EU researchers have developed a tool to help governments and industry make sustainable development the number one goal of the EU forestry sector. ToSIA (Tool for sustainability impact assessment) allows policymakers to consider in equal measure the economic, social and environmental elements of sustainable development. EU support came from the EFORWOOD ('Tools for sustainability impact assessment of the forestry-wood chain') project, one of the biggest ever European forestry research studies, with a budget of EUR 20 million including a contribution of nearly EUR 13 million from the 'Sustainable development, global change and ecosystems' Thematic area of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
The European Commission's recently announced 2020 vision sets sustainable development firmly at the heart of EU policymaking and with the creation of ToSIA, a computerised decision-support tool, the EU is making sure that the forestry sector will be at the forefront of this vision.
According to researchers, ToSIA provides objective information showing how changes in the forestry industry influence factors such as employment, the economy, biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions.
'It is not an instrument for predicting the future nor is it a means of determining whether something is good or bad,' said Kaj Rosén of the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden, the programme's research coordinator. 'ToSIA helps provide objective answers to what-if questions and to highlight the consequences of various conceivable futures.' He gives as an example the potential effect on greenhouse gas emissions if the construction of timber buildings were to increase by 25%.
Policymakers who decide to take advantage of the system will gain access to the ToSIA toolbox — a data collection protocol that explains where to find and how to calculate the indicator values needed for a sustainability impact assessment, the data client and EFORWOOD database, the ToSIA calculator, and evaluation tools and database for policy analysis.
With this toolbox, ToSIA examines the whole value chain of the forestry sector, from forest to finished product, and recovery to the end of life, using indicators to describe the economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainability and how they change over time. Analysis can be personalised to fit specific requirements. For example, geographically it could cover a single property or region or be aggregated up to EU level. Likewise, an analysis could be made of an entire value chain or just one part of it, or be limited to just one or two sustainability indicators.
The researchers admit it can be less than straightforward to interpret the results from ToSIA — how, for instance, should a government weigh an increase in employment against a reduction in biodiversity? They have therefore created a variety of techniques aimed at guiding the user through such difficulties including cost-benefit and multi-criteria analyses. The latter allows the user to prioritise the various indicators and combine them into a sustainability index, making it possible to compare variables that, in theory, cannot be compared.
The EFORWOOD project, which brings together 38 partners from 21 countries, was put to the test via 4 case studies: (1) in Västerbotten, northern Sweden, researchers analysed the effect on sustainable development if new technologies, such as lumber-scanning to identify defects in the wood, were introduced in sawmills; (2) in Baden Württemberg, southwest Germany, they looked at what would happen in the forestry sector if the EU's 20-20-20 policy on renewable energy were to be fully implemented in the region; (3) in Iberia, researchers examined consumer behaviour and its effect on the consumption of forestry products; and (4) across the EU they analysed what would happen to the sustainability of the European forestry sector if the nature conservation directive (Natura 2000) were implemented on a more ambitious scale.
The ToSIA programme is free, but users are advised to hire a consultant from the project consortium to run an analysis.