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Sustainable Use of Forests

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Forests are vital for us. They make the world liveable by producing oxygen, clean water and air and by binding carbon. Forests are home to thousands of organisms. They fight soil erosion and protect water systems from eutrophication by binding nutrients. Timber is our most important renewable domestic raw material and the foundation of our economic prosperity. Forests promote our health and offer opportunities for many types of recreation. Forests also play an important aesthetic and spiritual role in our lives.

There are three principles that should be followed in the sustainable

Author / translator Tuulikki Halla

Forests are vital for us. They make the world liveable by producing oxygen, clean water and air and by binding carbon. Forests are home to thousands of organisms. They fight soil erosion and protect water systems from eutrophication by binding nutrients. Timber is our most important renewable domestic raw material and the foundation of our economic prosperity. Forests promote our health and offer opportunities for many types of recreation. Forests also play an important aesthetic and spiritual role in our lives. There are three principles that should be followed in the sustainable use of forests: ecological, social and economic. Forest use is ecological when the biodiversity of forest habitats and species is safeguarded. Social sustainability means that the forests provide well-being, work and livelihood,recreation, cultural experiences and opportunities for pursuing hobbies to all population groups fairly. A precondition for economic sustainability is that we exploit forest resources ensuring that future generations will have the same possibilities of using them as we do. How can sustainable forest use be implemented in practice?

Created 4 April 2012
Last edited 17 May 2018
Topics Environment, Sustainability

Policy positions

Policy position 1

Forests should primarily be treasured as valuable ecosystems in a natural state and habitat for species living in them. We should cut back on using all natural resources, also wood-based products.

Policy position 2

Domestic timber should be favoured as a raw material, as it is a better alternative for the environment and in terms of employment than manufacturing similar products from non-renewable natural resources. Biodiversity and the landscape values of forests should be secured by means of various protection and forest management measures.

Policy position 3

Focus should be on research and product development so that we can make a more efficient and versatile use of wood-based raw materials. The surface area of forest should be expanded to safeguard the availability of raw material and to increase the carbon binding capacity.

Policy position 4

Position developed by your group.

Story cards


I do project work in the IT sector, mainly in the games industry. At the moment, I’m on the lookout for a new project.

I inherited a bit of forest, and I definitely needed it. We recently bought a bigger flat. We also enjoy cycling and hiking, and it would be great to see some of the world-famous natural attractions, for example the mountains of Nepal.

I calculated that if I could sell a bit of timber from my forest over the next few years, I could get a total of EUR 50,000 for it. In that case, I would not need to take out a loan to pay for everything.

Henry, IT sector employee

Old-growth forests are close to my heart. It is estimated that more than a hundred years ago, forests exceeding 150 years in age accounted for more than half of the forest area in southern Finland, while this area is now less than one per cent. It is absolutely necessary to protect greater areas of forest; a 10 per cent share is not very much.

I think old-growth forests are a solution for preventing climate change. Australian studies indicate that a primeval forest can store 60 per cent more carbon dioxide than a planted forest.

We only have one globe: it is worth fighting for.

Tony, fundraiser

I design various types of cardboard packaging for products. I recently put a smart label on packaging that sounds an alarm if somebody tries to steal the product from a shop.

The world will always need packaging, and this is why I try to make it as functional and ecological as possible. The carbon dioxide emissions from recyclable cardboard packaging are one-tenth those from corresponding plastic packaging, and cardboard also degrades quickly, while plastic may take hundreds of years to decompose.

Through my work, I can have a big influence on what the Earth will look like, for example in 50 years.

Emma, packaging designer

Large offices and public buildings are mainly made of concrete. Only one per cent of blocks of flats in Finland are made of wood.

Construction companies have found that concrete is a good material and that it makes for easy building.
Buildings made of wood have to be designed and built individually, and that is costly. Who would like to spend even more money on housing?

