Trees: The Very Definition Of A Circular Economy

In the first of our new opinion columns to wrap up each issue, we hear from Jeremy English, GB and Ireland Sales Director, Södra Wood Ltd.

Unfortunately, many people still think that cutting down trees can only be a bad thing. But when they're owned, grown and harvested by responsible forest-owners and forestry companies, they make for an invaluable circular economy.

From the perspective of sequestering harmful carbon emissions, the harvesting of fully matured trees is a good thing. Once spruce and pine reach full maturity their ability to

soak up carbon depreciates, whereas younger, more vibrant, growing trees do it much better. This cycle of harvesting fully matured trees and clearing way for new saplings is central to maximising oxygen emission and CO2 absorption.

It's also important to remember that left for too long trees – like everything else in the world – will eventually rot, which means they can't be used for structural timber. This, for obvious reasons, is a bad thing. Less quality, sustainably grown structural timber makes for more construction using less environmentally-friendly materials. The manufacture of concrete and steel, for instance, each contribute around 5% of global emissions. Timber, on the other hand, inverts this CO2. Instead of adding to climate change, trees mitigate the impact of it. To use Södra as an example, our forests' positive impact on climate change equates to 20% of Sweden's combined carbon emissions.

When we mention fully matured trees, it's easy to forget that reaching this point isn't as straightforward as it seems. It all starts with the seeds. At Södra we've been working on controlled pollination to breed trees for tomorrow's forests – a new innovation, where nearly two million seedlings are being propagated to produce trees that are healthier and more resilient. The programme does not and has never used genetic modification in any way, but rather helps ensure that all desirable traits of selected spruce are transferred to the seeds, and then to future trees.

 Trees are an incredible thing and have far-reaching benefits beyond construction that many people perhaps won't have even considered. Let me put it this way. Take 2,000m3 of sawn timber - it can be used to create an eight-story building with 64 apartments housing around 120 residents. But on top of that, it can also provide 2,300km miles of driving per household using biofuels, a total of 25 years of paper consumption, 30 years of textile consumption, nine years of district heating, and six years of household electricity consumption. Trees are the very definition of a circular economy.

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