Producing more value with fewer inputs: the woodworking industries lead the way

The EC Roadmap to a Resource-efficient Europe is one of the main building blocks of the resource efficiency flagship initiative. The Roadmap sets out a framework for the design and implementation of future actions.
It proposes ways to increase resource productivity and decouple economic growth from resource use and its environmental impact and illustrates how policies interrelate and build on each other.
Recently the World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report has showed that 'humanity currently consumes the natural resources of 1.5 Earths, 50% more than our planet can sustain. In a business-as-usual scenario, by 2030 we will consume resources to the equivalent of 2 Earths and nearly 3 Earths by 2050. In less than 50 years Europe has doubled its demand for resources and today it consumes the equivalent of 2.6 Earths'.
In order to meet their huge need for resources, Member States are required to develop policies to maintain a balance between supply and demand for natural resources. Moreover they will have to find solutions in order to produce more value with fewer inputs. New policies will have to be designed so as to support the shift towards sustainable growth via a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy.
The simplest way to produce more value with fewer inputs in order to lessen our impact on the environment is exemplified by the principle of the cascade use of wood. Applying this, the woodworking industries clearly contribute to achieving the goals proposed in the European Roadmap to a Resourceefficient Europe and to transforming Europe's economy into a sustainable one by 2050.
Resource efficiency means using the Earth's limited resources in a sustainable manner while minimising impacts on the environment. The cascade use of wood is based on the efficient use of this natural raw material: manufacturing of wood products, reuse, repair and recycling, as well as the final valorisation of energy content. This concept was emphasised in the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee entitled 'Opportunities and challenges for a more competitive European woodworking and furniture sector' (October 2011).
At the same time, the EESC expressed concern over the 'impact that the Commission's Climate Change and Energy Package will have on the development of renewable energy sources and on the overall availability of wood, the industry's raw material. The EESC is disappointed that the use of inappropriate subsidy schemes for renewable energy production, which were set up to achieve the climate commitments, has made it more profitable to burn wood directly than to use it for products'.

The UNECE (United Nations Economic Committee for Europe)/FAO European 'Forest Sector Outlook Study II' estimates a 3.5% annual growth rate for wood energy such that by 2030 the wood supply required to satisfy corresponding renewable energy demand will have to double from 435 million m3 in 2010 to 860 million m3 in 2030. Unfortunately this approach cannot be considered sustainable in the current policy context.

Instead, wood ought to be used for its highest value before being converted into energy, thus observing the value-added and usage chains of wood. Wood can be used, reused and recycled several times but it can only be burned once. The woodworking industry is not opposed to the use of wood as a renewable energy source – in fact it is one of the major users – but this should only be done when no other industrial uses are possible any longer and by preference in highly efficient systems, such as combined heat and power. In a new study entitled 'Wood Flows in Europe (EU27)', Professor Udo Mantau (Head of the Centre of Wood Science and project coordinator at the University of Hamburg) has examined the importance of the application of the cascade use of wood principle in order to guarantee a sustainable and efficient use of raw wood sources. The study reports that 'in the market process wood is used in cascades. A cascade use is defined as multiple use of the wood resources from trees by using residues, recycling (utilisation in production) resources or recovered (collected after consumption) resources. The more often by-products and recycling products are used, the higher the cascade factor gets. If only wood resources from trees and no other wood resources are used, the cascade factor is 1.00.' It is important to note that according to the cascade factor defined in this Wood Flow study, 'wood is used 1.57 times (cascade factor including energy use), almost all the cascade uses take place in the wood-based industries' (1.35).
Wood is a valuable resource and the woodworking industry is committed to using it in the most efficient way. In the last two decades, the sector has developed logistical networks for collecting and recovering recycled wood. However, in several Member States, valuable wood resources are sent to landfill which is counter to the objectives of the European Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC).
Each year, the wood industry produces 169 million m3 swe (solid wood equivalent) of finished products. One third of this volume is recovered and recycled annually.
The issue of sustainable and efficient use of wood is also at the core of the discussion within the FAO/ UNECE Timber Committee. During a Policy Debate on Wood Energy in May 2012 the following recommendations were made:

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