Forests and Human Health June-18-2013

The big challenge of shortening the distance between the forest and modern society

Lu-Min Vaario, PhD
The Finnish Forest Research Institute

The forest sector is extremely important to Finland in terms of our traditions. Currently the forest sector is experiencing large-scale structural change, affecting all operations and organizations. The Strategic Program for the Forest Sector (MSO) is being launched by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. What is the major task and challenge of this program? What is the future value of the forest from the point of view of the government? We posed these questions on a visit to the Ministry of Employment and the Economy in an interview with Director Sixten Sunabacka.

The MSO program's primary mission is to initiate and implement measures to maximize the forestry sector's competitiveness because the forest sector’s operating environment is changing rapidly nowadays. Director Sunabacka commented that there were three major focus areas of this program:

1) Increasing wood construction and renewable innovative wood products to help the woodworking industry to increase export value.

The major task is increasing wood constructions in Finland. This task is not only to increase usage of renewable materials, but also to create a new healthy living environment for people. For example, one on-going project in Espoo cooperating with Espoo City Council and Aalto University, aims to create a living urban area with renewable wood materials and also with living surroundings in nature. Director Sunabacka emphasized that this kind of new urban city concept is directly linked to improving human health by using natural resources. According to the plan, more demonstration areas will be built in several places around Finland, for example, in Tampere, Rauma, Turku and Jyväskylä. Finnish forestry is important traditionally, but it will be more important in modern society if we can build the link between traditional forestry and the new changing world.

2) Increasing the competitiveness of traditional forestry sectors by creating forest bio-based solutions.

The entire forest industry is facing a massive structural change. The paper market is declining and the traditional saw mill industry is facing challenges both in the end product and timber market. We need to increase the competitiveness of the whole sector and at the same time create new forest bio-based solutions. For example, new chemical and pharmaceutical products from forest, recreation and well-being services, etc. will increased step by step as a part of a developing forest bio-economy. These new bio-based solutions closely link with improving human health by utilizing natural resources. The actions needed in forest, recreation and well-being services are being implemented together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

3) Creating new business opportunities in the forest bio-economy especially for many small and middle sized enterprises.

This task is closely linked to the activities in FIBIC (Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster, and the Finnish Industry Future Competence Cluster. The main objective is to support small and middle size companies to handle growth and increases in exports. New business possibilities include bioenergy and liquid biofuels; new and advanced products and services and new service activities throughout the value chain. These new potential businesses will directly support many enterprises to manage in the changing environment, create more job opportunities and provide more environmentally friendly living conditions for the population.

The big challenge of the Strategic Program for the Forest Sector (MSO) is that at the same time we have to increase the competitiveness of the traditional forest industry and enhance the renewal of the whole sector. Director Sunabaka told us that the traditional usage of the forest had a very strong base in Finland. How to encourage people to think of new values for the forest, and to find a balance between traditional forest usage and new thinking ways are the major tasks. However, the MSO program focuses on combining traditional and new uses of forests and forest biomass and how to combine the environmental and economic issues together in a truly unique way. We believe that the forest has been important for humans in the past and also now, and that we will obtain more benefits from new usages of forest in the future. The objective is to increase the value of forests and the export of forest products and services.

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