A substitution or displacement effect occurs when wood-based products replace products made from fossil raw materials. This means that fossil carbon is removed from the materials cycle and replaced with biogenic carbon. The total amount of carbon in circulation therefore stops increasing. As long as we only use the net growth of the forests for wood materials, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will not increase.
The substitution effect plays a crucial role in reducing the climate impact and is a key to achieving the EU’s climate targets. Forest-based products have significantly lower climate impact than fossil or non-renewable alternatives.
The extent of the substitution effect depends on which products are produced, where they are produced and what they replace. The forest products produced each year from raw material from European forests prevent fossil emissions by substituting fossil-based materials and fossil energy for a total of -410 Mt CO2e/year.
Wood-based raw materials therefore play a key role in achieving the net zero carbon emissions target and creating alternatives to fossil-based products. These raw materials can be of particular importance for the construction, packaging, textile, biofuel and chemical industries. Let us give some examples.
Wood replaces cement and steel in building structures
Increasing the use of wood in the construction industry reduces the carbon dioxide emissions from cement and steel production. Wooden buildings also store carbon dioxide throughout their lifetime.
Wood-based textiles that replace synthetic textiles
The need for synthetic textiles can be reduced by using more wood-based textiles. And, unlike natural fibres like cotton, wood-based textile fibres do not require arable land and can keep pace with the growing global demand for textiles without converting forest land into agricultural land. Wood-based textiles also require less water and pesticides.
Wood-based packaging instead of plastic
Plastic pollution is a global problem that can be reduced by using more fibre-based packaging. Plastic packaging is mostly fossil-based, so an increase in fibre-based packaging would reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Biofuels and biochemicals rather than fossil fuels and chemicals
Wood-based fuels and chemicals can be produced from forest industry waste such as fuel chips and tops and branches.