It is said that it takes more natural resources to build a concrete wall than a wall made of wood. This may, of course, be true. For me, concrete gives an image of durability. Also, with the current fire regulations it only possible to build certain types of wooden buildings.

Lisa, chief communications officer in the concrete industry

The forest is a lifeline for me. In the summer, I spend time out at my summer cottage whenever I’m not on a gig.

The trees surrounding the cottage are like close friends to me. They give me strength, comfort and ideas. When I am sad, their beauty and ancient history make my everyday concerns look like mere flashes that come and go.

I do not think that forests should be felled at all and that we should understand how magnificent trees are as world-famous works of art. Likewise, music is, at its best, live, and lyrics and music do not require anything material.

Nina, composer and songwriter

My boyfriend and I wanted to stay in our home area. Luckily, we both found jobs at the local sawmill. We like living in the countryside, because it is easier to keep dogs out here. In the future, we would like to have children, and they can grow up close to their grandparents.

The sawmill also employees our friends, and it buys timber from local forest owners. The waste timber is used in the sawmill’s own bioenergy plant. The heat produced by it keeps the sawmill buildings warm, and even heats part of the municipality’s buildings. Our single-family home receives its heat energy from the sawmill, too.

It is thanks to the sawmill that this village still exists.

Helen, sawmill worker

I took my hunter’s exam last year. Ever since I was young, I have been following my father on hunting trips. It is great to snooze under the night sky, wake up with the first rays of sun and listen to waterfowl rustling nearby. When you once in a while manage to catch something, it is a magnificent feeling. Eating a dish made from your catch is almost a spiritual experience.

A couple of good hunting sites have been destroyed by the harvesting of energy wood. The underground stems of blueberry bushes are broken as stumps are removed, and it may take twenty or thirty years before the blueberry bushes get re-established.

Blueberries are an important part of the diet for the black grouse and the wood grouse.

Oscar, hunter

I recently read about a girl younger than myself who had been working in the fields somewhere in Asia from an early age. Her family had first been farmers, but then their field was taken over by a cotton plantation, and they were all made to work there.

It is awful to think that some little girl has been slaving for the clothes that I wear. But clothes can also be made of wood; viscose is made from pulp (the same stuff that paper is made of).

It is exciting to think that one day soon, I might be wearing the tree that I can now see from my window. And hopefully, that little girl could escape the fields and
go to school.

Maria, fashion blogger

Forest management techniques have done rather a poor job of simulating natural forest development, and for this reason, many species have become endangered.

Forestry has strived to promote biodiversity, for example by avoiding the felling of so-called key biotopes, including herb-rich forests and other vital habitats.

However, key biotopes are too small, often being less than one hectare, and the animal or plant populations living in them are vulnerable to extinction. Key biotopes are also located too far from each other: the species are unable to move from one biotope to the next.

Larger biotopes in a closer network would work better for safeguarding the species living in them: a couple of biotope areas approximately 5-10 hectares in size per square kilometre would work well.

Peter, ecologist

It will be impossible to maintain our current standard of living in the future; this can be proven by simple mathematics: the world economy will grow by 3 per cent a year in western countries and by 4-5 per cent in developing countries over the next 40 years. Over the same period, the world’s population will grow from 7 billion to some 8-11 billion.

First of all, there will be more of us every year, and secondly, we consume more clean water, arable soil and land for building, as well as metals and fuels.

Natural resources are limited, and if we continue to pursue our current lifestyle, there will not be enough for everyone.

Sámmol, politician

Read the papers, it’s a good idea. My research team succeeded in turning old newspapers into a biofuel that contains more energy than petrol or ethanol. We used bacteria to turn the pulp contained within a newspaper into butanol for a car’s fuel tank.

Of biofuels, ethanol burns better than petrol, but butanol contains much more energy than ethanol. Replacing petrol with butanol would dramatically cut down on carbon dioxide emissions, while it would also lower fuel prices.

In the future, a newspaper will also be a source of energy!

