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Article alert: Sustainable development and sustainable forestry - Analogies, differences and the role of flexibility

by: Ulla Vänttinen

Hahn, W.A., Knoke, T., 2010. Sustainable development and sustainable forestry: Analogies, differences, and the role of flexibility. European Journal of Forest Research 129 (5), pp. 787-801.


Various approaches have been developed to achieve sustainability in forestry, under changing social needs and, consequently, changing definitions of sustainability. This has led to the confusing situation in which various groups have different understandings of the meaning of ‘sustainability’. Likewise, the concepts utilized to achieve sustainability, often with a poorly defined objective, are sometimes not clear and/or inconsistent as a systematic overview regarding definitions and concepts is lacking. Based on a literature review, this paper discusses related terms such as sustainability, sustained yield management, sustainable forestry, sustainable forest management and sustainable development: their history, concepts and relationships, from a European perspective. Finally, flexibility is proposed as a solution to overcome the identified shortcomings at all scales, while focussing on the enterprise level. The origin of the sustainability concept in forestry was first driven by forest experts, while participatory elements have been considered since the more recent idea of sustainable development. Since then, much effort has been made to achieve intragenerational fairness by creating an improved participatory process. Concurrently, the original idea of sustainable forestry as long-term and future-oriented management, considering future generations’ needs fell behind. An increasing standing timber volume in Europe and the discussion on climate change brought new interest in how to cope with risks in the context of pervasive future uncertainties within the scope of promoting sustainable development. Although the consideration of risk has been concentrated on as a topic in forest science in recent years, studies have mainly focused on the enhancement of forest resistance against disturbances. However, precaution and risk avoidance alone are probably insufficient to achieve an improved sustainable development that focuses on intergenerational fairness, as these more defensive approaches may disregard important management opportunities involved with an uncertain future. A perhaps more promising approach, the idea of future options and the ability to respond to changing social and biophysical circumstances (i.e. flexibility) as criteria for sustainable development have only shown a shadowy existence up to now. To further develop the consistency of sustainability concepts, a shift of sustainability approaches from continuity towards flexibility options is proposed.

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