I recently had the privilege of traveling overseas to visit some sawmill equipment suppliers. The experience was amazing. I’ve traveled to Europe five or six times now to visit mills, see new and different equipment, and meet influential people in the world of wood. Although I always learn something new about equipment and its applications, there’s something more inspiring that I have come back with each and every time. It’s the way Europeans utilize wood. Especially in the Alps and Northern Europe.
It becomes apparent the moment you walk into some of the world’s busiest airports.
In Reykjavik, Iceland, the floor and wall panels proudly display wood, both to utilize its strength and show off its amazing beauty.
In Copenhagen, Denmark there are decorative pieces everywhere.
In Helsinki, Finland there are artful displays of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Glue Laminated Timber (GLT, or Glulam beams as we call them) all around the airport.
It’s amazing. What’s even more amazing is the fact that many of these places aren’t conservative countries that manage their resources better than we do. Many of them are a number of clicks to the left of the United States when it comes to social policies. How is it that countries that are socially liberal do not get caught up in the environmental movement like we have here?
The fact is that they have been at the forefront of the green movement. The sawmill that I visited in central Austria called Hasslacher has solar panels on all of its roofs and makes pellets, and also has a co-gen power plant.
Hasslacher also makes CLT and GLT for a market that understands that wood is the BEST choice for the planet. So what’s the secret?
It’s my opinion that these environmental issues were never politicized like they were in the United States. No one created a winner and loser when it came to forest management. Sure, the timber companies had to adopt new technologies and embrace doing the right thing as new science emerged, but they have been doing that for decades. It seems to be part of the culture in Northern Europe. They understand the importance of the resource, not just in a financial sense, but also in an ecological sense – and possibly more importantly, in a cultural sense for the people who live and work near the forest.
As we look for solutions to our forest management challenges we need to keep in mind that there are others who deal with many of these same challenges around the world. We can learn from them, both in the way we manage the forests and the way we create the products we need.