Tina, engineer


Sustainably - with electricity?

One 50-page newspaper requires 0.85 litres of wood to produce, or less than the volume of a carton of milk.

You can also read the paper online – but which, after all, is the more sustainable alternative?

It's all the same!

More than one half of wood used in the world is used for fuel. Approximately 5.2 million hectares of forest disappear annually.

It’s all the same whether or not we manage our forests sustainably, because Finnish forests make up only 0.6 per cent of the world’s forests.

Plastic waste takes 400 years to decompose.

Finnish people today purchase 11 times more goods and services than they did a hundred years ago.

We should be responsible for the products we buy until the end of their life span.

It is not right that our children should inherit our waste.

Do western countries have the right to exceed their share?

Approximately one-fifth of the world’s population lives in industrialised countries, but it consumes four-fifths of the Earth’s natural resources.

Last year, for example, mankind had used up all of the renewable natural resources that the Earth produced
that year by 21 August.

Back to the forest?

The games industry produced a turnover exceeding EUR 100 million last year, and it has been predicted that it will become the ‘new Nokia’ of Finland.

Wood and land will be needed, however, because you
cannot eat virtual food or live in a virtual flat.

We need more stringent legislation.

Challenging targets should be laid down in environmental legislation, for example banning the use of oil by 2030; this would speed up eco-innovations.

At the moment, everything is voluntary and nothing really

It is better to burn timber than leave it to decay.

Harvesting stumps reduces soil carbon stores.

Regardless of this, stumps should be utilized as bioenergy, not left to rot in the ground.

The carbon dioxide released when burning energy wood is bound by new forest growth, and the carbon dioxide would in any case be released as the stumps degrade.

Without the forest, we would have nothing.

Without trees, we would not have the story of paradise in the Bible or many of our fairytales; without trees, we would not have flying squirrels.

Do we need them?

Trees can manage without us.

Many species are useful for trees.

Fungi living in a symbiotic relationship with trees, for example, improve the nutrition intake of trees and protect them from pathogens.

Forests - our only riches?

Nature has located our only riches and the source of our financial independence in the forest.

Do you agree?

Ugliness may cause nausea.

Some people think wind turbines or dead trees are ugly, but knowledge of their ecological significance may change opinions, allowing us to see beauty in them.

As tastes in beauty come and go, it makes no sense to invest in cherishing the beauty of the environment.

Life must be protected.

A tree is a living being, and the forest has a right to exist.

Destroying any kind of life is wrong.

A beach holiday or a trip to the nearest forest?

Holidaying close to home prevents climate change, and spending time in the forest promotes your health.

Those taking their holidays in their home country should get tax relief because their carbon footprint is smaller, and, as they enjoy better health, they consume less medical services, which are maintained by tax revenue.

We should protect the forest environment in Russia.

Russia has the greatest surface area of forests in the world, with one-fifth of the world’s forests.

In Finland, we should focus on producing climate-friendly wood products and biofuels instead of protecting our forests.

Ecological corridors are no help.

Research has yet to pinpoint a single case in which leaving ecological corridors would have helped a population or a species to survive.

Are forestry protection measures merely serving to pull the wool over our eyes?

A network of protected areas is no safeguard for biodiversity.

In southern Finland, commercial forests account for approximately 98 per cent of forests, while protected areas account for approximately one per cent.

We must urgently establish more protected areas to stop the loss of biodiversity in the forest environment.

Living in town is more ecological.

Long distances make it nearly impossible to live in the country without a car.

It is not worth supporting industries that require people to live outside urban areas: it is cheaper to buy timber and food from abroad.

The forest need people.

If we do not look after trees, they will decay and die.

What should we do?

Finland’s share of greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere account for nearly 70 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, of which land use and forestry bind some 50 million tons every year.

Nearly 20 million tons of CO₂ remain in the atmosphere,
accelerating climate change.

