ForumforAg Food Systems Podcast Summary

Food Systems Podcast 23

In discussion with António Amorim Podcast summary

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Cork – a superstar of sustainability

Cork products are carbon-negative and cork forests are biodiversity hotspots with benefits from CO2 capture to well-being. António Amorim, CEO of Corticeira Amorim, discusses cork’s potential for growth and role in climate change in our latest Food Systems Podcast. Read a quick summary of some highlights below. 

What is a cork forest and why are they unique?

Cork oak grows mainly in the Mediterranean basin, and Portugal and Spain represent 80 percent of the world’s cork production. Cork is the bark of the tree. It takes a long time – 25 years from planting to first harvest – but also lasts a long time. What is so special about this tree is that is grows in scattered forests.

Cork is an icon of sustainability and biodiversity: you don’t cut down the tree, you just ‘peel’ it. The bark is light, impermeable, insulating, acoustic – a true example of sustainability on planet Earth.

If it takes 25 years, how does the cork industry meet demand?

We believe there is huge potential for growth for such a unique, sustainable product. Every single tonne produced captures 73 tonnes of CO2. The carbon footprint of cork products is negative.

There are spontaneously grown trees, so every year about five percent of trees give their first harvest. In Portugal we plan to densify and increase forests, using minimal drip irrigation for the first 10 years. The first harvest will come down from 25 years to 10.

Is climate change impacting cork forests and production?

This is a tree that is adapted to the local climate and soil, and needs little rainfall. The only thing we can do is to densify the low-average number of trees per hectare that we have in Portugal and Spain. And by investing in new plantations we can increase the carbon capture potential.

Is there a case for payment for ecosystem services?

The wait to the first harvest is long. So people should have an incentive to wait. We believe the way is to remunerate positive externalities that come from the forest – and those include not only cork, but CO2 capture and biodiversity.

Can labels like Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC) do more?

There should be an obligation within those systems for people to replant. They should also include criteria for the establishment and incentivization of ecosystem services. We should value these natural alternatives in a better way.

How should multinational companies respond to a demand for measurable, impactful sustainability when it comes to international trade deals?

What you cannot measure, you cannot manage. Companies should have an ‘ID’ for sustainability and carbon footprint. Until you are carbon neutral or carbon negative you invest in forestry, you invest in your production systems and packaging to minimise impact. You create a dynamic because you know that some of the world’s consumers are screening your score on carbon emissions.

One of the growth sectors for cork is construction. What are the barriers in that market?

There must be an incentive for people to invest in cork products that will probably cost slightly more that the synthetic products being used today for most construction business.

Can you give us one idea or policy that would change things to make the system more sustainable?

The pandemic had made everybody aware of health. We need to show that forests are important for health, and connect sustainability with health.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 24-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

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