by Janni Kunttu and Minna Korhonen
Digitalisation is one of the global megatrends which drive structural changes. Researchers don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, but creating scenarios can help us find different possible future pathways.
A recent scenario created in the FutureForest2040 project shows the threatening aspects of a deepening global crisis, over-consumption, an increasing gap between rich and poor and escalating competition over natural resources, boosted partly by digitalisation. In another FutureForest2040 scenario digitalization and AI are in fact among the most important drivers for security and sustainability. This scenario paints a picture of a more virtual – digitalised – world, where innovative tools help us to see and feel the difficulties other nations are undergoing, thus increasing global empathy and promoting collaboration. This change of culture would lead to more efficient problem solving, as no individual or national interest would rise above another. Free movement of knowledge, know-how, technology and people would create a global community with no major conflicts as development belongs to everyone. To many this may sound like utopia. But what does digitalisation mean for forests?
Is this the end of the forest as we know it?
Boosted by the COVID pandemic, we can already see the increasing importance of forests in recreation. Just a brief visit to the forest – real or virtual – calms the body and mind, relieves stress and promotes well-being. Forest bathing is, if not yet a megatrend, at least trending on social media.
But virtual forests and various related digital innovations are not only for recreational use. They are increasingly important tools in forest management and planning, especially considering the multiple uses of forests. Already now some urban forest owners can visit their forests virtually to help make management decisions. Also, digitalisation has made it possible to harvest in extreme conditions, by using e.g. remote controlled harvesters, and automating data collection and analysis at the forest stand. Modern high-tech forest machinery improves productivity, reduces the environmental load, and reduces the stress of the operator. However, this means that IT-skills become even more important in the forest operations sector, too.
Some may ask if we should fear that virtual forests and nature tours will override the real deal. In the scenarios set out for the FutureForest2040 project, the role of forests varies. Some show that if the current increasing sustainable consumption and circular economy prevails, forests can become even more important for recreation and well-being.
We don’t know what the world will be like in 2040, but at least in Finland, where the cities are still relatively small and digitalisation at a high level, more people may prefer to live outside of urban areas. Already now, with the restrictions brought by the COVID pandemic many Finns who could worked remotely, and quite a few from their summer cottages in the rural areas. Some even moved to the countryside as they discovered that their work is not tied down to a specific place. In the future, this trend may increase as digitalisation supports new ways of working, and if sustainable consumption continues to gain popularity and thus affects the markets, promoting new innovations and jobs.
From the perspective of forest-based industries this development is likely to be preferable. As the forest-based product portfolio expands fast, there are concerns if there is enough educated workforce available for all these new complex and integrated value chains. If rural areas become more attractive, versatile expertise may come closer to factory ecosystems (and enable versatile production and product/service design, too). However, digitalisation enables the use of expertise from all over the world.
In the construction sector, digitalisation makes construction projects already more cost efficient and better planned. Perhaps in the future digitalisation is a major part of e.g. wood-based construction and buildings can self-detect the requirements for repair and maintenance or even prevent damage.
Digital systems are expected to be used throughout the value chains to monitor and enhance sustainability. All in all, it seems the future holds more promise than threats, at least for example energy efficiency, resource savings, and GHG emission reductions.
This post highlights some of points made in first episode of the Finnish Puupodi-podcast part of FutureForest2040 project, where EFI’s Janni Kunttu meets Martti Kulvik and Jussi Lintunen from Etla to discuss some of the findings of the FutureForest2040 project. FutureForest2040 aims at foresighting possible structural changes in the Finnish forest-based sector, and market and employment impacts accordingly in 2040.
The FutureForest2040 project is carried out by EFI and the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (Etla), with the financial support of Metsämiesten Säätiö Foundation.
Photo: ©johndwilliams – stock.adobe.com