Climate change may destroy large trees.

Climate change may increase the number of windfalls caused by storms, in which case trees are an easy target for pests.

Spruce trees may be vulnerable to falling over after thinning when the icy soil does not support their root systems.

The best way to fight climate change is sustainable forest use.

Protected forests act as carbon stores, growing forests bind carbon, and wood can be used to replace other, more polluting raw materials, thus reducing emissions into the atmosphere.

Could seaweed be more ecological than wood?

Aquatic ecosystems produce multiple amounts of biomass compared to forests; for example, plant plankton can produce 10,000 per cent of its biomass, whereas this figure for trees is as low as just over one per cent.

It would make more sense to use seaweed rather than trees for bioenergy.

Instead of favouring wood products, we should consume less.

The life spans of wood-based products vary from two months for newspapers to 75 years for timber structures.

Of the carbon harvested from trees every year, only 10 per cent of it ends up in wood products with a longer life span.

No more fires!

Dry timber burns well in a camp fire, so why not elsewhere.

The Finnish city of Turku, for example, has burnt to the ground several times during its history.

If the WTC towers had been made of wood..

...they might have collapsed more slowly, and more lives might have been saved.

In a fire, a wooden beam preserves its load-bearing capacity better than a similar steel bar, which becomes distorted more quickly in heat and may collapse.

Will we be a success story or a developing country in the future?

The forest sector will also be the foundation for our wellbeing in the future.

We must develop new wood-based products to keep up with international competition.

Otherwise, jobs and money will flee to other countries.

Forest ecosystem services keep us alive, too.

The forests make the world liveable by producing oxygen, clean water and air and by binding carbon.

They fight soil erosion and protect water systems from eutrophication.

Why do we need forests?

Without the forest, we could not survive.

Ecosystem services produced by the forest, including clean air, water and soil yield, trees, berries, mushrooms, photosynthesis and the nutrient cycle, as well as carbon binding, make the globe liveable for us.

Finland is the most forested country in Europe.

and one of the most forested countries in the world.

Approximately 86 per cent of the Finland’s surface area is covered by forest.

The greatest number of endangered species is found in a forest environment.

Globally, the boreal coniferous zone is not a particularly endangered ecosystem.

The endangered status of forest types in Finland is mainly due to the dwindling of old-growth forests, and to the ensuing reduction in the number of large and decaying trees.

Wood is climate-friendly energy.

Fossil fuels such as coal and oil contain carbon bound in ancient organisms.

When we burn fossil fuels, this carbon is released into the atmosphere, reducing the amount of thermal radiation that escapes from the Earth into space.

As a result, our climate warms up.

Forests slow down climate change.

The process of photosynthesis in trees binds carbon: trees take carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil, using sunlight to turn these into sugar for growth.

In Finnish forests, approximately 1,300 tons of carbon is bound in the soil and approximately 800 million tons in trees.

How much forest do we need to bind traffic emissions?

If a car is, on average, driven more than 18,000 km a year, releasing approximately 3,000 kg of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

In order to bind these carbon dioxide emissions, an area of pine trees 70 m x 70 m in size is needed.

Old-growth forests are a carbon store.

Old-growth forests that have developed naturally bind 2-4 times more carbon than a commercial forest.

Growing trees are a carbon sink.

By the time a forest is 12 years old, it starts binding more carbon than it releases.

Photosynthesis produces nutrients that the tree uses for growth, and, thus, a young, growing forest binds great quantities of carbon dioxide.

Is a house made of wood fire safe?

In Finland, fire safety regulations for blocks of flats built of wood were amended in 2011.

The new regulations make it possible to build eight-storey blocks of flats out of wood.

Aerosols released by trees may reduce atmospheric warming.

Carbon compounds released by trees may form aerosols in the atmosphere, leading to increased cloud cover.

Clouds increase the amount of radiation that is reflected from the atmosphere back into space, thus reducing atmospheric warming.

