The forest: the most sustainable factory in the world
It was pouring rain when we met with Hubertus Kraut, Director of the Forst Brandenburg state forestry service. “Our forest needs every drop of water,” the forestry expert said to us. We meet up in a small town called Kunsterspring in Brandenburg forest. In terms of species, the forest in this area is a veritable text book of diversity. KRONOTEX by SWISS KRONO is one of Forst Brandenburg’s biggest customers. The native, certified wood is processed at the SWISS KRONO plant in Heiligengrabe immediately after being harvested. We talked with Hubertus Kraut about how the Forst Brandenburg state forestry service maintains, preserves and protects the forests and why it is so important.
The pine is the most common tree in the state of Brandenburg. Why is that?
Hubertus Kraut: Our forests have been used and devastated on a huge scale since the Middle Ages, but especially at the start of the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. Massive quantities of wood were needed for construction, for fires and for charcoal. These decimated areas were then reforested at great expense. The pine tree was the first choice for the dry, badly-treated, and poor-quality, sandy soil in Brandenburg. It coped well with these conditions, grew well, and the wood was high demand. And that is how this type of forestry became established here.
However, the pine tree has always been a native species in our region. It spread as quickly as the birch after the last ice age, but was largely displaced by more demanding species, such as the oak or beech tree, during ongoing natural development and all the prime locations. It’s not just environmental conditions that have changed significantly during the past 40 years. Brandenburg is one of the driest regions in Germany. Social demands on the forest are also increasing. The forest has protective functions in particular and is increasingly used for recreational purposes. That means that a change in thinking is need about the use of forests.
Wood as a “raw material”: how valuable is it? Prices have increased massively in recent months!
Hubertus Kraut: Wood is actually invaluable. It is a climate-friendly, mostly local, and renewable raw material that can be used in numerous ways: from house and furniture construction to chemical applications, e.g. for bioplastics. Wood is a product full of character and warmth and it is produced in the most environmentally-friendly factory possible: in the forest! Wood stores CO2, both in the forest and in the product. This makes it an extremely important factor in achieving climate targets.
Would you like to learn even more about the forest and its importance for our living spaces?
Wood is in greater demand than ever before. Can we keep increasing the use of wood and make greater use of our forests?
Hubertus Kraut: Not indefinitely. However, the smart use of forests can be increased. We should use wood for products that will last a long time, firstly to absorb carbon for longer to protect the climate, but also to protect our forests. Forests have been used for as long as people have existed. However, as the population has increased, so has the pressure to use forests, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Forests now provide space for development, wind turbines, solar panels, areas for dog walking, mountain bike trails, meditation or just classic hiking.
However, forests should also provide clean air and water and help with soil conservation and biodiversity. In the past, the main focus was on timber production, but these diverse requirements are now coming more to the fore. Climate change is also playing its part in endangering the potential of forests. The use of wood also fits into this range of functions. As the population continues to rise, areas of forest shrink globally, and the risks of climate change continue, these wide-ranging social services provided by forests will become more scarce.
Is the use of wood fundamentally sustainable?
Hubertus Kraut: Yes, if the wood is sourced from sustainable and preferably local forestry, where these requirements are legally regulated and monitored, the forest owners commit to the principles independently, and wood is used intelligently and sparingly. Sustainability doesn’t just mean the amount used, but is particularly about the environmental and social aspects. I consider this to be a given in Germany, Central Europe and many other countries around the world. Consumers can rely here on PEFC and FSC, the two most important certifications. If they also buy durable products that won’t just end up in the bin after a short time, then we’ll be close to achieving good sustainability.
And what about the forest in Brandenburg specifically? What impact is use having on the health of the forest?
Hubertus Kraut: It’s not just use that is having an impact, but also the climate. Fortunately, there was more rainfall in 2021 than in the previous three years. The proportion of significantly damaged trees therefore declined slightly. But the droughts and storms in the past four years have caused almost four million cubic meters of damaged wood. When you consider that approx. 3 million cubic meters are scheduled to be used every year in the Brandenburg forest as a whole, that is a huge amount. We need to replant these deforested areas as soon as possible.