Does the use of forest biomass for energy affect sustainability? Evidences from an experts´ survey

A development project may be evaluated as sustainable if it is able to conciliate the three spheres of sustainability: environment, society and economy. Environmental sustainability can be defined as “a condition of balance, resilience, and interconnectedness that allows human society to satisfy its needs while neither exceeding the capacity of its supporting ecosystems to continue to regenerate the services necessary to meet those needs nor by our actions diminishing biological diversity”. Social sustainability is defined as a life-enhancing condition within communities and a process within communities that can achieve that condition. Finally, sustainability of the economy – in the strict sense – is considered as the ability to maintain productivity and generate incomes. In the project, we investigated how the use of forest biomass for energy purposes may be effective in pursuing a sustainable development. For this purpose, we conducted a questionnaire survey in the pilot areas of the project, administrating a questionnaire to local experts in the field of forest-wood-energy chain. Experts were asked to express an opinion about their perceived impact of forest biomass withdrawal on the ecosystem services and on the local development.

Overlapping circles model

Overlapping circles model

With these information we were able to assess the expected impact on the environmental and social spheres of sustainability. The economic sustainability was integrated collecting data on the energy content of the different typology of wood, locally available, and the local price for forest biomass. The analysis highlighted that experts are usually in favour of a further development of the use of forest biomass, because it seems to provide a good balance between the needs of ecosystems and the needs of the society. It is anyway important to highlight that in the project the focus of the analysis is the use of the residual biomass. A change in the forest management, focused to the biomass for energy production, was not considered and may lead to different impacts and results. This analysis has been published into a scientific journal that is freely available online, the article is:

Grilli G., Curetti G., De Meo I., Garegnani G., Geitner C., Hastik R., Miotello F., Paletto A., Poljanec A., Vettorato D. (2014). Environmental experts’ perceptions of the impacts of forest biomass harvesting on ecosystem services, South-East European forestry, 6(1) (early view)

Readable and downloadable at the following link: or from the website .

About Gianluca Grilli

Gianluca Grilli has an Ms in environmental economics. He is a PhD student in environmental engineering at the University of Trento, Italy. He works as a researcher at the Institute of Renewable Energy at Eurac. His main research interests are ecosystem services evaluation and management, GIS modeling and applied econometrics.

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