Metla Project 3339

Information technology and the forest sector

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Duration: 2002-2006   Keywords: forest sector, information technology
Research project group: Distinct projects - Social impact of forests


The research project analyses the impacts of information technology (IT) on the forest sector in the long run. It is becoming increasingly evident, that the development of IT is going to have significant effects on forest industries and therefore also for the utilization of forests. However, the timing and precise nature of these impacts are unclear - partly because of the lack of research on the topic. For example, the future consumption and prices of forest products are likely to be influenced by the development of IT. The magnitude and timing of these impacts will depend, among other things, on the changing consumer preferences as well as the ability of the paper industry to utilize IT to increase productivity, and to develop and increase the relevance of their products as supplements to the digital IT. The objectives of the project are the following. First, to collect and construct the relevant data and to develop methods needed for the analyses of the impacts of IT on the forest sector. Secondly, to construct scenarios for the demand and prices for paper products. Thirdly, to analyze how IT will affect forest companies through e-commerce, logistics, marketing, and production processes, and how these in turn will affect, productivity and the geographical location of the production plants. Finally, a synthesize of the above impacts on the forest sector and its long-term development will be presented.

The topic and the analysis of the research project has global relevance, but the emphasize will be on the European Union. The results of the project can be utilized in formulation of national forest- and technology policy, as well as industry strategies, and as a basis for future research. The research is part of a joint project with the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria (


The Report:

Hetemäki, L & Nilsson, S. (eds.) Information Technology and the Forest Sector, IUFRO World Series, vol. 18, Vienna, August 2005. 236 p. The global forest sector must do more to reap the benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) concludes a new study edited Lauri Hetemäki (Metla) and Sten Nilsson (IIASA), published in August 8, 2005 in Brisbane, Vienna and Helsinki. The report, Information Technology and the Forest Sector, highlights how new technologies help to increase the productivity and the viability of the forest sector, but also affect the very consumption of its products. Such changes are contributing to the movement of production and consumption of forest products away from OECD-countries to Asia and East-Europe. The study is the final report of a task force established by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) to look at the challenges and opportunities for the global forest sector of the “digital revolution”. In the report, 27 researchers from Europe and North America assess how ICT has affected the forest sector so far, and is likely to do so in the future. The first study of its kind, the publication is launched at the 2005 IUFRO World Congress entitled Forests in the Balance: Linking Tradition and Technology, to take place in Brisbane, Australia, from 8–13 August. The report shows that ICT helps to increase productivity and viability of the forest sector. For example, e-commerce, greater utilization of modern ICT in logistics and marketing, new products combining ICT and wood fibers, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, or lumber products having computer chips, can provide more efficient and new opportunities for the sector. But ICT is also a challenge for the forest sector. According to Lauri Hetemäki, senior researcher at the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla), in a number of OECD countries ICT development has started to have negative impacts on newsprint consumption, and to some office paper grades as well. These developments mean that the existing projections for communication paper consumption in OECD-countries are not being reached. The market outlook studies need to be updated in order to take into account the ICT impacts, and therefore to provide more realistic projections for the future.

These developments are enhancing the movement of production and consumption of forest products from North America, Finland, Sweden, Japan, and Central and Western Europe to countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries. This trend intensifies the ongoing restructuring of the global forest sector. The study concludes that the global forest sector is not fully prepared for the ICT impacts, and could do more to realise its benefits. New ICT-led strategies, restructuring, and prioritizing are urgently needed especially in the traditional forestry countries. According to the report’s editors, the mindset in the forest sector in these regions has to change, in order for them to remain viable in the face of the challenges brought by ICT development. Sten Nilsson, co-editor of the report and deputy director of IIASA, believes that a better environment for new innovative forest sector strategies and businesses could be created and nurtured by national policies. “Governments must enhance research and development in new technologies and their applications and support investments in more-risky, innovatory, long-term projects,” he says. The study builds awareness of the different routes the future could follow, and helps firms and organizations to understand the relevant ICT trends inside and outside the forestry sector and prepare accordingly. The report also draws attention to issues requiring further research and analysis. The study considers the important linkages between the various forestry subsectors and shows how a driving force in one can determine developments in another. Among the topics covered are:  Preparedness for future “unexpected” ICT impacts in forestry;  E-commerce in the forest sector;  Use of ICT in forestry management;  ICT as a tool in conservation and international governance;  The potential of ICT in paper and paperboard industry, and wood products. Notes • Lauri Hetemäki is a senior researcher at the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) and Sten Nilsson is the Deputy Director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). • The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) is the global network for forest science cooperation, established in 1892. It unites more than 15,000 scientists in almost 700 Member Organizations in over 110 countries. Scientists cooperate in IUFRO on a voluntary basis. IUFRO is based in Vienna, Austria. for more details. • The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is a nongovernmental research organization. It conducts interdisciplinary scientific studies on environmental, economic, technological, and social issues in the context of human dimensions of global change. IIASA is based in Laxenburg, near Vienna, Austria. See for more information. • The Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla), part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, is one of the biggest forest research institutes in Europe. Established in 1917, its task is to promote—through research—the economically, ecologically and socially sustainable management and utilization of forests. See for more details.

Project leader: Hetemäki, Lauri
The Finnish Forest Research Institute, Vantaa Unit, PL 18, FI-01301 VANTAA, FINLAND
Phone: +358 29 532 2111

Other researchers: Haltia, Ville (2002), Seppälä, Risto, VA (2002,2006)

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Updated 12.06.2012