Our Future of Forestry
BSW Group is the largest integrated forestry business in the UK spanning nurseries, forestry, and primary processing with seven UK sawmills. Group CEO, Tony Hackney, discusses pushing boundaries and the three pillars of sustainability.
‘Sustainability’ has fast become one of the most used buzzwords across several industries – and forestry is no exception. While constant use of the word can render it meaningless, and ironically unsustainable, it’s encouraging to see more businesses committing to producing timber in a way that minimises environmental impact.
When carefully managed, timber is a naturally renewable material. It’s also incredibly versatile and a crucial part of the UK’s manufacturing and construction industries. In fact, recent years have seen a marked resurgence in the use of timber frames in UK housing. The ‘COP26 House’, developed by BSW Group and Roderick James Architects using a timber frame, demonstrates how truly sustainable, zero-carbon buildings can also be beautiful, comfortable to live in and low-cost to build. It’s just one of the solutions to the climate emergency that’s already available, in theory.
I use the term ‘in theory’ because forests and woodlands currently cover approximately 13% of the UK’s total land area, lagging behind the EU average of 37%. Consequently, two-thirds (67%) of the timber consumed in the UK is imported, contributing to harmful greenhouse gases and global climate change. This begs the question: how can we reduce our country’s dependence on timber imports? The answer relies on the UK producing more homegrown timber, supporting the growth of the British timber industry, and having a positive impact on sustainability.
For forestry businesses to be sustainable, they must operate in harmony with their surroundings. They must ensure society’s demand doesn’t compromise the resource for current and future generations. And they must do so holistically, delivering social, environmental, and economic benefits – the three pillars of sustainability. So, why is it important to take sustainable forestry seriously? Simply put, we cannot survive on this planet without forests. They absorb carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we need as humans in return.
Increased woodland cover offers a retreat for wildlife and ecosystems, including plants, insects, and small mammals, which we all have a responsibility to protect. Well-managed forests also provide much-needed space for human recreation and physical activity, with wooded walks and bridleways boosting health and wellbeing. Plus, research shows that trees reduce flood risk through slowing, storing, and filtering water, which we will come to rely on more unless we tackle the climate crisis head-on.
BSW Group, the UK’s largest forestry business, believes it’s the role of businesses like us to push the boundaries and set the standards when it comes to operating sustainably. We’ve been busy evolving with the world around us, and it’s great to see lots more companies doing the same to reduce their carbon footprints. But the work of lowering emissions, reducing waste, and improving the process of reducing, reusing, and recycling raw materials can’t just be a box-ticking exercise tacked onto the job description of department heads.
If you’re serious about improving your company’s sustainability – and capturing all the associated benefits – you need to get serious about your willingness to change and adapt. Ask yourself, can this be done more sustainably? This means relentlessly innovating and taking advantage of new technology.
For example, here at BSW Group, we previously upgraded our mechanical handling vehicles to models with Tier IV diesel engines, which reduced harmful emissions by 85%. Going one step further, we’ve recently taken the decision to switch to Tier V powerplant, producing zero emissions and helping to eliminate the fine soot particles that cause air pollution and have negative health effects. Efficiency is also a key part of this journey. Of course, machinery is needed for the manufacturing of timber, but the industry needs to work on operating machines in an energy-saving manner and explore more renewable energy sources.
As an industry and as individuals, it is important that we are neither naïve nor complacent about our responsibility to reduce the negative impact on our planet. The great strides that have been made in recent years show that the job, whilst difficult, is not impossible. With co-operation, innovation, and a willingness to adapt, we can all do our bit to ensure that our hard work benefits future generations.