The EU woodworking industries include the production of sawn wood, wood-based panels, and wooden construction materials and products. About 70% of the wood in the EU is used in construction and furnishings.
Why woodworking is important
EU Economy - in 2010-11, the woodworking industries had a turnover of EUR 122 billion and an added value of EUR 31.2 billion;
Employment – the sector was employing 1.093 million people in 184 thousand companies, most of them small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The only exception to this are the wood-based panel sub-sector and a handful of sawmills that are large enterprises.
Carbon - so-called "harvested wood products", such as sawn wood, wood-based panels, and paper retain the carbon gathered by trees. Processing wood to make these often requires much less energy than those derived from other materials so wood has a smaller carbon footprint than other materials.
Wood-based construction - wood is naturally heterogeneous so it has variable properties. This can be overcome by using standardised engineered wood products (EWP) that have predictable and consistent performance. One EWP, cross-laminated timber (CLT), allows strong but light multi-storey construction. When used in building, wood provides energy savings through its natural thermal insulation properties.
Challenges faced by the industry
Sustainability and legality - around 97% of the raw wood processed in the EU comes from sustainably managed EU forests; the rest is imported. Although not mandatory, evidence of sustainable forest management (SFM) is often provided on a voluntary basis through "chain-of-custody" certification schemes that link wood products back to sustainable sources. In line with the EU "Timber Regulation" (Regulation 995/2010), all wood and wood products placed on the EU market must come from verifiably legal sources.
Wood supply - even if wood is legal and sustainable, it may not always be available to the woodworking or other forest-based industries at affordable prices. This is particularly so in places where there is subsidised competition for raw wood from the bio-energy industry. In the future, the emerging bio-based sector will also increase their demand for wood as its feed stock. Resource-efficient use, re-use, and recycling will be necessary to help meet all demand, following the "cascade" principle.
Labour, skills, productivity, and ageing - like other EU forest-based industries (F-BI), European woodworking can only compensate for high material and energy costs through high labour productivity. However, the workforce is ageing and young people are reluctant to enter this sector. To keep up productivity, new workers need to be attracted, equipped with existing skills, and also updated with the new skills needed for novel high-tech processes and products.
Formaldehyde - many wood-based materials, such as wood-based panels and wood-based building products, use adhesives. Many of these are based on compounds containing formaldehyde, which is becoming classified as a carcinogen. Replace these with safer but still affordable adhesives is a big challenge.