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Improving Legality Among Small-Scale Forest Enterprises



Driven by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, establishing a framework of national-level indicators could provide an effective way of establishing a legal and sustainable small-scale forest sector.

In many developing countries small and medium-sized forest enterprises (SMFEs) play a crucial role in rural economies. Accounting for over 50% of the forest sector workforce, and the bulk of timber production, they support hundreds of thousands of livelihoods.However, most of this activity takes place outside the formal sector, or to put it more starkly, it is illegal. With poorly designed legal and policy frameworks and a lack of political and financial support, these informal operations are often associated with poor labour standards, out-of-date technology, weak management systems and unsustainable use of resources. Which reduces their potential to make a positive contribution to sustainable development. Despite this, evidence from around the world shows a well-supported small-scale forest sector can bring positive social, economic and environmental impacts.

Presenting very different ecological, socio-political and economic contexts, case studies in Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia and Laos highlight the diverse nature of SMFEs but they share many of the same challenges. The policy and institutional framework often presents considerable difficulties. The law may be unclear as to what procedures need to be followed to obtain land tenure or use rights, a situation that also creates a window for corruption to flourish. The requirements may be technically demanding, costly and time-consuming, often because the legal framework was created for large-scale timber companies in mind. In Brazil, Laos and Indonesia many smallholders struggle with complex and expensive verification systems, putting legal timber production, and potential for extra revenue, out of their reach. The growing demand for legality verification to supply the European and US markets has also increased bureaucratic requirements and costs.

Enforcement agencies in all the countries reviewed are under-resourced, and their efforts further undermined by rampant corruption. Smallholders are often those least able to stand up to pressure to engage in illegal or corrupt activities. In 2010 it is estimated profits from illegal chainsaw logging in Ghana stood at $26 million while informal payments and bribes, at least half of which were paid to officials, amounted to $24 million. In contexts such as this, achieving reform will not only require political drive for the sector, but also changing the incentives in place for the status quo. Creating a demand for legal timber on the domestic market will also help. SMFEs usually supply the bulk of their products to local markets where there is often little demand for legal timber, as it tends to be more expensive.

Improvements to the technical assistance and support services available to the sector and establishing associations, platforms and networks amongst SMFEs will also be beneficial. In Brazil, extensive support services for smallholders have been provided in some parts of the country, and by forming forest enterprises families have been able to collaborate and share costs to form financially viable businesses. In Ghana the National Board for Small-scale Industry, Business Advisory Centres and Rural Technology Facilities have empowered trade organisations, strengthened small enterprises and improved skills and access to technology.

Despite some successful initiatives, looking across the four countries reviewed, progress with improving legality amongst the small-scale sector has been slow. However, by making a convincing case for the role that SMFEs can play in sustainable rural development, governments can utilise the sector to help combat the growing challenges of climate change, environmental degradation and social change.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could provide increased support for the small-scale forest sector as many of the goals apply directly to SMFEs. These include ending poverty and hunger, promoting sustainable economic growth, jobs and sustainable production and consumption patterns, as well as taking action against climate change and protecting terrestrial ecosystems. By bringing attention to the sector and increasing availability of resources, they could help shift some of the incentives, particularly for governments, that have meant smaller forest operators have often been neglected in many countries.

Progress of the SDGs will be measured through a set of global indicators and countries can also implement their own national-level indicators. Developing small-scale forest sector specific indicators could play a big role in establishing sustainable economies and contribute to each country’s ability to fulfill the SDGs. These sector specific indicators could relate to security of tenure; existence of a clear and appropriate legal and policy framework; availability of technical and administrative assistance; good physical infrastructure, access to information and finance, and access to a market. They could also include: the size of the sector, level of formality, contribution to overall timber production and to the economy.

Identifying indicators within a particular country context will require the involvement of SMFEs and other stakeholders engaged throughout the forest sector supply chain, as well as policy makers and statisticians. The Voluntary Partnership Agreements set up in some countries could be a good basis on which to build. With very little information available on the small-scale forestry sector in the vast majority of countries, considerable investment will be needed in those agencies that can help to evaluate and monitor the state of the sector. However,with the provision of additional support under the SDG framework, good statistical and monitoring agencies can contribute towards developing a thriving, legal and sustainable small-scale forest sector.


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family



Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace --

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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