The challenge lies in quality, not quantity.

The declining amount of decayed wood is the primary reason that species are becoming endangered.

The average amount of deadwood in Finnish forests is 5.4 m³ per hectare, whereas in old-growth forests in a natural state, the amount of decayed wood varies between 20 and 120 m³ per hectare.

More research is needed on the impacts of energy tree harvesting.

Degrading logging residue or the branches, needles and roots of felled trees release nutrients for the remaining trees.

The more logging residue that is left behind in the forest, the less the tree growth is affected.

The majority of the forest is privately owned.

More than one half of Finnish forests are privately owned: one family out of seven owns some forest.

One-third of Finnish forests are owned by the state and 8 per cent by companies.

The remainder is owned by municipalities, parishes and various organisations.

Spending time in the forest may save you from illness.

A Japanese study claims that hiking in the forest for one to two days at a time will increase the number of killer cells that are vital for human immunological defence mechanisms.

Natural killer cells, or NKs, are, for example, able to destroy cancer cells.

A wooden building slows down your heart rate.

An Austrian study indicates that in a classroom of wood, the pupils’ heart rate is six beats a minute slower than that of pupils in a so-called normal classroom.

A heart that is beating slowly wears down less and lasts longer.

What can be done with the money obtained from the forest?

The financial yield produced by the Finnish forest sector is approximately EUR 6 billion a year.

With this sum, the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture could discharge its duties for a year, including the provision of student financial support and general education.

Retention trees promote biodiversity.

Studies show that 81 endangered species can profit from retention trees left in open tree fellings, especially aspens.

In regeneration fellings carried out on state land, 5-10 m³ of the retention trees per hectare should be left, and, at special sites, up to 20 m³ per hectare should be left.

The area of protected forests in Finland is the largest in Europe.

A total of 9 per cent of our forests are strictly protected.

To stop more forest species from becoming endangered, we should increase the share of protected forests to around 10 per cent everywhere within Finland.

Commercial forest management techniques that safeguard biodiversity could reduce the need for protected areas by 0.5-2 per cent.

We consume to live.

Life on Earth is based on using natural resources.

Our current way of life has increased the use of natural resources: each Finnish person consumes approximately 100,000 kg of natural resources every year.

Cleaner paper

The amount of water required to manufacture a ton of newsprint has declined from 100,000–150,000 litres to 7,000–15,000 litres.

The water is recycled 18 times during the process before it becomes sewage.

A good example

The value of public procurements is approximately EUR 23 billion in Finland.

The Government is currently encouraging procurements of wood-based products that are environmentally sustainable.

Procurement guidelines already exist for paper products, furniture and buildings.

Today's forests began growing 3,000 years ago.

After the most recent ice age some 10,000 years ago, birch and pine, or so-called pioneer trees, spread from the south to the current area of Finland.

Spruce trees started becoming more widespread throughout eastern parts of the country approximately 5,000 years ago, once the climate became similar to what it is today.

Public access rights belong to everyone in Finland.

Walking in the forest and picking berries and mushrooms are public access rights for which the landowner’s permission is not required.

However, a person must not become a nuisance or cause a disturbance while exercising his or her public access rights.

Wood is a renewable material.

Limited, non-renewable raw materials can be replaced by wood.

Wood is domestically produced and endurable, it can be repaired and recycled, and it burns and decays without harming the environment.

Wood for clothes, nutrition and medicine

The xylitol found in the birch trees protects our teeth from cavities, the lignan found in spruce trees reduces the risk of heart disease and the plant sterol found in pine trees lowers cholesterol values.

Birch and spruce pulp fibre can be used to make viscose fibres for clothes.

Wood products can help reduce emissions.

Processing wood requires less energy than processing metal or concrete.

For example, it takes 3.5 times more energy to manufacture a steel bar than a timber bar, while it takes 15 times more energy to manufacture an aluminium bar.

Forestry produces less than 10 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in Finland.

