How does forest management and the use of wood contribute to economic prosperity and employment?

Authors: Marko Lovrić (EFI), Pekka Leskinen (EFI), Diana Tuomasjukka (EFI)

Most of the forests in the EU (85%) are available for timber supply, which is an important pillar of the forest’s role in income generation, employment and the transition towards a bioeconomy. Forests provide the materials for both traditional and new wood-based products and their related sectors and value chains.

For forest owners in the vast majority of EU regions, selling timber is the dominant source of income from forests. However, forests also provide nonwood forest products such as mushrooms and berries, and in some regions, the income generated by collecting these products and providing them to markets is economically more important than selling wood. A recent study estimates their annual value in Europe (EU 28 and the European part of Russia) to be 23.3 billion euros. This is comparable to 70.7% of the annual roundwood removals value. For about 1.7 million European households, marketing of non-wood forest products is the main income source.

There are no representative quantitative data on how forest-based income is distributed across forest owners in the EU. Pursuing income from forest management is strongly linked to the size of forest holdings: many small-scale forest owners consider forest management financially unrewarding, and forestbased income is more important to forest owners in Western and Northern Europe than in Eastern Europe.

The EU’s forest-based industries, as defined by the European Commission, cover a range of downstream activities including woodworking industries like sawmills, panel, flooring and parquet production, large parts of the furniture industry, pulp and paper manufacturing and converting industries, as well as the printing and publishing industries. However, it is difficult to categorize industries into wood and non-wood products, due to dependencies between different production systems. Some 400,000 enterprises were active in these industries across the EU in 2018, making up 20% of all manufacturing enterprises.

In 2017, the gross value added of the forest-based industries was EUR 129 billion or 7.1 % of the total manufacturing industry in the EU. Forest-industry companies are also major corporate tax payers, contributing to both public finance, and via their employees to state and municipal taxes.

There are significant regional differences, but around 484,000 people worked in the EU forestry sector in 2017, including forest management, logging and tree nurseries. The forest-based industries in the EU 28 employed 2.5 million people in “Manufacture of wood, paper, printing and reproduction” and 2.2 million people in “Manufacture of furniture and other manufacturing”. To a small extent, figures on employment in these manufacturing sectors go beyond the forest industry sector. So in total, EU 28 employment in the forestry and extended wood-based value chains amounted to around 4.5 million people in 2018.

It is estimated that the wider bioeconomy contributes to almost 9% of the EU 27 labour force and 4.7% of the EU 27 GDP. The sectors of forestry, paper production and other traditional wood products employ more than 15% of those persons working in the growing EU bioeconomy, and contribute about 19% of its added value. However, new bio-based products made from wood, like textiles, chemicals, bio-plastics and bio-fuels, are entering the markets, but are not yet well covered by economic and employment statistics. The statistical data currently available do not fully reflect the contribution of forestry and the forest-based industries to other industrial sectors.

In addition, forests also facilitate other economic sectors. They protect human living space against natural hazards and establish an attractive environment that enables the tourism, recreation and health sectors to contribute to regional economies. Read