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Softsystems for Hardwood

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

WHFF project: 2021.11

Project leader: Astrid Zabel (Universität Bern), Veronika Schick (ETH Zürich), Eva Lieberherr (ETH Zurich)

Partners: ETH Zürich, NARP Natural Resource Politcy Group, Universität Bern, CDE Centre for development and environmental

The short video about the project on YouTube can be watched at the following link:

The most important in brief

  • The proportion of hardwood in Swiss forests will increase due to climate change, while demand outside the energy sector will remain low.

  • Two main application areas for hardwood have been identified: the construction sector and the biorefinery.

  • Hardwood offers opportunities in sustainable construction, can partially replace concrete and steel and meet with broad social acceptance. However, there are obstacles such as the small-scale organization of forests and the lack of sawmills.

  • Softwood can be further processed in biorefineries, e.g. into polymers, dyes, cosmetics or flavorings. There are also various opportunities and challenges along the value chain.

  • Proposed solutions to promote the use of hardwood include the development of a comprehensive forest strategy, the calculation of energy in wood imports and practical bioeconomy strategies.

  • The authors emphasize the need to examine measures for market distortions and to remove existing barriers without creating new ones. It is recommended that the timber industry promote internal cohesion even more strongly.

Project description

The study deals with the increasing availability of hardwood in Swiss forests because of climate change and the low demand outside the energy sector. The main focus is on the analysis of opportunities, challenges and potential measures to promote the use of hardwood. Expert interviews and literature research serve as the basis for the study. Experts emphasize the potential of hardwood in sustainable construction, while obstacles such as fragmented forest management and lack of infrastructure hinder its use. Recommended solutions include a forest strategy, energy analysis of wood imports and a practice-oriented bioeconomy strategy to increase the use of hardwood.


The study analyzes the predicted increase in hardwood in Swiss forests as a result of climate change and near-natural silviculture. It discusses the question of whether governments could promote the use of hardwood outside the energy sector through framework conditions. Based on literature research, expert interviews and a workshop, different opinions on the promotion of hardwood use are presented. Recommended measures include technological solutions for timber sales, support for domestic sawmills through import taxes and the integration of sustainability aspects in construction tenders. The study emphasizes the need to reduce existing barriers and address potential market distortions, while identifying indirect barriers such as insufficient prices for greenhouse gas emissions and a fragmented forest ownership structure. Recommendations for improved coordination and less competitive thinking in the industry are also highlighted, while it is pointed out that future studies should consider other language areas to include a broader range of opinions.

The full report to download (DE):

WHFF 2021.11_Softsystems for Hardwood (1)
Download PDF • 1.33MB

You can find more information about the project on ARAMIS.


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