Participating guests in this episode were Lucas Dawson, Researcher at the Department of Physical Geography at Stockholm University, Lars Berglund, Professor and Director of Wallenberg Wood Science Center at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Mats KG Johansson, Professor in Polymer Technology at the Department of Fibre & Polymer Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and Catherine Cobden, Executive Vice President of the Forest Products Association of Canada who joined the discussion via Skype.

"Species diversity in tree factories is low. It is more an industry where wood is the product. However, natural forests provide us with innumerable services. For example water purification, water cycling, cultural values, provision, and recreational services. The provision of these services is limited in tree production areas”, said Lucas Dawson. "Many of the challenges that are facing us now are social. The biggest challenge is to introduce a long term perspective into decision making for a sustainable future”, Lucas Dawson continued.

Discussing sustainability, Professor Lars Berglund added, "If we could replace some of the petroleum based plastics that we are using with these new concepts of developing polymers and plastics from trees, that would be fantastic and it would give possibilities for a new environmentally friendly industry”.

"In the traditional polymer industry for plastics, they are actually going quite strongly towards having a bio based source for their materials instead of fossil based sources. Not only due to environmental concerns, but also because of competition. Even if the oil price has gone down again, in the long term we need to find other sources”, Mats KG Johansson said.

Innovation is also key. “It is not just the product innovation that’s exciting; it is the market toward the business innovation that goes along in parallel with that. The process of how we are doing innovation and that we are bringing in cross disciplinary inputs as sustainability, all the way to what does the consumer wants. I find that an interesting innovation in itself”, Catherine Cobden underlined.

"There is a big difference in the amount of energy you need to have timber components to construct a building if you compare with concrete. There is a tremendous penalty to be paid in energy to produce the concrete. Nature is doing the job for us with wood”, Lars Berglund explained.

Lucas Dawson, Stockholm University
Lucas Dawson, Stockholm University

The forests are associated with cultural values, and not to be considered simply as a wood product Lucas Dawson said: “The forest produces a lot of different values for a lot of different stakeholders. We need to acknowledge that many people have many different expected outcomes from forests and it is not only necessarily the large landowners or the large forestry companies that have a highly interested stake in them”.

Talking about the future, Catherine Cobden concluded: “We cannot rest on the successes we have had in the past. It is critical we evolve our practices to do better all the time. Different partners bring different set of values to the table. Cross-disciplinary education and management are essential to address these complex issues, we need to stop operating in silos and instead collaborate together when we deal with the forest and work towards a sustainable future”.

Crosstalks is an academic talk show co-produced by Stockholm University and KTH, Royal Institute of Technology. All shows are available here.

Photos by Adam af Ekenstam.