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Green Jobs: The ability to provide sustainable jobs is critical for the future of the forest sector

The forest sector is facing changes similar to those of other traditional economic sectors: mechanization and new technology (requiring fewer employees and with different skillsets), globalization, (leading to more competition from low cost regions), rural depopulation, and a changing climate, are all phenomena that influence forest sector employment (Kastenholz, 2015).

The forest sector workforce in Europe shrank from approximately 6.1 million workers in 2000 to 4.7 million workers in 2010 (ECE/FAO 2015).  These trends have reduced job stability and incomes in rural, forest-dependent communities, in many cases creating an employment situation, which utilizes informal and seasonal migrant workers and perhaps fosters an environment where the safety, health and well-being of workers has not been given an adequate importance.

On the other hand, sustainable development and the green economy are stimulating new types of job opportunities within the forest sector. While traditional, labour intensive jobs have shrank, there has been growth in many expanding areas of work related to for instance, health, recreation and tourism in the forests. Conversely, while the green economy has the potential to generate new jobs (and a solution to the shrinking and aging pool of traditional forest workers), it is also dependent on the forest sector’s ability to answer the demand for sustainable products and services from the forest.

As a result, the forest sector needs to become more innovative in order to attract qualified people to fill new jobs emerging in relation to all aspects of forest services. In addition, there is much to be done to improve working conditions, job security and income stability in order to retain forest workers, especially in the traditional labour intensive jobs that are still very important.

The forest sector is developing and investing in new products, such as second and third generation biofuels, biochemical and engineered wood products (Hetemäki, 2014). However innovation is crucial not only in the area of development of new products, but also for traditional wood products, such as sawnwood, which are being used for instance to produce cross-laminated timber (CLT).

Bringing these innovative products out of the lab and manufacturing them on a large scale will create job opportunities for young people from different educational backgrounds. A number of job opportunities will also be created in services to support the industry and its customers to better understand the application of new technologies and the use of new products.

In addition, the service sector (which provides the majority of jobs within the ECE region) will play a stronger role for the future growth of forest jobs also in the field (Hetemäki, 2014). There is a growing demand for forests services such as human health, recreation and urban forestry. Moreover, in the European Union, the employment in the “environmental goods and service sectors” increased from 3.0 to 4.2 million between 2002 and 2011 (Herkendell 2016).

Identifying new fields of employment, education and training for traditional and new jobs within the forest sector is one of the priorities work of the ECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Green Jobs in the Forest Sector - ILO/ECE/FAO Experts Network. 

In the words of Mr Diarmuid McAree, deputy leader of the ECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Green Jobs in the Forest Sector, “The potential for green job creation linked to the production of energy from renewable sources, energy efficiency, waste and water management, air quality improvement, restoring and preserving biodiversity, providing green spaces and infrastructure for eco-tourism, and developing green infrastructure is significant.”

For that reason, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), International Labour Office (ILO) and Forest Europe, have committed to work together on promoting green forest jobs.

On 27-28 June 2017, ECE, FAO and Forest Europe jointly organized an international workshop in Bratislava with a focus on creating new green forest jobs opportunities, identifying new skills needed by the forest sector, and promoting occupational health and safety, education, equity and gender equality in the forest sector workforce.

The workshop was opened by Ms Gabriela Matečná, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Slovak Republic. The Minister stressed an urgent need to attract a workforce with diverse skillsets, allowing the forest sector to play an important role in the context of green economy and sustainable development.

Nearly 70 participants from 18 European countries gathered in Bratislava for the occasion, representing: the UN system, the European Commission, Government Ministries and organizations, nongovernmental organizations, science and academia, training centers, European forestry associations, private industry and forest certification organizations.

The participants identified the key challenges, as well as policies, tools and mechanisms to address them. The core of the discussions during four parallel sessions covered the following substantive topics:

  1.  I. Occupational health and safety of forest workers

  2.  II. Education and training for new skills development in the forest sector

     III. Social equity and gender issues

  3.  IV. Creating green job opportunities in the forest sector

Presentations as well as workshop outcomes are available at the ECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section’s website.

The ECE, FAO and ILO have a long lasting record of working together on the topic of employment in the forest sector. As far back as 1947, the International Timber Conference had recognised the importance of the forest workforce, and called attention to the importance of job security, competitive wage rates, adequate living conditions, technical training facilities and better safety measures.

In 1954, as part of the transition towards a dynamic forest policy, the Joint Committee on Forest Working Techniques and Training of Forest Workers was founded under the joint auspices of ECE, FAO and ILO.

Since 1978, when the Joint Committee was converted to a network, the ECE, FAO and ILO have been implementing their mandate with the support of groups of experts.

Today, the ECE/FAO Team of Specialists (ToS) on Green Jobs in the Forest Sector - ILO/ECE/FAO Experts Network continue to build upon the earlier work of the Joint Committee. The ToS works on defining, describing and promoting green forest jobs and has contributed to reinforcing cooperation between forestry training centres, with a view to shaping the future of employment in the sector.

The main objective of the work of the ToS is to advice and support the ECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section in the implementation of the ECE/FAO Integrated Programme of Work on issues related to employment in the forest sector. This includes identifying needed competencies, education and training for the forest sector in the context of a green economy.

The new study paper on “Green Jobs in the Forest Sector” prepared by the ToS was presented at a special event in Warsaw on 10 October 2017, during the “Las2017” joint session of the ECE Committee on Forests and Forest Industry and the FAO European Commission on Forests. The ToS also presented its work at the “Meet the specialist” talk organized during “Las2017”.

The work of the Team is based on the Rovaniemi Action Plan for the Forest Sector in a Green Economy (RAP), which is a blueprint on how the forest sector could contribute to the green economy. The Plan provides concrete actions meant to support and stimulate green economy strategies and activities at regional, national and local levels.

The ECE and FAO are leading organizations in many of the actions on green jobs contained in the RAP together with the ILO, Governments and other organizations, such as Union of European Foresters, the German Center for Forest Work and Technology (KWF) or the Central Union of Turkish Forestry Coopératives.


Kastenholz, E. (2015).  Challenges to maintain a Sustainable Forestry Workforce! Presentation at "Threats to Sustainability of the Forest Sector Workforce" UNECE-FAO 37th Joint Working Party on Forest Statistics, Economics and Management 18-20 March 2015, Geneva, Switzerland.