What would it take for the world to think differently about alternative wood-based materials?

A strong incentive of illegal logging is short-term economic drivers, based on people’s dependence on wood-based products.

While several materials that can be used as alternatives to forest-based wood material exist (hemp, bamboo, straw, and wood-composites), such materials still only account for 8% of global pulp and paper.

What would it take for these alternative materials to become more widely accepted? What are some success stories, or challenges, when it comes to alternative wood materials?

Share any links, research documents, visualizations, or other resources that you have seen!

What we’ve found in working with local reforestation partners is that incentivizing keeping the trees alive is an effective strategy. Agroforestry is one way of doing this. When food-producing trees are planted throughout and around farming areas they provide tangible benefit (i.e. fruit that can be eaten or sold) in addition to the many environmental benefits we’re probably all aware of. Over time the farmers realize the environmental benefit in the form of less erosion and more abundant crops and these programs can scale, but initially the fruit tree factor helps to get them on board (in this case I’m talking about farming coops, it’s a different story with intact/unpopulated areas).

In other projects we have seen effective models whereby landowners are given trees to plant and are allowed to cut down 10% after they reach maturity, at which point they get economic benefit in the form of access to markets AND more trees to plant in those areas, but the overall effect through these programs is that the farmers are incentivized to keep 90% of their forest growth living.

Hi
Thanks so much, this is really interesting and truly helpful!

Could you tell us more about the efforts required to convince farming coops to embrace such agroforestry? what happens during the time it takes the fruit trees to grow? can you tell us more about the success rates of such an approach?

Also - have there been any projects that you have been involved in regarding deforestation?

@yoedkenett it really takes a concentrated local effort involving the communities, and usually starts out small, so that a few farmers get on board while their neighbors and the rest of the community is cautious and merely observing - which is understandable, when their livelihoods depend on changing their practices there is a lot at stake. So the effort starts small, with los of communication, local information sessions, training, supply of materials, and the personal human element of trust. Over time, as those first few projects prove to be effective and successful, others are much more willing to get on board and that is how it scales. If there are not yet cooperatives, then that is also a great first step, so that the farmers understand the value of collaboration, supporting each other, and ultimately having some safety through the cooperative if they have a season that is less fruitful. Once a coop strategy and communication networks are in place, it becomes more feasible to introduce new methods based in agroforestry, conservation, reforestation, etc.

Yes, there is a waiting period for food-producing trees in the first few years, and one way to scale the impatience is to start out small, let’s say on just a small area of the farmer’s land, and after about 3 years or whatever is that timeframe depending on the crop, they start to see the results and the economic and nutritional value, then they become eager and willing to expand.

My organization is focused on reforestation, so we don’t focus our resources on halting deforestation directly, however the two are intricately linked. Deforestation in South America is often caused by agricultural industries, who not only buy large swaths of land that they deforest for their own use (a political issue in terms of the legality to allow this), but those industries also lease the lands of farmers, deforest and spray with lots of pesticides, plant a mono-crop for the quickest possible return, take the harvest, and then leave the farmer with degraded land. While the political issue of agribusiness is a huge one to tackle with governments, forming cooperatives and training farmers that their land can be more valuable to them by not leasing to agribusiness and instead by planting food-producing trees and conserving the land would be a way to reduce that form of deforestation. Additionally, it’s important that there are market channels for them to sell those harvests at a good price. Expanding the reach and model of Fair Trade systems and markets could be helpful in this regard.

Here we are talking about reforestation!!!
That means, we PRESUME, that deforestation has already taken place.

Sorry, we started out to curb deforestation and lets stick to that.
I am giving below a very few references which show the path.

https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/2115562222_Arun_Purandare

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273448419_Decorative_ferrocement_elements

In very near future ( One year Max) we can establish a system producing all possible products by timber at lesser cost.

Hi all, just want to add one more thing to get back to the main question of what it would take for the world to think differently about alternative wood-based materials, and my response would be (maybe I can’t help it, I’m a marketing person) that it just takes a good durable material and enough companies/brands to get on board and make it cool!

There is definitely no lack of desire in this regard. LOTS of big companies, who have a significant influence in the supply chain, are waking up to sustainability. And plenty of research now shows that consumers will reward brands that take a stand for sustainability (here’s just one: https://sustainablebrands.com/read/marketing-and-comms/study-purpose-now-rivals-cost-quality-for-attracting-retaining-engaging-consumers) - either by paying more, being loyal, or talking about them on social media.

So if the question isn’t whether or not alternative materials are available (and if we can assume that the price difference isn’t too significant), but how to make them MORE desirable, then it comes down to marketing. Getting big brands on board, using creative social media campaigns, getting more wood-wasting types of products to use alternative materials, integrating into retail chains for mass market, along with engaging ways for people to understand why the alternatives are better, then you can increase that 8% pretty quickly.

Just think how popular tobacco was 20 years ago and now it’s gross, if the cool people stop doing it then there’s a domino effect. You just need to reach that critical mass :slight_smile: