Valorizing waste streams is an important consideration for multiple industries to meet their circular economy aims and climate change reduction targets. The forest products industry is a commercial sector that has become adept at profitably exploiting repurposed waste streams and providing beneficial products. Investigating three case studies from the Australian forestry sector, a new study has been published in Sustainability to explore this subject.
Study: Leveraging the Entrepreneurial Method as a Tool for the Circular Economy: The Case of Wood Waste. Image Credit: Aliaksei Charapanau/Shutterstock.com
A Roadmap for Sustainable and Profitable Circular Industrial Practices in Australia
An innovation and technology roadmap has been developed by Schandl et al. This roadmap can be used to support planning in Australia to reduce the environmental and health impacts of industrial practices and methods. The roadmap links available and emerging technological solutions with short- and long-term objectives, assisting in the development of more sustainable, long-term, strategic practices.
Achieving the correct balance between profitability and environmental friendliness requires taking an entrepreneurial approach that re-envisions waste as a commercial commodity that can be valorized and repurposed/reused. Reusing recycled and post-production materials is a growing trend in multiple industries, with materials such as wood, plastics, and biomass being repurposed as products such as chipboards, fuel sources, car tires, and everyday commercial objects.
The policy roadmap presented by Schandl et al. highlights the paper, glass manufacture, plastic, and tire industries in Australia. Imperatives in the paper industry for the reduction, reuse, and repurposing of waste in the paper industry are articulated in the roadmap, for use as input for new products and markets in line with the aims of the emerging circular economy in Australia.
In a circular economy, waste is eliminated as much as possible (some waste streams, it should be noted, cannot be eliminated entirely) by recycling, reuse, repurposing, and eliminating initial waste through technological innovation, business practices, and regulatory frameworks.
ESG (environmental, social, and governance) policies impact all stakeholders in a supply chain, including international vendors, with increased compliance to standards such as ISO 14000 likely to force suppliers with less stringent environmental policies to adapt them to remain competitive in the international supply chain. Governance externalities, therefore, impact a corporation’s stakeholders.
Circular economy imperatives and leveraging the entrepreneurial method to transform wood wastes into commercial opportunities. Image Credit: De Klerk, S et al., Sustainability
Impact on the Forestry Sector
Forestry companies, like those in all industries, must comply with international standards to remain competitive in a changing international market that demands increased sustainability and governance. Consumers especially are becoming more aware of the environmental and social impact of the products they purchase, demanding information on purchasing decision concerns such as sustainability and product provenance.
Forestry is intrinsically linked with climate change, with increased felling of trees, there is less opportunity for capturing carbon emissions. Indeed, early studies on the circular economy concept often focused on the forestry industry and wood products sector. Research into circular methods for the forestry and wood products industry has, for example, produced technologies including the Cat-HTRTM from Licella, which repurposes wood waste into biocrude that can be used for industry and fuel.
Methods that can be employed to reduce post-production waste in the industry include waste wood size downcycling, introducing new algorithms that better assist wood cutting line placement, and reducing the size of wood considered as waste in manufacturing processes.
The Australian forestry industry supports large numbers of jobs, as well – in 2021, the Australian Forest Products Association estimated that 120,000, mostly rural, workers are employed in the sector. Rural areas typically have low employment opportunities, so restructuring the industry taking into consideration economic, social, community, and political factors in tandem with environmental protection would create a more sustainable industry that fits with the aims of the circular economy.
Valorizing forestry product waste streams profitably would help the industry meet its sustainability goals without presenting social and economic problems for rural areas which are reliant on the income produced by the forestry industry is key to the industry’s future and the global fight against climate change.
The new study in Sustainability has investigated three cases in the Australian forestry industry in order to illustrate some of the ways the sector is already innovating, adapting, developing, and progressing in its aims to reach circularity and effectively add value to waste streams. The cases help to illustrate the different motives and organizational objectives which can be used to consider the practices, but also indicate that there are common denominators that affect the sustainability goals of the Australian forestry and wood products industry.
People, profit, and the planet all govern sustainability in the forestry products sector. The combined efficient and effective effort of all stakeholders ensures economic, social, and environmental balance. Each stakeholder provides different resources but also has different expectations. Infrastructure and local capital provided by harvesting contractors help to make efforts more authentic and sustainable due to a local, bottom-up approach. Diverse and unique approaches which present future entrepreneurial opportunities can be facilitated.
Furthermore, the authors have stated that an initiative-taking entrepreneurial approach in the behavior of companies and stakeholders using what they have and what is appropriate for where they are located should be incentivized by governments and the private sector.
The research presented by the authors can be used to educate stakeholders in the forestry industry about the opportunities for entrepreneurship, alternative business models, and partnering opportunities to improve the sustainability and profitability of a circular forestry industry, further developing markets, and introducing new projects which will help achieve this aim.
De Klerk, S et al. (2022) Leveraging the Entrepreneurial Method as a Tool for the Circular Economy: The Case of Wood Waste [online] Sustainability 14(3) 1559 | mdpi.com. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/14/3/1559