/// Reflection

Local wood as a commons

Another take on the Sonian Wood Coop. 

The commons are increasingly emerging, especially in relation to community engagement. As the next upcoming buzzword the ‘commons’ are appearing increasingly associated with urban resources, in relation to knowledge sharing, in building alternatives for extractive economies, as a model for a better society and also in the context of working with local wood.


We have also heavily invested in this concept / practice as a guide to help our world transition for the better. As part of the ‘Commons in Brussels’ lecture series our commons expert Hanne Van Reusel presented the Sonian Wood Coop project as an exemplar case of a commons-based approach.

In tandem with philosopher and commons expert Lieven De Cauter, Hanne introduced the practice of the commons. The full recording of these presentations is made accessible by Muntpunt.

The forest is  a nice archetypical example from which one can tell the story of the commons. In pre-industrialised times, the commons was an everyday, or common, practice. Until the 17th century, nobody owned the forest, not a private or public entity. The forest belonged to nobody and everybody at once. It was a common, a shared resource. Local communities were able to benefit from the forest (fruits, firewood etc.). Those communities followed rules to avoid overexploitation to maintain the commons for future generations. The commons thus are made up by (1) a shared resource, (2) communities benefiting and taking care of this commons, and (3) a clear set of rules and governance that comes with this.



Year: 2020

Location: Brussels

Team: Hanne Van Reusel

Sector: Ecosystems, Public space & community

Services: Process Management, Engagement

Enters the industrialisation period which goes hand in hand with urbanisation. Shared grounds and resources increasingly became private or publicly owned. And with capitalism came the understanding that if you leave resources without a clear -private or public- owner, they would fall victim to overexploitation. The tragedy of the commons became real.


Fast forward to our western societies today. Most of us live in urban environments, spaces in which the commons way of life has been suppressed or forgotten. Our direct environments are publicly or privately owned and managed. And yet today we still unselfishly volunteer to clean up our streets, to plant and green our livelihoods, to come out and fight for clean air. In times of crises we look back and increasingly recognise that organised communities have powerful ways to support sustainable transitions. The commons as a movement for community-based and sustainable change is born.


And so, looking at our forests today, we can see the peri-urban forest of Brussels (la Forêt de Soignes / Zoniënwoud) not only as a mainly publicly owned and managed forest, yet fundamentally as a common resource. There for us all to benefit from, there for us all to take care of it. The Sonian Wood today is -under its public management- openly accessible (for the biggest part) and provides recreation space, nature preservation and biodiversity, and -though not part of productive exploitation- is producing wood as a resource.


With the Sonian Wood Coop, we supported and professionalised a community-based desire to maintain this wood that is otherwise shipped around the globe as a local resource. To be used at its worth; being quality timber wood.


As the urbanisation process came with the loss of the commons, implementing commons-based approaches in the urban context comes with the necessary challenges. So also for the Sonian Wood Coop, the process required pioneering and prototyping of altering ways of working in our contemporary economic system. Throughout the process of setting up the Sonian Wood Coop, we worked hard on building a vision and narrative in line with our ambition to make this a community-based endeavour. For this we organised and engaged in several open discussions, bringing together woodworkers, foresters, public administrations, civil society concerned with urban ecology, lumberjacks, private and public owners, experts in circular economy, architects, students and every citizen who was willing to engage. From this self-organised group we build out a network around a shared vision and sustainable business model. 


The self-organisation of the initiative took a next step through the set-up of a crowdfunding campaign (through Growfunding) that expanded and professionalised this self-organised group around the Sonian Wood Coop idea. With this community-based funding we got our first financial investment, yet  -more importantly- we managed to expand our community which today is still at the core of the project.


On the financial-juridical side of the story, it required research and consultancy of experts to find the right business model and juridical structure to reflect the commons-based vision and values. Being situated within a system that is founded on the right of private ownership and financial growth we had to mediate between community involvement and the steel-hard efficiency that is necessary to set up a viable yet honest business today. For Sonian Wood Coop, this resulted in the establishment of a cooperative and the obtaining of funding from investors who heavily value sustainability and social welfare.


Even today, every step forward requires careful consideration of the core team to stay in line with the commons-oriented objectives, the involvement of the diverse connected communities and to run a healthy business.


Further reading

Keep updated with Osmos!

We’ll send you a very occasional update of what we’re doing and thinking about.