Sustainability indicators as a basis for future dialogues

Proposals for methods for calculating various sustainability indicators have been presented in a report produced by IVL Swedish Environmental Institute within Mistra Digital Forest. The idea is that the indicators will help in the assessment of various aspects of sustainability, in terms of future alternatives for producing and using raw materials from the Swedish forest.

Per Erik Karlsson i skogen

Per Erik Karlsson. Photo: Johan Olsson.

– The methods that we have developed at IVL, together with SLU and Skogforsk, can be seen as proposals to calculate quantitatively to what extent forestry in Sweden affects various aspects of sustainability, both today and in the future, says Per Erik Karlsson. He is one of the authors of the report, and a senior researcher at IVL.

IVL is developing a digital tool, BioMapp, which will be used to assess different scenarios for future production and use of Swedish forest raw materials.

– The aim is primarily for the indicators to be used within BioMapp, as a basis for assessing various sustainability aspects of future forestry alternatives. For example, one aspect is the impact on biodiversity or climate. We hope that the indicators can be used by foresters and forest companies. The primary objective is to evaluate forestry and develop it, but also in a product perspective, for example to be used within life cycle analysis of forest industrial products, he continues.

The basis for future trade-offs and compromises

Per Erik Karlsson and his colleagues at IVL hope that the indicators will help to create a quantitative basis for future dialogues regarding alternative developments in Swedish forestry, and for example, how the forest raw materials produced should be used to achieve the best climate benefits .

– It is clear that it will not be possible to fully optimise the impact of forestry on all aspects of sustainability. Different types of trade-offs and compromises will be required, which ultimately will need to be based on political decisions. Decision-makers will require different quantitative knowledge bases to use as a starting point for discussions, and we hope that BioMapp – and the various sustainability calculations that can be made there – will be able to form one such basis, he says.

What system boundaries have you chosen and why?

– We have chosen to base the calculations on the situation for a forest owner’s entire holding of productive forest. This means that the calculations are applied at landscape level for large forest owners, or for the members of forest owner associations. The calculations are not made for separate, felled forest stands, Per Erik Karlsson explains.

He argues that the reasons for these choices are that it is the forest owner who has control over which forest management practice that is carried out in the long term, and that the calculations should be able to include stands that are in different developmental phases within a rotation period.

– The methodology we have developed so far only applies to forestry and stops at landings by the roadside. Amongst other things, this means that the positive climate effects that can be associated with the storage of carbon in industrial forest products, and also that material from the forest replaces fossil-based material, have not yet been included. Our intention is that the calculations in their final form will include all parts of the forest value chains, he concludes.

What sustainability indicators are included in the report?

Suggestions for methods have been developed to calculate four different types of sustainability indicators:

1. Impact on biodiversity

2. Impact on climate

3. Social aspects, such as the recreational values ​​of the forest

4. Economic aspects, such as the number of jobs, the forest farmer’s financial revenue, and macro-economic aspects.

In addition, methodology for transferring the indicators to a comparable, relative scale, based on reference scenarios is described. In this way, it is possible to balance trade-offs between widely differing aspects, such as the climate benefit of the forest compared with its impact on biodiversity.