The Covid-19 pandemic has been very painful, leaving scars that are hard to heal. Lives were lost and economies were rocked during this extremely difficult time, which still looms and may not be entirely over. But the crisis also forced us to reconsider our habits and business models. During this time of near-reinvention, processes and trends gained speed.

Sustainability, a topic that had previously been limited to purely academic discussions or of interest only to NGOs, is now part of the essential worldwide agenda. Governments around the world have made the green recovery one of their main objectives. Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) is gaining strength in private initiatives, becoming a way to make business enduring as well as more attractive to investors. Society has become aware of its role, demanding models for actions and products that respect the environment and provide proof through traceability.

Also amid this scenario involving new processes imposed by the pandemic, working in home offices became widespread and made it possible for everything to keep moving: even during lockdowns and social isolation, workers whose positions allowed it were able to work at home. This model was needed before, but now proved itself functional and will become an option for companies around the world.

As this situation became more established, Brazil’s wood-based panels industry was ready to meet heated demand.

In 2020, the year that Covid-19 erupted, domestic sales of wood panels grew 6.6% over 2019. During that year alone, 7.1 million m³ were sold domestically. This number soared in 2021, as demand remained strong, and 8.2 million m³ of wood panels were sold in Brazil, growth of 15% over the previous year, breaking domestic sales records.

One of the main reasons that led consumers to choose wood products was undoubtedly the sustainability that is a fundamental part of the entire chain.

In Brazil, wood panels are made from trees that are planted, harvested, and replanted specifically for industrial purposes. To provide an idea of its breadth, the Brazilian planted tree sector is responsible not only for wood panels, but also a number of other products such as pulp and paper and laminate flooring, and has a total planted area of 9.55 million hectares. This is the equivalent of nearly 1% of the country’s territory, and provides Brazil with over 90% of the wood it needs.

It is also worth mentioning the more than 6 million hectares of native forests preserved by the sector. A modern forest management technique known as mosaic planting integrates production and conservation areas, with positive effects for soils, water, and biodiversity.

Years of work monitoring the forests and investing in improvements have proven this agroindustry’s effectiveness in the field. In fact, during the World Forest Congress held by FAO in Korea, the Biodiversity in the Planted Tree Industry 2022 Report was released; this report describes 8,310 flora and fauna species seen in areas belonging to forest-based companies.

The main groups monitored across Brazil’s biomes include plants, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. This proves, for example, that animals feel safe travelling through and developing in areas cared for by the sector. This report has quickly become a benchmark, and other international associations have expressed interest in understanding how the research was conducted and the study was constructed in order to potentially replicate the model.

It is also essential to note that the areas cultivated and preserved by the sector have the potential to store 4.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent. This is critical right now as we face the challenge of reducing emissions to help the planet mitigate climate change, which has already begun to dramatically impact humankind.

Sustainable management and dialogue with neighbouring communities are confirmed by the main international certifying bodies like FSC (the Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC/Cerflor. For over 20 years, companies in the planted tree sector have voluntarily pursued these certifications as a way of demonstrating transparency in their work and sustainability in their processes.

But these efforts are not limited to the forests: in the factory, the wood panel sector has also shown itself to be aware of its importance for natural resources. The process of pressing MDP and MDF panels uses nearly no water. According to a report on water management in the planted tree sector, 53% of the water used in the manufacturing process is returned to its original source, and 12% is reused.

This results in bioproducts, which are not only essential items but also represent ways for the world to reach the much longed-for bioeconomy and low-carbon economy. In fact, laminated flooring and a wooden table, for example, are made up of around 47% carbon, which is stored in the wood that comprises them. This is extremely important as we currently seek ways to avoid greenhouse gas emissions and sequester as much CO2 as possible from the atmosphere.

This scenario creates a narrative that has been well understood by Brazilian society: consumers understand that if they want a sustainable future, it also depends on them choosing environmentally friendly products.

On this path to a decarbonised economy, the wood panel sector (along with the entire planted tree sector in Brazil) is ready to be a partner. While various areas of the global economy are attempting to adjust to the new world order in which nature must be preserved instead of depleted, the Brazilian planted tree industry is proud to state that it has both feet planted firmly in the bioeconomy, and is ready to help the world face the climate emergency that represents the greatest challenge we face.

Ambassador José Carlos da Fonseca Jr is the executive director of Ibá, a board member for The Forests Dialogue (TFD), a member of the Steering Committee for the FAO’s Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries (ACSFI), and co-facilitator for the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests, and Agriculture.