Words are important! E.g., we should use #sustainability wisely…

Researchers of CASTLE ITN Project in a French forest, speaking about sustainability. Credit: Frank Müller
Researchers of CASTLE ITN Project in a French forest, speaking about sustainability. Credit: Frank Müller

I was a university researcher when I checked forestry activities for the first time. I felt confused. We, from the academia, have powerful concepts and visions, rich graphs and brilliant slides. Yet, if you visit a small-scale forestry site in Italian Alps, firstly you should know the local dialect. I did not. Besides, I had no skills in forestry. An interpreter solves the dialect issue. Keeping attention to body language is vital – as catching as much words as possible. Yet, it is still challenging if the lexicon is different.

Is it generally possible to talk about sustainability assessment methods for bioenergy supplies with a 1-person-enterprise? It is not. If you say too soon you work on sustainability of something; you lose your appeal. Otherwise, proving you know how to use that chainsaw helps.

The demand of wood for energy is strongly growing (more). European policy aims at using European forests (more). Bioenergy can be a driver of rural development (more). However, burn all the wood around may be not the very best option! Conclusion: our innovative views are crucial for the bioenergy sector.

Local authorities have to manage the renovated interest for bioenergy in a smart way. They deal with different and – sometimes – conflicting interests. At the same time, they look for synergies between different needs to plan the development of supply chains. Due to our research, they can rely on solid info – supposing some data are available!

A productive process has impacts on many aspects. We usually group these in environmental, economic, and social. A multi-dimensional assessment is crucial to quantify the trade-offs between the different aspects. We need to compare scenarios under the light of sustainable development (example).

The field-workers – some of them – are hesitant with one they imagine behind a desk all day long. Asking and listening are the keys to get info. That time, my task was to measure the impacts on the environment of a forest-energy supply chain. I needed data: fuel usage, timing, productivity, costs. Luckily, I found collaborative people.

Communication works both ways: just receiving info is poor. I deal with decision-support and sustainability assessment. My work makes sense if it has a direct impact for the real societal needs – beyond the academia. I want to know if my target does understand me.

Essentially – I have learnt – we are working for evidence (suggested reading). I heard many times ‘it depends’; ‘not always’; ‘in some cases’. I want to show ‘to what extent’ is not always, ‘on what’ it depends, and in ‘which’ cases.

Sustainability is not an a priori concept. I had successful dialogues, when that word arrived long at the end. It is the result of mixing different views. The interests involved define it.

Unluckily, the concept of sustainability assessment is still too generic. We need further research to better frame it (more). For example, “what-if” analyses are data and time demanding. My actual work consists in simplifying that – improving a Sustainability Impact Assessment method for the forestry sector.

Dealing with sustainability is dealing with people – in addition to measures, models, and assumptions.

Catch me during the IUFRO World Congress to discuss in more detail! My presentations are about – among other things – the Tool for Sustainability Impact Assessment (ToSIA) and Alps.

#sustainability – #IUFRO2014 #RoleOfResearch

Written by: Salvatore Martire  – twitter: @salvochirp
Affiliation: European Forest Institute
Country: Finland

This post is entry #8 in the #IUFRO2014 Blog Competition. The most popular entry will receive a certificate and 500 USD. The second and third most popular entries will receive a certificate and copy of the new book, “Forests and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development”.

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