Wood: useful and complex

How can the forestry and timber industry be encouraged to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere by using local wood? Two projects from Central Switzerland demonstrate this.

Recreation in the forest, leisure and sport in the forest - nature can be experi
Recreation in the forest, leisure and sport in the forest - nature can be experienced from a new perspective on the loop footbridge in Baar. Source: © 2ECK Architekten GmbH

Around 30 percent of Switzerland’s land area is forested. Forests not only provide a habitat for plants and animals, protect against avalanches and mudslides and store water: a tree absorbs CO2 as it grows and binds the carbon in the wood. If the wood is used or recycled in buildings or wooden components, this also counteracts global warming, as the carbon is stored for as long as possible. As a renewable raw material, wood can also replace fossil, emission-intensive building materials.

For the forest to be able to do all this, it needs to be looked after. This is the job of Martin Ziegler, Head of the Office for Forests and Wildlife in the Canton of Zug. He knows that a demand for regional timber is essential for the forest to be able to take on its various tasks: "In protective forest management, young and strong trees must be used to provide new growth. This means that trees are specifically removed from selected locations. This allows more light to penetrate the forests so that new trees and sensitive animal and plant species can grow and thrive." The fact is, however, that this forest maintenance is time-consuming and expensive. It is therefore all the more important that the wood produced finds local buyers wherever possible. As the conditions in some places are characterized by steep or difficult-to-access slopes, maintenance is more complex than in forests in flat, hilly areas. For buyers, the connection between the local wood and the healthy, well-maintained forest is not always clear at first glance. The dependencies are complex and the decision to buy imported timber often seems economically attractive.

A website shows how the wood cycle can work

Good communication is needed to show the connections. This is why all the cantonal forestry offices in Central Switzerland, Lignum Zentralschweiz - the umbrella organization of the Central Swiss forestry and timber industry - and WaldSchweiz have come together under the coordination of Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. They developed a website that shows how the local wood cycle can work and what it ultimately brings to the population: waldnutzen.ch provides an insight into six projects from Central Switzerland, with background information and voices from the forestry and timber industry. Over forty short videos show the versatility of the forest and the use of its wood. "Our aim is to enable visitors to the website to experience the fascinating connections between the care of the forest and the sustainable use of its wood through concrete examples from the region," says project manager Sonja Geier, an architect from Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. The website went live on March 21, 2024, the Day of the Forest.

Uri as a pioneer in the wood cycle

The canton of Uri recognized the potential of the forest early on and made it one of its priorities in the 2020-2024+ government programme four years ago. "On the one hand, the political mandate is to create framework conditions that allow new companies and cooperations in the processing chain to establish themselves in Uri as a business location that use wood from Uri in a circular manner," says cantonal forestry master Roland Wüthrich. On the other hand, it is important to raise public awareness of the values of regional wood use. "Forests bring together economic, social, biodiversity and climate issues. If these areas work hand in hand, this is the key to real sustainability."

Integration of the entire value chain

Under the leadership of the Office for Forestry and Hunting, the "Wood Cycle Uri" project has been working since 2021 on how the forestry and timber industry in the canton of Uri can be promoted for the benefit of the climate. To this end, it has brought together all stakeholders involved in the value chain. Specific implementation projects were developed in collaboration with the Uri Corporation and representatives of the relevant forestry, forestry and commercial enterprises. These were approved by the Uri cantonal government in May 2023 and include an initiative to implement a cooperative sawmill, a tree planting project and the Uri forest and wood guide. The wooden chair project in schools in Uri was also approved. The aim is to raise young people’s awareness of the values of the Uri forest and wood as a material.

Close professional support from the HSLU

Sonja Geier has also provided methodological and technical support for this project since its inception. The architect is an expert in the timber industry and has a wealth of experience in working with authorities and public clients. "I see myself as a translator and mediator between the various stakeholder groups," says Geier. The need for local recreational areas and forest protection must be taken into account here, as must the timber processing industry with its sawmills, joineries and timber construction companies, which are dependent on local timber of the right quality. Hans Rupli, a proven industry expert and well-connected politician, is also involved as an external consultant. Architect Sonja Geier sums up their joint work as follows: "Our job is to listen carefully and to take into account and reconcile the various interests and ideas. We provide the impetus for considerations that benefit everyone. Because only broad-based measures with feasible projects have a long-term perspective."

Text: Senta van de Weetering, Rahel Perrot