Environmental analysis of raw cork extraction in cork oak forests in southern Europe (Catalonia - Spain)

Jesús Rives, Ivan Fernandez-Rodriguez, Joan Rieradevall, Xavier Gabarrell

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Cork oak grows endemically in a narrow region bordering the western Mediterranean, and especially in the Iberian Peninsula. The importance of cork agro-forestry systems lies in the fact that a natural and renewable raw material - cork - can be extracted sustainably without endangering the tree or affecting biodiversity. This paper describes an environmental analysis of the extraction of raw cork in cork oak forests in Catalonia, using data from five representative local forest exploitations. The evaluation was carried out using life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology, and all the forestry management required to obtain a tonne of raw cork was included. The aim of the study was to evaluate the environmental impacts - in terms of global warming, acidification, eutrophication, human toxicity, and so on - caused by cork extraction and determine the carbon dioxide balance of these forestry systems, with a tree lifespan of about 200 years.During the life cycle extraction of cork in Catalonia, 0.2 kg of CO2 eq. was emitted per kg of raw cork extracted. Moreover, cork cannot be extracted without the tree, which will be fixing carbon dioxide throughout its technological useful life (200 years), despite the fact that the bark is removed periodically: every 13-14 years. If the emission from extraction and the carbon contained in the material is discounted, the carbon dioxide balance indicates that 18 kg of CO2 are fixed per kg of raw cork extracted. Therefore, cork is a natural, renewable and local material that can replace other non-renewable materials, at local level, to reduce the environmental impacts of products, and particularly to reduce their carbon footprint. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-245
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2012


  • Agro-forestry system
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Climate change mitigation
  • Cork oak forest
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Mediterranean


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