American Hardwoods: Pioneering The New ‘Green’ Gold Standard
By T. Jensen Lacey
Singapore/Hazlehurst, Miss./Millersburg, Ohio–Certification for U.S. Hardwoods may soon be categorically obsolete. Not only will the current certifications be obsolete, but U.S. Hardwoods will be the international gold standard by which all other raw materials will be measured. These changes may well be in place by the beginning of 2013.
When the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) convened in late May in Singapore this year, AHEC Director Mike Snowannounced some news that promises to profoundly change and advance the interests of U.S. Hardwood exporters and possibly importers as well. Through the use of independent consultants who looked closely at sustainability of U.S. Hardwoods (among other considerations), their conclusive findings may likely pave the way for new, expanded and broader markets for American Hardwoods. The changes are being made through the use of several studies which have considered all phases of U.S. Hardwood lumber production–and not just at one phase, but at every stage.
• BACKGROUND. In 2009, AHEC laid the groundwork for what may become the most phenomenal change ever in setting and maintaining standards of environmental qualifications for U.S. Hardwoods. AHEC commissioned a third-party objective evaluation of the state of the U.S. Hardwood inventory, as well as assessing the risk of illegally harvested U.S. Hardwood entering the marketplace. Known as the Seneca Creek Study, the report concludes that there can be high confidence regarding adherence to national and state laws in the Hardwood sector and that stolen timber is likely to represent less than 1 percent of total U.S. Hardwood production. The authors of Seneca Creek Study also have shown that U.S. Hardwood can be considered Low Risk in all five “risk categories” of the FSC controlled wood standard. In other words, in addition to low risk of illegal logging, it is very unlikely that any American Hardwood is derived from forests where human
The Seneca Creek Study revealed an ever-increasing timber base in the USA, and confirmed that there is low risk of it being illegally harvested. Now the Life Cycle Assessment, combined with the Environmental Product Declarations now available, provides to all consumers real science to prove American Hardwoods are sustainable and use of them is better for the environment than using plastic, concrete and steel.
rights or high conservation values are threatened by management activities, or from forests being converted to plantations or non-forest use, or from genetically modified trees.
Known as the Seneca Creek Study, the specific findings of the study are that the Hardwood inventory standing of timber is growing at an even greater rate (in advance of removals) than previously indicated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Shortly after this, AHEC commissioned another study through a different third-party independent organization with EU and UN credentials. PE International, a renowned sustainability authority, is based in Germany but has offices virtually the world over. They were commissioned to do a two-part study, focusing on U.S. Hardwood production from “seedling to gate.” The first part of the study involved an in-depth look at the life cycle of U.S. Hardwoods in order to come up with an environmentally-credentialed life cycle assessment, or LCA.
Following completion of the LCA, PE International conducted a Life Cycle Inventory, or LCI, in which they compiled the complete range of all U.S. Hardwood lumber products from what they referred to as “point of extraction” to the point of delivery in the importers’ yard. Using this data, PE International then conducted a Life Cycle Impact Analysis.This study employed special software known as Gabi 4, which took in data such as the processes used to harvest, saw, kiln-dry and
transport the lumber. The software also analyzed outputs of product, emissions and waste–so it didn’t just consider what was created, but also what was put out into the environment.
From all this data, PE International charted the Global Warming Potential, or GWP, of 19 different species of U.S. Hardwoods and included data such as forestry management practices, sawmilling, transportation from the processing site, and carbon uptake. They found: “irrespective of species, carbon storage in product is more than sufficient to offset the GWP of all emissions….during forestry, sawmilling, kiln drying and all stages of transport to deliver 1-inch lumber to the European market.” This study also proves that local materials are not necessarily more environmentally-friendly.
• TECHNOLOGY FOR MANUFACTURERS. PE International has also developed what they call an “i-Report” tool for U.S. Hardwood lumber, to make this information available to lumber manufacturers. With the i-Report tool, users can input their own data (including Hardwood species, energy used to treat the Hardwood, mode and distance of transport), and from this information, can see the environmental impact expected as a result.
• IMPLICATIONS. In an interview, AHEC Director Mike Snow went into more detail on this latest “green” news and what it means not only to U.S. lumber manufacturers, but for the global market. “Through its partnership with PE International,” he said, “AHEC will be producing the first ‘generic’ EPDs for American Hardwood Lumber and veneer.”
He explained that EPD stands for “Environmental Product Declaration,” according to the International Standards Organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Snow went on to explain the ramifications for U.S. Hardwood lumber manufacturers. “AHEC has arranged for AHEC members to use PE’s patented ‘i-Report’ software to produce their own specific EPDs based on their own kiln efficiency, power efficiency and other considerations. This will provide incentives for companies to look for ways to become more efficient for competitive reasons, which is of course the whole point of doing this in the first place. Not only is it important to see how wood compares to other materials, but LCA pinpoints ‘hot spots’ where environmental performance can be improved.”