Forestry consumes one-third of all electricity in Finland, while it is the largest producer of bioenergy: 70 per cent of the energy used by the industry comes from recycled, wood-based bioenergy.

One hectare of stumps...

...would keep 20 single-family houses warm for a year.

Bioenergy is mainly a by-product of a felling, because the branches and some of the stumps and trunk parts that are of no use to a sawmill or factory are chipped and made into fuel.

A wooden product is a carbon store.

In wooden structures and furniture, carbon is stored for 40 years on average, but sometimes for up to hundreds of years: for example, the old wooden church of Petäjävesi in Central Finland, which has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site, was completed in 1765.

Timber is an ideal choice for building.

Approximately 15 million tons of carbon dioxide are stored annually in the products of the Finnish sawmill industry, which is equivalent to the yearly carbon dioxide emissions of all road transports.

If we doubled the use of timber in new buildings, harmful emissions into the atmosphere would be further reduced by the equivalent of the emissions produced in a city the size of 200 000 inhabitants.

Why should we fill up with wood?

The biofuels produced from rape seed, sugarcane and palm oil take arable land away from food production and speed up the destruction of rain forests.

Biofuel made from tree parts, cultivation residue and manure exploits raw materials that have already been used once.

Blueberry, the superfood

The anthocyanins found in blueberries help to prevent cardiovascular diseases and maintain eye health.

The anthocyanin content of natural blueberries is four times that of cultivated blueberries.

A small number of the world's tree species are exploited.

There are approximately 60,000 arborescent plants growing on the globe. Human beings only exploit a couple thousand of them.

Twenty-two naturally growing tree species are found in Finnish forests. The tree species that are exploited the most are birch, spruce and pine.

The number of trees in Finland increases every year.

Finnish forests grow approximately 100 cubic metres a year. More than 50 million cubic metres are exploited annually.

There is now more than 2,000 cubic metres of timber in our forests, more than at any time in the last 200 years.

If you cut down trees, you must always plant new ones.

Finnish forests are carbon sinks because we look after forest regeneration.

Destroying tropical forests increases carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere by approximately 20 per cent, because new trees are not planted to replace the felled trees.

Nature tourism can be locally significant.

In northwest Lapland, nature tourism produces revenue of approximately EUR 4 million for the municipal coffers, which is 20 times the amount spent on basic maintenance in the area.

The sums of money moving around in nature tourism nationwide amount to nearly EUR 1 billion.

Finland is one of the largest exporters of processed wood products.

Finland has 0.6 per cent of the world’s forests, 1.6 per cent of forest fellings in the world take place in Finland, and we produce less than a fifth of all printing and writing paper in the world.

Does Finland make its living from the forest?

The Finnish forest sector accounts for approximately 5 per cent of our GNP.

In other parts of the world, this share is around one per cent.

One Finn out of ten makes his/her living from the forest industry or from sectors serving the forest industry.

Forest destruction banned by law in 1886.

Today, forest use in Finland is governed by the Forest Act of 1997, the Nature Conservation Act and forest management recommendations.

Such pieces of legislation as the Antiquities Act, the Water Act and the Reindeer Husbandry Act must be taken into account in forest management.

Forest art from the Stone Age

One of the oldest sculptures found in Finland is a wooden elk’s head carved at Lehtojärvi, near Rovaniemi, approximately 8,400 years ago.

The elk was an important game animal for stone-age Finns. In addition to various types of sculptures, the elk is also depicted in rock paintings.

Tougher-than-metal nano pulp is a product of the future.

One cubic metre of wood produces slightly more than 1,000 kilometres of nano pulp.

Thanks to nanotechnology, wood can be made into products that are tougher than steel and as light as plastic.

The forest is the landscape of our souls.

In the olden days, the forest provided everything you needed in life, from timber for building to food.

You also had to show respect to the forest spirits and gods for the forest to yield its plenty.

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