Use of Regional Wood

Wood is an excellent carbon sink, as emphasized by the European Bioeconomy Strategy. But it can only play this role when it is grown in sustainably managed forests and the CO2 emissions of the transports are taken into account, as the transport majorly contributes to the CO2 balance of timber.

In theory, Europe can satisfy its roundwood demand with its own resources and produce a surplus of 18.2 million cubic meters. And yet, the European Union exports 61 million cubic meters and imports 80 million cubic meters of timber per year, resulting in redundant transports of 122.2 million cubic meters.

The European Union was the first region worldwide to have enacted an action plan to prevent the import of illegally cut timber in 2003 – but timber that was harvested legally in its country of origin does not necessarily also have to be produced sustainably.

Several initiatives exist in the Alpine Region countries which aim to unlock the existing potentials and bring out the ecological advantages of timber as a product in full. The labels of origin and regional networks presented here show that the use of regional wood corresponds with sustainable forestry and short transport chains.


Certifications of Regional Wood

France

The label Bois des Alpes™ (“Alpine Wood”), registered in a common initiative by the actors of the forest and wood sector from the French Alpine Regions, aims to guarantee obtaining timber products from local sources at the best possible quality. The timber must be cut in a French Alpine forest and processed in the Alpine or peri-Alpine area. 

In order to guarantee short transport chains, sustainably managed forests, and the high quality of the (building) timber, the entire processing chain has to be PEFC and/or FSC certified. Companies and manufacturers with a Bois des Alpes™
certificate go through a quality management process biannually. For these purposes, a cooperation with other local initiatives such as Bois Qualité Savoie (BQS) or AOC Bois de Chartreuse has been established.

The initiative was motivated by the observation that despite the technical qualities of regional wood, most of the timber used for construction was imported, which is both economically and ecologically unreasonable. The Bois des Alpes™ label serves as a promotional tool for the timber industry of the regions, and it was designed to be demandable in procurement procedures of public authorities.

The actors behind the label support the manufacturers in the certification process and consults companies on which products to be produced by whom. This way and until now, more than 9,000 cubic meters of wood were used for construction projects. A remarkable number, considering that every 1,000 cubic meters of local wood supports 21 full-time positions in local companies.

The ecological advantages of short production chains for the reduction of CO2 emissions are self-evident, but now also supported with numbers. All in all, the CO2 footprint of Bois des Alpes™ certified timber is 30% smaller, mostly due to shorter transport paths between the sawmills and the construction sites: 150 or sometimes even just 10 kilometers instead of the usual 2,000.

Currently, 43 companies with 64 production sites are certified: 18 sawmills deliver Alpine timber to 20 carpentry shops and wood construction companies, 20 timber dealers, three cross-laminated timber producers and two joineries. This way, even demanding projects in terms of timber quantity and construction could be realized, such as a school in Rumilly which was recognized as exemplary Alpine wood building culture.

Austria

The wood architecture of Vorarlberg is among the most creative in all of Europe. Its success is due to the quality of its natural resources – a third of the Austrian state is covered by forests, two thirds of which are located at an altitude of over 1,000 meters– and the commitment of a large network of actors involved in construction. With support from local politics, knowledge and know-how are pooled and innovative solutions offered. Timber processing is not only a source of regional identity and pride, but also plays a substantial role for the regional economy as part of the general timber industry.

The cluster „vorarlberger holzbau_kunst“ is the main driver of the timber industry of Vorarlberg. Founded in 1957, it aims to network all actors from the region in order to advance the local resources and strengthen the already existing local wood building culture. With now 65 forest owners, 49 carpentries and joineries, and 35 architects and engineers, the cluster is involved in all steps of the production process. Its success can be measured by the company revenues, the number of jobs, and the export ratio.

The timber industry of Vorarlberg draws on a three pillar strategy: Public campaigning, training and further education, and marketing with a humorous touch. A 
“hit parade” of local building culture, compiled every two years, sets the bar for the quality of designs and realizations on top of piquing the public’s interest, the latter of which is also served by public showings of buildings going by the advertising pitch “Kumm Ga Luaga” (“Come and watch”). 

Silver fir makes up 25% of the Vorarlberg forests. A traditional construction material, Silver fir timber faded into obscurity until the end of the 20th century, when a EU LEADER project managed to revive it for use in the construction sector. The goals of the project were to revitalize old traditions, strengthen regional identity, and create new jobs. Back when it opened in 2002, the cultural center of the municipality of Hittisau was the first building with both the structural system and the facade having been produced entirely out of local Silver fir.

