Sustainable Forest Management

Preserving the worlds forests

Forests are a precious resource. By converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, forests provide for life as we know it, and play host to the vast majority of the world’s species of plants and animals. Unfortunately our forests are facing significant pressure to be converted for other land uses.


Sustainable forest management aims to preserve the world’s forest by maintaining and enhancing the economic, social and environmental value of all types of forests, for the present and future. This means using these valuable resources sensibly.

What is sustainable forest management?

At the heart of sustainable forestry management is sustainable development. This allows for trees and forests to be managed in such as way that they can make vital contributions to both people and planet. When forests are managed sustainably this enhances livelihoods, helps act as a source for clean air and water, conserves biodiversity and acts as a response in the climate change fight.


When sustianable forestry management is done right it helps conserve biodiversity, as well as soil, water and carbon in the forest, supports food-security, cultural and livelihood needs, maintains the resilience and capacity of forests, allows for equal sharing of responsibilities and benefits, and fulfills the needs for goods and environmental services from forests.


The UK, along with Europe, are leaders in sustainable forest management practices, which create integrated biodiversity networks of protected natural conservation areas as well as commercial forests. This allows for ‘authentic’ forest composition that is environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable.


Because of these practices, unlike many other areas of the world, forests in Europe have grown in size rather than shrunk over the last 25 years. Through the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade action plan, the UK is working with the EU to help extend these practices around the world, build a global market for sustainable timber, and preserve forests in developing countries.


‘Sustainable forest management means using forests and forest land in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions at a local, national, and global levels, which does not cause damage to other ecosystems.’ – EU 2013 Forest Strategy

Sustainable development

One of the greatest challenges with commodity use and trade is need for strong sustainable development, incorporating the three pillars: economic, environmental and social. Balancing these three when improving sustainable forestry management is a challenge in itself. The relationship between environmental and economic in particular are often seen as highly competing and conflicting.


However with the right framework in place, these pillars of sustainable development can work in concert rather than conflict. Sustainable forestry management helps preserve the environment, and deliver long term social and economic benefit.


Economic development


SFM & economic development needs to consider employment, relationship and trade-offs between conservation and timber production. A sustainable level for economic SFM is based on the total annual increment of growing stock (m3). Countries/ areas demonstrating SFM, draw in major investment providing further economic benefits through employment, income, improvement to livelihoods and possible trade links for countries.


Social development


Successfully implementing sustainable forestry management benefits rural communities and livelihoods by offering food security, and often benefits workplace rights and practices, including improving health and safety practices, gender equity, conflict management, and greater labour rights.


Sustainable forestry management should encourage and incorporate multi-stakeholder dialogue, promoting decision-making, involvement and allow positive outcomes to be felt directly by local communities, forest conservation and aiding rural development.

How does this relate to FLEGT?

Guiding forest management and policy globally, sustainable forestry management can largely be strengthened and embedded into the work of the EU’s Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), and the UN’s mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD/+).


The broad objectives of sustainable forestry mangagement, FLEGT & REDD+ regimes are similar. Both sustainable forest management & FLEGT aim to improve the seven elements of sustainable forestry: resources, biodiversity, forest health, productive function of forest resources & protective function, socioeconomic and provide a legal, policy and institutional framework.


While FLEGT does not prove sustainability, with the primary goal to tackle legality or rather illegality, many of the core principles are overlapping. However, there are some conceptual differences:


  • FLEGT focuses on forestry whereas sustainable forest management takes a more holistic view on forest resources focuses on deforestation originating from all sectors.
  • FLEGT predominate focus is around on illegal logging, which has a profound impact of forest biodiversity loss and tree species.
  • FLEGT aims to reduce forest degradation while enhancing forest law and enforcement could contribute to forest health.
  • FLEGT aims to increase productivity of the forest sector and resources as a result of strengthened legality.
  • FLEGT does not focus directly on the protective functions but strengthened legality arguably enhances this.
  • FLEGT considers socioeconomic through tackling illegality in forest production and trade and the creation of FLEGT voluntary partnership agreements.
  • FLEGT can be viewed to enable the conditions of legal reform, improved governance and capacity transfer strengthening sustainable forest management.