The best of the low carbon economy – sustainable cork

With the deterioration of the global environment and people’s higher requirements for living standards, green, environmental protection, low-carbon, has gradually become the main theme of people’s lives. Cork is the best answer, a natural and renewable resource that offers numerous environmental, economic and social benefits.

Cork is not usually thought of as soft wood, it is the bark of the cork oak (sustainable resources can be repeatedly stripped), this cork oak grows in parts of the Mediterranean west coast, of which Portugal cork forest resources accounted for 30% of the total resources of the Mediterranean region, the consumption of 75% of the world’s cork raw materials.

Cork Forests

Distribution of cork forests in the world

Cork Oak Tree

With an area of approximately 2.2 million hectares, the cork oak forest is one of the richest ecosystems in the world, being considered one of the planet’s 36 biodiversity hotspots.

The cork oak is a typical species of the western Mediterranean region, growing mainly in Portugal and Spain, but also in Morocco and Algeria.
It also occurs in Morocco and Algeria. In Tunisia, southern France, the western coast of Italy coast, as well as in Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia. Currently, the total area of European cork.
The total area of cork oak forests in Europe is about 1.44 million hectares, and 700,000 hectares of cork oak forests in North Africa.
More than half of these cork oak forests are located in the Iberian Peninsula.

Cork Forest Distribution

In Portugal, cork oak is considered the national tree, accounting for 23% of the country’s total forest area. Portugal has 736,000 hectares of cork oak forests, accounting for 34% of the world’s total area and is the world’s largest producer.
Cork is a traditional industry in Portugal, but also one of the pillar industries of the Portuguese economy, just like China’s precious pandas, cork is considered a “national treasure” in Portugal.


The role of cork in the environment

Cork is a plant tissue formed by an agglomeration of hexagonal-shaped cells, which contain a gas inside that is identical to air. The cells are lined with suberin and lignin.

It is a noble material, gifted by nature: 100% natural, 100% ecological, 100% biodegradable, 100% reusable and 100% recyclable.

As a raw material, it has characteristics that make it uniquely attractive: versatility, lightness, elasticity, compressibility, resistance and watertightness.

Its life cycle begins with its extraction from the cork bark – stripping – an ancient process that should only be carried out by specialists. Stripping does not damage the tree and has very obvious benefits for the environment: absorbs carbon dioxide – one of the gases responsible for climate change.

When stripped, cork oaks absorb 3 to 5 times more carbon dioxide than unstripped trees.

cork sheet
Cork trees-1 (2)

Cork oak forests are the lungs of the earth, absorbing 14 million tons of CO₂ each year, helping to slow global warming and prevent land desertification.
It helps mitigate global warming, prevent land desertification, reduce soil erosion and regulate the water cycle.

Each cork can absorb 112 grams of CO2 on average.
Each ton of cork can absorb 1.83 tons of CO2
Making a plastic bottle stopper emits 10 times more CO2 than a cork.
The manufacture of an aluminum screw cap emits 24 times more CO2 than a cork.
Studies show that for every ton of cork produced, cork oak forests can sequester up to 73 tons of CO2, thus helping to reduce global warming potential.
Portugal’s cork oak trees alone – about one-third the size of Mediterranean cork oak forests – can absorb 4.8 million metric tons of CO2 per year, which according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proves is equivalent to the emissions of more than 830,000 passenger vehicles per year.

Cork trees-2

Cork oak forests are used to prevent desertification and are ideal habitats for many animal and plant species. Cork oak forests provide ideal habitat for more than 200 species of animals, and there are 135 species of plants per square meter in the forest, many of which are used in medicine, aromatics or cooking. The cork oak forest is considered by non-governmental environmental organizations as one of the world’s 35 biodiversity hotspots, and its importance is comparable to that of the Amazon rainforest, which is known as the “green paradise”. Cork, the bark of cork oak, is also a natural barrier to fires because of its fire retardant properties. Its roots hold rainwater and act as an important watershed, then absorb nutrients from deep underground and return to the soil through the leaves, acting as a natural fertilizer.

The economic value of cork

The cork oak forest generates an average annual benefit to society of more than €1300/ha. The value of total quantified services underestimates the total value of the ecosystem services associated with cork oak forests. The ecosystem plays an important role in maintaining biodiversity and habitat and assumes a valuable ecological function.

The cork oak forest is not only a natural ecosystem, but also has many contributions to make in agriculture, forestry, livestock farming, hunting and other economic activities, such as the cultivation of medicinal plants and mushrooms, honey and beeswax production, coal production, hunting, livestock farming, bird watching, tourism and horseback riding. It also offers the opportunity to create indigenous food certified by the European Union. More than 100,000 people in seven Mediterranean cork producing countries benefit directly or indirectly from the development of the cork oak forest economy.

The social and economic importance of cork in Portugal: 8,000 jobs in the cork industry directly, 6,500 jobs in the forestry industry and thousands of jobs indirectly in other cork oak forestry products (livestock, restaurants, tourism, etc.), accounting for about 2% of Portugal’s total annual exports and 30% of its forestry products exports.

cork farmer
cork workers

In terms of exports, Portugal is the global leader in the cork sector. in 2017, accounted for 62.4% of the market share, followed by Spain with 18.5%. in 2017, global cork exports reached 1,578.2 million euros, an increase of about 5.3% compared to 2016, equivalent to 80.1 million euros.

In 2017, Portuguese exports reached a value of 986 million euros (197,000 tons), an increase of 5.4% compared to 2016. The volume of exports increased by 7.1%.

The main consumer country of natural cork is France with 107.7 million euros, followed by the United States with 92.3 million euros. France remains the leading consumer of champagne corks, with €32.6 million, and Italy is in second place, with €31.8 million.


With the development of the cork industry, cork as a high-end living element has spread to every corner of daily life. In particular, cork fabric has become a new force in the fabric industry, occupying a place in the field of high-end fabrics. In the future, led by the low-carbon economy, cork will be its unique natural environmental characteristics (not to destroy natural forest resources) in the field of low-carbon building materials to lead the future development of the industry.


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