans as well, and raw materials for a variety of medicines.

Forests produce oxygen and purify the air by binding fine particles. Trees protect people from floods and their roots prevent soil erosion.

The insects that inhabit forests help to pollinate plants. Forests create opportunities for nature tourism and provide nourishment for our mind and body.

Most of the ecosystem services are offered on the very same hectares

In terms of ecosystem services, Finnish forests have a world class production variety and capacity. In addition to this, ordinary Finnish forests in commercial use produce most of the ecosystem services described, simultaneously, on the very same hectares.

What other form of land use produces such an extensive and varied range of basic human requirements while simultaneously responding to global environmental challenges?

The question is, how to show this. We need to create more common tools in cooperation with other industries to be used in land use planning. Especially because the needs of mankind are not changing, whether we cultivate trees, rye or cocoa somewhere far away.

Sustainability indicators should be developed in such a way that we are able to get more comprehensive and correct view of the impacts of different industrial branches and human activities in general on the capacity of the nature and the environment.

The value of commercial forests needs to be shown transparently.

 

Blog post has been published on forest.fi.

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