He went on to add, “There is pending legislation in many parts of the world, beginning with Europe that will require EPDs for all building products by 2015 and for all consumer products shortly thereafter. Many companies, including some automakers, are already using EPDs. The main benefit for U.S. Hardwood exporters (especially AHEC members) is that they will be able to provide wood delivered to overseas manufacturers with an ISO-compliant EPD. The manufacturers then only need to add the EPDs for their own additional processing (machining, finishing, etc.). Our competitors cannot yet provide that information, and even when they can in the future, the advantages of our sustainable forestry and efficient industry taken together will give U.S. suppliers an advantage. The other immediate advantage will be an increased use of wood in ‘green’ building systems, which are almost all based on LCA (except, of course, LEED in the U.S., but that is changing).
• TIMELINE. Snow said that by this November these new Hardwood credentials should be a reality. The implications for all U.S. Hardwood exporters is that those who are not in a position to have access to certified raw materials will soon have the same standard of verifiable sustainability as those companies already now certified. Also, for those Hardwood businesses for which obtaining and maintaining individual certification has been cost-prohibitive, the new environmental credentials will
do away with all that.
• REACTIONS AMONG MANUFACTURERS. Paul Dowwith Rolling Ridge Woods, LLC in Millersburg, Ohio, offered his comments about this latest news. “Through dedication and perseverance,” he said, “AHEC has been successful in telling the science-based story of North American Hardwoods. The fact-based, third-party studies have proven the sustainability of our Hardwood forests. With EPDs now being possible through the work of AHEC, U.S. lumber manufacturers will have a substantial advantage in the global marketplace wherever verification of sustainability of the timber resources and the carbon footprint are a concern.” Dow concluded by saying, “I hope that this is just the beginning of an understanding that American Hardwood Lumber and products manufactured using them have a positive impact on our environment.”
Eugene A. Walters, Certified Forester and the General Manager of Rolling Ridge Woods, LLC, had this to say about this latest news. “As a professional forester, I am delighted that AHEC has advanced the issue of the sustainability of American Hardwoods to the global marketplace. The Hardwood forest community and Hardwood industry in the USA have long been misunderstood with regards to the management of our Hardwood resources. Not only do our Hardwood forests provide a sustainable raw material for many beautiful and useful products, but they also enhance our lives by providing a clean atmosphere, clean water, and habitats for a variety of wildlife species.” He added, “The Hardwood forest community has advanced the ‘green agenda’ for years with little recognition and it is indeed overdue that the message of our stewardship of this vital resource is promoted.”
In Utica, Miss., from the corporate headquarters of Kitchens Brothers Manufacturing Co., Sales Manager John Clark had this reaction to the new certification of U.S. Hardwoods. “The ‘green’ movement has threatened our access to markets around the world as well as in the USA and there have been many laws enacted around the world in response to the ‘green’ movement. For example, in many cases the different ‘green’ building codes that were enacted by law dictate the use of non-Hardwood materials because they award points for those materials and do not award points for Hardwood use. The truth is, there is only a small percentage of Hardwood timber lots that can economically certify under the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) scheme (the only one recognized by LEED). Taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to operate the U.S. Forest Service. Its purpose is to manage our Federal timberlands as well as to maintain a complete inventory of both public and private timberlands. The Seneca Creek Study revealed an ever-increasing timber base in the USA, and confirmed that there is low risk of it being illegally harvested. Now the Life Cycle Assessment is complete and, combined with the Environmental Product Declarations that are now available, provides to all consumers real science to prove American Hardwoods are sustainable and use of them are better for the environment than using plastic (from petroleum), as well as concrete and steel. This now negates the need to have a third party certify anything so we will now see if the ‘green’ movement is about the environment or if it is about the money that can be siphoned from our industry.”
History may prove that AHEC’s long term effort to clarify environmental credentials of U.S. Hardwoods will be as significant as the establishment of the NHLA grading standards of 1898–maybe more. Based on where this trend is going, they are setting themselves up to be the pioneer in the industry, raising the bar to create a new ‘green’ gold standard.
(About the author of this article: T. Jensen Lacey's work has appeared in many publications, including Vanderbilt, Good Housekeeping and Southern Living. Lacey's current specialties are history, technical and travel writing. She has more than 12 books and novels to her credit; this is her 800th article. She may be contacted at TJensenLacey@yahoo.com; her website is www.tjensenlacey.com.