While there have been many positive moves made against deforestation and illegal logging, tropical forests globally are being destroyed at a rate of about 13 million ha per year (an area about four times the size of Belgium) with this destruction responsible for around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Although commercial and non-sustainable wood extraction is estimated to be a very small percentage of this, concerns remain – particularly as only 1% of tropical forests are certified by third parties as being sustainably managed.
However, in the face of this apparent adversity, the tropical plywood business provides a good example of how our industry has embraced change and has adapted to environmental and economic pressures. Whereas first West Africa and later the Far East were the ‘bread basket’ for tropical plywood throughout most of the 20th century, the declining availability of logs and, in some cases, environmental pressures have brought China and South America to the fore as sources of ‘tropical’ plywood alternatives over the past decade.
To date, it is fair to say that these new sources provided part of the longer-term solution in terms of an alternative supply base. However, they fall short on widespread technical and environment credibility and, more critically from a commercial perspective, ongoing supply availability. This is now changing in South America, where companies like Weyerhaeuser are leading by example and driving change that will provide products to meet 21st century requirements, with the establishment of effective timberlands strategies and some powerful product innovation…
…With strong operations already established, South America will be a major player in the coming decades, equipped to provide an array of credible and sustainable alternatives to traditional products in to the global market place.
What may come as a surprise to some is that South America’s tropical alternatives are also set to be widely consumed in local markets, driven by very strong emerging economies. For example, in addition to a population fast approaching 200 million people, by 2016 Brazil will have played host to both the Olympic Games and the World Cup – requiring enormous infrastructure development. Coupled with South America’s growing middle class and large housing deficit, all signs point to there being a sustained construction boom across the region, thus allowing South America to become a major consumer of its own products.