The role and contribution of the forest-based sector in Europe

Characteristics of the forest-based sector

The forest-based sector is one of Europe’s largest, and includes woodworking industries, pulp and paper industries and printing industries, as well as forest owners. It contributes some 8% of the EU’s total manufacturing added value, and sustainably manages forests covering 37% of the EU’s land area. It supports 3-4 million industrial jobs in sectors including transport, machinery, construction, instrumentation, information technology, chemicals and energy. The sector is also Europe’s biggest producer and user of bio-based energy.

The forest-based sector operates mainly in rural areas and constitutes a vital part of the rural economy. In addition to the forest owners’ income, more than 100.000 people are employed in public and large private forest enterprises, and an estimated 150.000 work as forest contractors.

In addition to raw materials, forests also provide a wide range of other very important eco-system services. Biodiversity conservation and management, watershed management, non-wood forest products, recreational environments, and climate change mitigation are areas where forests play a very important role. No other industrial sector can offer equal products and services to ordinary citizens.

Key challenges facing today’s forest-based sector:

The sector is affected by many of the same challenges that society faces: climate change, increasing competition for raw materials, changing consumer demands and the growing complexity of manufacturing processes. It aims to face these challenges in the following ways:

  • Helping to mitigate the effects of climate change by absorbing large quantities of CO2.
  • Securing the availability of renewable raw materials, while supporting the multiple uses of forests and safeguarding biodiversity, through sustainable forest management.
  • Obtaining an economic and environmental balance in using forest biomass for products and energy, as well as substantially improving the forest industry’s energy-efficiency.
  • Providing products and services that respond to changes in society’s needs.
  • Developing and designing products that can be recycled, reused and finally converted to bio-energy.
  • Achieving a significant decrease in capital intensity and increasing production flexibility through process innovations.
  • Responding to new competition from other global regions.

Towards a sustainable Europe - key opportunities for today’s forest-based sector:

Challenges also provide opportunities to innovate and grow. Forest-based industries in Europe already use a non-food, renewable, natural resource in a sustainable and responsible way. By evolving and growing, our sector promises to become a key enabler of the sustainable biobased society of the future by:

  • Balancing the use of forests as a resource for renewable raw material with other important functions such as offering recreation and safeguarding biodiversity.
  • Increasing the availability of renewable resources, e.g. through afforestation, and extending their use in new and existing applications thus securing forest-based materials as the material of choice.
  • Increasing the share of high value-added products offered to consumers.
  • Substituting non-renewable materials through innovative solutions from forest-based materials.
  • Developing new industrial activities based on “green chemicals” from wood.
  • Becoming a major producer of “green electricity”, biofuels and other bio-energy products.
  • Taking advantage in process and product developments of alliances with other sectors and of exploiting emerging technologies to the full.

The Technology platform as a governance mechanism - key benefits of the technology platform:

Through its extensive network of National Support Groups (NSG), currently active in 19 EU countries, plus Norway, Switzerland and Russia, FTP is able to maintain an active dialogue with its many stakeholders. The NSGs have a key role in securing national support for the platform and FTP is able to benefit them in the following ways: 

  • Engages all key stakeholders and provides a forum for public-private dialogue and partnership.
  • Facilitates targeted investments in research and development.
  • Mobilises and focuses existing research and development capabilities, thereby fostering a more efficient approach to innovation.
  • Stimulates coordination of European and national research agendas.
  • Supports the ongoing development of a relevant knowledge base for the sector.
  • Contributes to the overall growth and competitiveness of the EU economy.