Whiplash Team, 8th July 2022

Communicate well, is one of the great challenges facing the forestry sector

The forestry sector faces a serious perception problem. The industry needs to convey to the public a consistent story that highlights the benefits of sustainable forest management and reverses the notion that intervention in the forests threatens their conservation.

From 27 June  to 1 July, the 8th Spanish Forestry Congress was held in Lérida, Catalonia, where Christopher Smith, CEO and founder of BrandSmith, participated as a speaker at the Juntos por los bosques (Together for the Forests) round table “And after repopulating, ¿what? Forest management and carbon sequestration”.

Participants at the round table included

  • Álvaro Picardo Nieto, Adviser of the General Directorate of Natural Heritage and Forestry Policy of the Ministry of the Environment, Housing and Territory Planning of the Junta de Castilla León and Secretary of the Forum  for Forests and Climate Change Association;
  • Juan Picos, Director of the School of Forest Engineering at the University of Vigo, member of the Team of Specialists on Forest Sector Outlook Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry of UNECE-FAO and member of the Board of Directors of the Spanish Society of Forest Sciences;
  • Ana Elisa Rodríguez Pérez, Director of the Gómez-Pintado Foundation, and where she also manages the foundation’s sustainable strategy;
  • Guillermo Fernández Centeno, Area Head of the General Sub-directorate for Forest Policy and the Fight against Desertification of the Ministry for  Ecological Transition and  Demographic Challenge, and also responsible for the national forest policy;  
  • Christopher Smith, an expert in communication and strategic branding with extensive experience in the forestry sector.

During the debate, the experts agreed that forests play a fundamental role in mitigating climate change, and that there are several barriers to overcome to achieve the substitution of polluting materials with wood as a sustainable alternative.

Among them, the current Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) does not compute carbon absorption, and even businessmen do not have clear information about the possibilities of compensating carbon credits, except through repopulation.

Add to this  

  • the lack of statistical information;
  • lack of profitability;
  • smallholdings,
  • rural abandonment and
  • lack of specialized labour.

Another of the big problems is communication and the lack of connection that the forestry sector as a whole has with public opinion.

Communication fails

Christopher Smith emphasized precisely the communication problems faced by the forestry sector, pointing out that it is the same society that demands more and more wood products, the one that stigmatizes the forestry sector for exploiting the forests. This paradox is because there is “a lot of demagoguery and little real change.”

He pointed out that we are amid a transition from the economic model based on fossil raw materials to a bioeconomy. In this context, he said, the biggest threat facing the forestry sector is the ignorance that exists in society about how the sector works.

For Smith, awareness campaigns aimed at both society and the media are necessary, as well as greater cohesion within the sector itself, which is highly fragmented. The message must be unique, clear and easy to understand – he said – even though the sector has multiple branches with diverse interests.

It is necessary to emphasize that managing forest masses (beyond a mere plantation) allows them to last over time in the best conditions, providing society with sustainable products and avoids the use of polluting raw materials, said the branding expert.

He indicated that communication should be directed at both consumers and businessmen, since if industries are to focus their efforts on the design, creation and manufacture of sustainable products, there must be a mass of consumers willing to purchase them.

Finally, he pointed out that the message should emphasize the renewable nature of wood, linked, of course, to sustainable forest management. Wood is a renewable, sustainable and an inexhaustible resource if it is properly managed, replanting each tree that is harvested.

Repopulating is insufficient, it is necessary to manage

Inés Doncel, Vice Dean of the College of Forestry Engineers and coordinator of the Platform Juntos por los Bosques moderated the table. After introducing the speakers, Doncel stressed that repopulating is not enough, since there are failed experiences of repopulation projects that were not followed up. She indicated that it is essential to convey to public opinion the importance of Forest Management and reverse the widely held notion that “cutting trees is bad” and that “intervening on forests threatens their conservation.”

She added that it is necessary to convince national authorities, and in particular the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, of the need to have a framework that allows counting not only the carbon fixed by “new forests”, but also the management of existing ones and its products, especially long-lasting ones and the substitution effect.

For his part, Álvaro Picardo Nieto explained that since 1970 Spain has increased its forests by seven million hectares and the amount of wood has not stopped growing. He pointed out that, of course, it is convenient to continue repopulating, but the fundamental thing is that the 18.5 million hectares of existing forests contribute to the mitigation of climate change and for this reason, a dramatic shift is necessary  when it comes to the management of forests and their resources.

He suggested that now that the National Forestry Program is being updated, it is time to define a new way of managing forests, separating the macro from the micro and that the exploitations have viable[V1]  dimensions. He explained that the Forum on Forests and Climate Change, together with Tragsa, have worked on a proposal for a carbon calculator that not only considers the forest as a carbon sink, but also handles a broader context: the cycle of the forest with its entire shift of life and the chain from the forest to the industry, accounting for the contribution of the use of wood products and their substitution effect for other materials.

Juan Picos explained that both reforestation and subsequent forest management must be considered. You cannot abandon the plantation after having done it, but you must make decisions that allow the natural system to reach the desired objective, he said. To do this, decisions must be adapted to each situation, considering that the situation itself is changing.

Picos pointed out that, in the case of plantations, carbon accounting is very simple, but it is necessary to develop another accounting system adapted to the management of existing forest masses.

To inform is key

Ana Elisa Rodríguez Pérez highlighted the importance of forest managers implementing simple procedures so that the business sector can offset[V2]  its carbon footprint.

She gave the example of the construction industry in Spain, which, she said, generates 25.1% of CO2 emissions and in which there are many developers, businessmen and builders who want to offset[V3]  their carbon footprint, but do not know how, since the information, although available, is not easy to understand. Entrepreneurs need this compensation to be supported by technical documents that provide the guarantee that their investment will last over time.

For his part, the representative of the Ministry of Ecological Transition and responsible for the national forestry policy, Guillermo Fernández Centeno, stressed that the role of the administration is to try to regulate the different activities in a way that ensures the general interest, which must be consistent with conservation.

For Fernández Centeno it is necessary to carry out a survey in Spain on the social perception of forests to determine which are the possible connection bridges between the urban world and the rural environment and he emphasized that one of the pillars of the Spanish Forest Plan is communication.

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