We have often heard that forests are our supermarket, our pharmacy. This has never been more true. Today, forests are increasingly inspiring innovative technologies and products the world over, forging the way towards a more circular, bio-economy.
Forests are also offering solutions to global challenges like food waste, climate change, water management and energy security:
- Up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed. This in an age where almost one billion people go hungry. Bio-based packaging can help reduce food waste and loss and also replace plastic, reducing persistent marine pollution.
- Oils and sugars from trees – for example pine oil – are being transformed into liquid biofuels and green chemicals, providing more eco-friendly alternatives to fossil fuels without competing with food production.
- Bio-composites derived from wood for vehicle and medical applications are already a reality.
- Deploying forest biotechnology responsibly without genetic engineering is showing great promise to reduce dependence on pesticides and herbicides and increase tree productivity and resilience.
- Demand for sustainable, green building is also growing, and so too is demand for a skilled and trained workforce.
Innovations can’t flourish, however, without first building consumer trust and reputation. This trust is also a prerequisite for investment. In Europe, legislators have adopted measures towards sustainable and legal timber trade in response to consumer concerns. Industries, retailers, and corporate and public buyers around the world are adopting more sustainable sourcing policies to build their reputations and create trust, engaging in FLEGT processes and forest certification for example. Our ability to acquire data on forests and products through new technology and track their route to our consumption is also improving fast.
Green innovations also mean more jobs. The bio-economy represents a market estimated worth of over EUR 2 trillion, providing 20 million jobs and accounting for 9 percent of total employment in the European Union alone in 2009. Countries like Finland, Germany, the USA and Malaysia as well as the European Union have already developed strategies for a future bio-economy. UNEP has found that with an additional investment of US$ 40 billion, deforestation could be halved by 2030.
Forests have long harbored solutions to global challenges. It was in a South American forest in the 1600s that quinine, a bark of the cinchona tree, was first used to treat malaria. What other innovations can forestry offer to transition to a greener, bio-based economies? What other solutions can the sector provide to global challenges like food waste, climate change, water management and energy security?
Find out at the WFC sessions on product innovation and sustainable trade in Durban this September.
Photo: Forest landscape in Cameroon
Photo courtesy: Charlie Pye-Smith (World Agroforestry Centre/ICRAF)