Circular Economy: A completely new opportunity for the forest industry
Andrés PesceVP of Business Development and Sustainability
The greatest challenge mankind faces today is being able to sustain people’s increasing quality of life without destroying the planet. If we consider that the environmental imbalance -including climate crisis- was caused by a relatively small portion of the world’s population (from currently rich countries) and today most of the population (from developing countries) aspires to have a standard of living similar to those from rich countries, we can realize how colossal this challenge is. Within a few years, 500 million people who previously did not have domestic refrigeration will be connected to the grid, and if these refrigerators are not ultra-efficient and their energy is not provided by renewable sources, the planet will simply not withstand it.
The environmental crisis we are living through, besides being caused by a small proportion of the world’s population, happened in a very short time. In 200 years we have launched into the atmosphere 1,500 gTon of coal that accumulated over millions of years on planet Earth. On the other hand, our planet has not been able to ‘sustain’ the accelerated increase in growth and quality of life of recent times, and just like an over demanding athlete, the planet has gotten sick and that better life standard we have reached is jeopardized. Therefore, is urgent to find new growth paths that can be decoupled from the use of finite resources and from the Earth’s ability to ‘recover’ from the ecosystem services it provides for our lives.
Today we emit -+50 gTon of C02eq per year, and we must decrease that figure in half by 2030, to zero level by 2050 and then start capturing carbon from the air if we pretend to conserve the world as we know it today. Besides the effort to mitigate the climate change, it is equally urgent to adapt to the climate crisis effects that already are strongly present in our country. In short, it is a monumental transition towards circular models of development, a transition that requires unprecedented global coordination, technological development, and new business models which may take a couple of generations.
Our planet has not been able to 'sustain' the accelerated increase in growth and quality of life of recent times, and just like an over demanding athlete, the planet has gotten sick and that better life standard we have reached is jeopardized. Therefore, is urgent to find new growth paths that can be decoupled from the use of finite resources and from the Earth's ability to 'recover' from the ecosystem services it provides for our lives.
Andrés Pesce VP of Business Development and Sustainability
Forest industry may and must have a leading role in this transition to a circular economy, being defined as an industry of renewable materials. From the life cycle perspective, wood is friendlier with the environment than many other materials. Concrete, for example, is responsible of 8% of global emissions, however; many of the constructions where concrete is used may be replaced with wood. For instance, the concrete used by China from 2010 to 2012, was greater than the total amount of concrete used by the USA throughout the 20th century.
Wood constructions have better “energetic and thermal” conditions and their materials can be recycled at the end of its useful life. In the same way, materials coming from wood may replace complicated single use plastics or biomass to improve the air quality of Chile’s southern cities which are heated with firewood. To become itself an industry of renewable materials it is not enough to produce renewable products, also; the industry must be renewable considering the territorial context in which it operates. From the environmental point of view, it must coexist with the native forest development and be respectful with the basins ‘activities in which their trees grow, in particular; show solidarity with the water those trees capture before reaching surface and underground channels that irrigate the watersheds downstream.
From the social point of view, it is crucial that the growing sophistication of this industry does not decouple from the sophistication of the territory in which it operates – development of local suppliers and standard of living of local communities. If this does not happen, the forest industry will not have the legitimacy of society to develop at the level required by the climate emergency. In short, the transition towards a circular economy presents an unprecedented opportunity for our forest industry, but at the same time implies great challenges for it in terms of environmental and social sustainability that provide it with a legitimate platform to generate sustainable development for Chile and the world.