What happened during the first Local Wood Summit in Europe?

Assembly of the trailblazers

On Friday Fri. 20th – Sat. 21st of November 2020 pioneers in working with local wood from different countries came together. During this two-day event about 60 participants joined the momentum and exchanged on best practices, challenges and opportunities we face working with local wood. The topics of exchange ranged from managing urban wood and local forests to sustainable carpentry, novel forest management, local wood networks, and local wood architecture & design.

We are happy to have so many engaged and innovating actors join us to further build this local wood community. We can’t wait to set up more exchanges in the future where we hopefully will also be able to meet and inspire each other in person. But first things first, we will be get pen to paper and set up the EU chapter for the Urban Wood Network.

Did you miss out on the event? We have recorded the exchanges and made the content of Europe’s first Local Wood Summit available online.

The program

You missed the event? Here are our key take-aways

  • More than you think. Local wood is a broader field of activities than you might think. The local wood summit was the occasion to take stock and collect information on existing initiatives in different countries. We found that there is a broad diversity of initiatives connected to the local wood movement: there are platforms for promoting the use of local wood in a certain territory (such as Terre de Hêtre in France, Bois Local in Wallonia or Ontario Wood in Canada). Then there are local wood policies, developed by municipal administrations and sometimes in partnership with organisations such as the Urban Wood Network. There are also private forest owners that have started to question what happens to wood harvested on their properties; some want to keep the wood more local, but this remains a great challenge for which they need partners. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is a host if city-based initiatives around the world that looks at local wood as an opportunity to create sustainable business models. The frontrunners in this area are cities in the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, the UK and Belgium.
  • The need to overcome challenges. Using wood at the local scale is not an easy undertaking. While there is a lot of interest from the general public and policy makers, the goodwill that local wood initiatives encounter in their city or region does not always translate into viable business models. Compared to traditional forestry operations or man-made industrial materials such as concrete and steel, producing local wood is sometimes more costly, less efficient and less scalable. Moreover, starting a local wood initiatives is quite different from, say, creating a tech start-up. For the latter, you often only need the proverbial “two guys and laptops”, whereas the production and commercialisation of local wood requires substantial capital and investments in machinery, storage space, inventory, etc. Some local organisation have, however, figured out ways to overcome these challenges: they have raised sufficient capital based on a viable business model, or they have pooled and shared resources with other partners so that they don’t have to shoulder capital outlays alone.
  • Learning from each other. The successful local wood initiatives out there are the main reason why you shouldn’t start from scratch. Rather than reinventing the wheel, you can learn how similar groups in other cities or regions have overcome the challenges related to local wood. This was also the chief reason why we organised the Local Wood Summit in the first place: since local wood projects are not in competition with each other, we should help and learn together. The road ahead is certainly to provide better ways to facilitate mutual learning and cooperation. The local wood summit was only the first step in bringing the movement together: expect much more to come! there are great opportunities and examples: the Urban Wood Network in the United States inspires us and we hope that we can bring more organisations from European countries into the network. The Connecting Nature project and its nature-based entreprise platform is another venue for building the community around local and sustainable forestry.

Outputs from the event

Interactive content board created with all participants

Audio recording from the session

You want to dive further in the content? Access the recordings of the exchanges here.

Next steps and follow up

We highlight 3 aspects that we found to be key topics of conversation:

– We had many engaged and innovating actors join us around the digital table. The variety of approaches in working with local wood is vast. Whether driven to save quality wood from the fireplace, engaged to connect fragmented patches of forest or setting up a business around processing local wood… Yet all of us seem to be intrinsically entangled throughout the process from tree to finished wooden product. In all our diversity the need to remain connected and be part of a vast network of actors stands out as a common precondition for succes.

– During the ‘How to?’ sessions, we had many passionate local wood entrepreneurs sharing their story. It was crystal clear. We are all in here with heart and soul. Wether it was stadshout enthusiast Tim Bulters (NL), the architect Nicole Ng Hui Min (UK), woodworker Simon Marcelis (BE), or Marie-Eve from Bois Public (CA)… doing what is sensible with respect for nature stands central. It forms the core in building clever business models and designs. From Don Peterson’s presentation of the Urban Wood Network (USA), we learned this is not different in the States.

– We got great inspiration from the Stadshout movement in the Netherlands. A national network is already building there. Also in on the city level in Brussels as well as at European scale -through the Connecting Nature Enterprise Platform’s focus on Sustainable Forestry- things show to be moving. The debates during the summit revealed great potential and enthusiasm. So let’s build on to this emerging local wood community!

We are dedicated to further build out this Local Wood Network. Here are 2 ways in which you can help the network grow:

– The Urban Wood Network is the leading platform for bringing together local wood initiatives; it’s the perfect place to share knowledge about how to start up a local wood initiative, to professionalize the movement and to learn from each other. So far, the Urban Wood Network has mainly been active in the United States, where it counts over 100 members from different cities and states. You can help us turning the Urban Wood Network into a truly global platform for advancing the cause of local wood! The Sonian Wood Coop has already joined the Urban Wood Network, and with more initiatives from the Old Continent we could start a European chapter.

You are a sawmill, arborist, woodworking business, municipality or any other organisation working to make the best use of urban wood?

– Get in touch with us by writing to Hanne (Hanne [at] sonianwoodcoop.be) so that we can join forces and make our movement stronger!

– Register on the Connecting Nature Enterprise Platform under the Sustainable Forestry page. There we are making the many innovating local wood actors visible. Join us there to continue the exchange on the challenges and opportunities we are facing.

Behind the scenes

? This first Local Wood Summit is being organized by the Sonian Wood Coop, the Urban Ecology Centre, Osmos and the EU-funded Connecting Nature project. It is co-financed by a grant from the Véolia Foundation.