For this episode focusing on Wood & Real Estate, Urban Chronicles™ met Baudouin Vercken, Co-founder of EcoTree, specialised in the sustainable management of French private forests.
We discussed how to finance the renewal and sustainable management of French forests, the sustainability of the timber sector and the challenges faced by construction stakeholders.
Green Soluce: What is EcoTree’s business?
Baudouin Vercken: EcoTree arose out of the need to reconcile environmental issues (soil artificialization, climate change, biodiversity erosion, etc.) with the economic difficulties of the French forestry sector. Since its creation in 2014, EcoTree has been offering a solution to financially support the renewal and sustainable management of private French forests and their future. It is based on the fact that ¾ of the French forest is privately owned and that many forest parcels are abandoned. Thanks to a legal innovation that separates “propriété du dessous” (land) from “propriété du dessus” (trees, housings, etc.), EcoTree allows its customers, 50% private individuals and 50% companies, to become tree owners. EcoTree is the only structure of its kind to have a registration number as an intermediary in diverse assets (original investments under the law “loi Sapin II”) with the French Financial Markets Authority and to be audited each year.
Green Soluce: Is there a similar solution for public forest areas?
Baudouin Vercken: The objective is the same whether the forest estate is public or private: to manage the forest sustainably and renew it. The National Forestry Office, which manages the public forest heritage, is currently facing a decrease in State allocations. There is no equivalent financing system to the one proposed by EcoTree for the public domain. However, offering a similar mechanism to public actors is entirely possible. Everyone can contribute to the improvement of the common forest heritage, both public and private actors. Tools need to be developed to provide the funding necessary for forest restoration projects.
Green Soluce: What role does EcoTree play in the sustainable management of forests and in the consolidation of the French timber sector for construction?
Baudouin Vercken: EcoTree’s first profession is forestry expertise. At the start of a project, EcoTree establishes a diagnosis of the forest to be restored. We assess its condition and identify the factors which degraded it. EcoTree then develops a sustainable forest management document, a kind of roadmap. This paper identifies all the actions to be carried out over the next 40 or 50 years. The goal is to perpetuate the French forest to produce quality timber for the construction industry. The wood sector is a major economic sector. It represents 450,000 jobs in France that cannot be relocated. And this sector needs to be structured and developed. EcoTree has initiated discussions on this subject with the Ile-de-France region. But this is a national project to be undertaken.
Green Soluce: What issues do construction stakeholders face and how can they respond to them?
Baudouin Vercken: The construction industry has a significant impact on the environment by its very nature.
For regulatory reasons, some are compelled to pay compensation or to finance compensatory projects. For example, this follows land clearing, soil artificialization or the induced loss of areas with high biodiversity stakes. As an operator, EcoTree supports these actors in their relations with administrations. We identify and monitor the successful implementation of compensatory projects.
Others choose to voluntarily commit to reducing their carbon footprint (footprint related to the construction of the building and its life cycle).
In this context, EcoTree promotes and supports the development of sustainable wood construction, which has many benefits. It is a great way to develop the wood sector. How can we explain, in fact, that with all the forest area available in France, the wood sector cannot cover the needs of wood construction? EcoTree’s main challenge is to reverse the trend and make it unnecessary to import wood produced outside our borders. The carbon footprint of construction sites, built in short circuits for wood supply, will benefit from it.
Green Soluce: What are the development prospects for your company?
Baudouin Vercken: Since its creation, EcoTree has grown and has now about fifteen employees. EcoTree has more and more customers. The company is now able to support projects of more than 100 hectares!
In April 2019, the Low Carbon Label was launched. It covers afforestation and restoration activities of degraded stands, among others activities. EcoTree wishes to promote its carbon compensation/neutralization solution by having the forests it restores labelled.
More broadly, EcoTree also sees the possibility of involving company employees in discovery and awareness projects through solidarity days.
Finally, we are currently replicating the EcoTree principle in Copenhagen to encourage European companies to finance French forestry projects. Some Northern European countries are very mature in terms of ecological transition. We are convinced that they can make a significant contribution to the French forest. Forest issues go beyond our own country and must be addressed at the European level. Support the French forest!
Interview by Stéphanie Lopez and Pierre Rostan for Urban Chronicles™
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