News Brief

A New Initiative for “Climate-Smart” Wood

Environmental groups including the Forest Stewardship Council have gotten together to support better forestry practices.

Mass timber construction is gaining ground in North America, with the frequent justification that it reduces embodied carbon (the upfront greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacture and transportation of materials) when compared with concrete or steel. But not all wood products are created equal when it comes to carbon emissions, according to the newly created Climate-Smart Wood Group.

The goal of the organization is “to help building project teams successfully identify, access, and use climate-smart wood,” says a fact sheet released by the coalition of environmental groups. The effort is jointly managed by the Forest Stewardship Council–US (FSC–US), Ecotrust, and a number of other nonprofits. FSC creates voluntary standards designed to encourage environmentally and socially responsible forestry practices.

Climate-smart forestry “relies on actions such as selective harvesting, longer rotation lengths, and tight restrictions on hazardous chemicals,” according to the fact sheet. The group identifies two types of wood that qualify as climate smart: timber from FSC-certified forests, and products from restoration projects designed to “lower wildfire risk, reduce vulnerability to pests and pathogens, and increase forest diversity, resilience, and carbon storage.”

The group aims to advocate for climate-smart wood and support specification and purchasing of these products by building project teams.

More on wood sustainability

The Urgency of Embodied Carbon and What You Can Do about It

Engineering a Wood Revolution

Certified Wood: How SFI Compares to FSC

For more information:

Forest Stewardship Council–US
us.fsc.org

Published May 6, 2019

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Comments

May 20, 2019 - 7:12 pm

I'm very happy to see this devleopment and cery supportive of the Climate Smart Wood group. This is a much-needed part of the mass timber revolution since the promise of increasing use of timber in construction will only advance global sustainability if the wood used is sustainably harvested. An irony here, if you will, is that the Northwest is already the region of the U.S. with the highest standards for forest practices. (I'm not familiar enough with Canada to compare.) Not that those standards deliver real sustainability -- they still allow for monoculture, rapid rotation, degraded water quality, and other problems -- but they are laws that are mostly observed. Other forest parts of the country (midwest, southeast, northeast) have huge contributions to make to carbon reductionin forestry as the baselines there are lower. While legal-minimum Northwest forest are, I believe, net carbon netural or possibly a minor sink or source, current forests in other regions are very likely current carbon sources. Every time we harvest these ecologically barren plantations we are reducing carbon stored in the soil and non-timber biomass. The immediate emissions from wood waste products (leaves, branches, bark) and the fossil fuel used in the logging process mean that the timber may already be a carbon emitter when it reaches a building site (versus after it is at the end of life). Sustainable forestry can reverse that trend and make the timber industry into one that heals the planet, not just int he Northwest, but everywhere.

May 22, 2019 - 6:13 pm

Kudos to the FSC, Ecotrust and other groups for taking the initiative to help promote the important role wood plays in carbon sequestration, and to Mr. Sperry for adding important comments, especially with respect to carbon stored in soil and non-timber biomass.  While there is much to be done to improve the new wood industry and raise awareness, there is a distinct opportunity to also capitalize on salvaged wood, as well.  Too much construction and demolition wood waste still gets hauled to the landfill and, even if it is chipped for ground cover or used as fuel for biomass-to-energy power plants, the carbon still ends up in the atmosphere.  Perhaps the Climate-Smart Wood Group could also facilitate improvements in capturing wood from waste streams and reusing it in mass timber and other applications that keep the carbon fixed as a solid indefinitely.