The brand „Bergholz“ (“Mountain Wood”) is part of the “UNESCO biosphere reserve” label awarded to the Great Walser Valley site in 2000. An association of tradespersons, sawmills, and foresters vouch for the origin of the wood and its processing. The community center of the municipality of Blons was one of the first buildings to use certified Bergholz timber in 2004. 

The brand “Vorarlberger Holz” (“Wood from Vorarlberg”) guarantees the origin of timber from Vorarlberg (with a range of tolerance of 15 kilometers). Every step of the processing as well as the origin of the Silver fir timber are monitored by independent agencies.

According to a Vorarlberg saying, a house built with with timber cut on Christmas will stand ten times as long. And as a fact, the phases of the moon do determine the quality of wood as much as the course of the year. The brand “Mondholz” (“Moonwood”) picks up on this by offering consumers the possibility to decide the exact time of the felling of the tree used for their timber.

Switzerland

The Herkunftszeichen Schweizer Holz (HSH) („Label of Origin Swiss Wood“) is a label coined by the Swiss forest and timber industry, serving to certify the Swiss origin of timber and timber products (including Liechtenstein). For products composed of different timbers, at least 80% of the timber need to originate from Switzerland or Liechtenstein (60% for the three industrial products of pellets, chipboard and fiberboard). The rest of the timber must be from countries or regions with comparable production conditions. The label regulations provide information on the exact requirements for different products. The label of origin is used across the entire wood chain: From forestries and sawmills to carpenters and retailers. 

Germany

The initiative Holz von Hier (“Wood from here”) was founded with the goal to reduce the flow of material in the timber sector through short value chains. The label HOLZ VON HIER© (HVH) is a scientifically development instrument in accordance with the ISO 14024 standard on environmental labels and declarations. Outside German-speaking regions, the label uses the name LOW CARBON TIMBER©.

“Holz von Hier” is a label of origin that registers and documents the material flows for a product along its entire processing chain. It is the only environmental label which reflects and quantifies the actual transport ways and their environmental impacts.

The validity of „Holz von Hier“ does not depend from certain geographical regions, but looks at the haul distance in the production chain, regardless of regional affiliations or administrative units.

Italy

Founded in the year 1111, the institution of Magnifica Comunità di Fiemme represents the inhabitants of the Fiemme Valley and plays a key role in the protection of valuable local wood. It is also tasked with the administration of community properties on its territory, such as pastures and forests. The constant growth of its forest stand follows a comprehensive policy of sustainable forest management. The consortium Il Legno di Fiemme was created to protect and guarantee the origin and quality of timber cut and processed in the Fiemme Valley.

The consortium Wood from the Province of Turin (LPT) assures the local origin and processing of wood products from the Province of Turin. Companies with the LPT label primarily use wood from the territory of the Province of Turin and follow the same system of monitoring that is in place for the PEFC certification. The seven participating companies processed more than 7.000 tons of roundwood in 2016, 28% of which were cut in the Province of Turin.

The initiative 12-to-many aims to establish networks within the forest/wood value chain in order to make it possible to offer wood products and services of high economic and social value while maintaining a very low environmental impact. Elements of the initiative are: PEFC certification of the processing chain; traceability of raw materials and the processing phases; quantification of the environmental impact using the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology; product design process guided by the quality function deployment (QFD) method; evaluation of the economic benefit for all actors along the processing chains.

Slovenia

Several institutions, initiatives, and annual events support and promote the use of wood in Slovenia:
  • Ministry of Economic Development and Technology: action plan “Wood is beautiful”
  • “SPIRIT Slovenia” – Public Agency for Entrepreneurship, Internationalization, Foreign Investments and Technology: promotion of wood use
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food: Forest fund for the promotion of wood use


There are also private actors with the same goals in the field, often with financial support from public bodies:

  • University of Ljubljana: “Charm of Wood”
  • Festival “Open House Slovenia”
  • Economic Architecture Forum
  • Festival “Wood Icon”
  • National Month of Design
  • Events organized by the Centre for Creative Economy of Southeast Europe BigSEE
  • Forum “Living with Wood”: SloWOODlife
  • Several local initiatives for the promotion of local wood and producers