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Synthesis manuscript for an Ecology & Society Special Feature on Telecoupling: A New Frontier for Global Sustainability

Abstract: European demand for renewable energy resources has led to rapidly increasing transatlantic exports of wood pellets from the southeastern United States (SE US) since 2009. Disagreements have arisen over the global greenhouse gas reductions associated with replacing coal with wood, and groups on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have raised concerns that increasing biomass exports might negatively affect SE US forests and the ecosystem services they provide. We use the telecoupling framework to test assertions that the intended benefits of the wood pellet trade for Europe might be offset by negative consequences in the SE US. Through a review of current literature and available data sets, we characterize the observed and potential changes in the environmental, social, and economic components of the sending and receiving regions to assess the overall sustainability of this renewable energy system. We conclude that the observed transatlantic wood pellet trade is an example of a mutually beneficial telecoupled system with the potential to provide environmental and socioeconomic benefits in both the SE US and Europe despite some negative effects on the coal industry. We recommend continued monitoring of this telecoupled system to quantify the environmental, social, and economic interactions and effects in the sending, receiving, and spillover systems over time so that evidence-based policy decisions can be made with regard to the sustainability of this renewable energy pathway.

Citation: Parish, E. S., A. J. Herzberger, C. C. Phifer and V. H. Dale. 2018. Transatlantic wood pellet trade demonstrates telecoupled benefits. Ecology and Society 23 (1):28. [online] URL:

Contact Phone
Publication Date
Project Title
Bioenergy Sustainability: How to Define and Measure it
Contact Email
Contact Person
Esther S. Parish
Contact Organization
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Bioenergy Category
Esther Parish, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory , Anna Herzeberger, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University , Colin Phifer, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University , Virginia Dale, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
WBS Project Number
Funded from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office.
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