American Hardwoods - Viable Option for a Green SA

Private Property South Africa

The American Hardwood Export Council’s (AHEC) recent critical review on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) research into American Hardwoods should pique the interest of South Africa’s burgeoning green building movement.

The review was presented by sustainability experts PE International in Stuttgart to a high profile review panel which is expected to have a positive bearing on the credibility of the research once the results have been approved and published. The LCA study complements AHEC’s mission to promote the environmental credentials of American hardwoods in the face of emerging public and private sector procurement policies.

The first stage of the critical review focused on the aims and method of the research, including data collection and PE’s modeling system, which will allow U.S. hardwood companies to develop LCA impacts for their own lumber and veneer production.

That said, the current study scope outlined by PE International does not cover the full ‘cradle to grave’ life cycle including impacts of product fabrication in export markets and key issues of product durability and end-of-life. However, having prepared Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for lumber and veneer, it is AHEC’s intention to work with manufacturing industries to develop a modeling system for products (furniture, flooring, joinery etc.), which will be used to create examples of full life cycle.

As such, AHEC has decided to publish results for lumber and veneer showing impacts with and without carbon sequestration. It was also agreed that AHEC would obtain input from those members who have not yet taken part in the data collection.

Roderick Wiles, AHEC Director for Africa, Middle East, India and Oceania commented: “Of all the numerous environmental benefits of American hardwoods, just one should make many users and specifiers of building materials sit up and take notice. Specifically, national forest assessments undertaken by the U.S. federal government every ten years illustrate that between 1953 and 2007, the volume of hardwood standing in U.S. forests more than doubled from 5 billion m3 to 11.4 billion m3.

“This huge expansion of the resource, which actually coincides with a period of significant increase in U.S. and international wood demand, is testament to a long-term commitment to good forest governance and sustainable hardwood production in the United States.”

According to AHEC, American hardwoods are also energy efficient. The process of converting wood into usable building products requires considerably less energy than most other materials. Furthermore, much of the energy needed to produce American hardwood products is bio-energy as evidenced by a 2007 study of 20 hardwood sawmills in the North Eastern United States which revealed that 75 percent of the energy required to manufacture kiln dried lumber was derived from biomass (such as tree bark, saw dust and wood off-cuts). Consequently, AHEC says even less carbon dioxide is emitted when producing American hardwood lumber than when producing many recycled materials.

“Preliminary data released from the LCA study reveals the strong environmental performance of American hardwoods - underpinned by an expanding forest resource, sustainable management and low carbon emissions. Particularly encouraging is the carbon footprint of kiln dried American hardwood lumber which shows that sequestration of carbon during the growth of the tree more than offsets total carbon emissions during extraction, processing and shipment to South Africa."

“Given the growing accceptance of EPDs, particularly in Europe where they provide the foundation for all the leading green building rating systems, we remain optimistic that our efforts to provide science-based information on the environmental credentials of American hardwoods will help architects and specifiers to select the material on the basis of full environmental disclosure.”

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