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Low carbon footprint positions American hardwoods among world's most eco-friendly building materials

Thursday November 8, 2012

AHEC releases ISO-conformant Life Cycle Assessment report on US hardwood lumber to coincide with ‘The Big 5’ 2012

The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), the leading international trade association for the American hardwood industry, has highlighted the environmental credentials of American hardwoods through the release of its ISO-conformant report on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of rough-sawn kiln-dried hardwood lumber.

The release of the report coincides with the ongoing ‘The Big 5’ exhibition, which is slated to run from November 5 - 8 at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre. The report, which has been prepared by sustainability experts PE International after an intensive process of data collection, analysis, and review, is the first stage of AHEC's LCA project and is currently available on the AHEC website.

The report contains extensive data on the environmental profile of U.S. rough-sawn, kiln-dried hardwood lumber using a comprehensive set of environmental impacts, and covers the environmental life cycle of hardwood lumber from point of harvest in the U.S. through to delivery at the importers yard in major export markets. Further, it provides quantitative data on Global Warming Potential, Acidification Potential, Eutrophication Potential, Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential, and Ozone Depletion Potential. It also provides a qualitative assessment of toxicity, biodiversity, land use and land use change, and water resource impacts. In addition, the report includes a sensitivity analysis to show how environmental impacts vary according to key factors such as species, lumber thickness, and transport distance and mode.

A key requirement for compliance to ISO standards for LCA is that all data is critically reviewed by an external panel of independent LCA experts. According to the final statement of the Panel reviewing the report: “the study has been carried out in compliance with ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. The critical review panel found the overall quality of the methodology and its execution to be excellent for the purposes of the study. The study is reported in a comprehensive manner and includes appropriate and transparent documentation of its limitations in scope."

The report is an essential requirement for use of AHEC's LCA data in science-based assessments of the sustainability of U.S. hardwood lumber compared to other wood and non-wood materials. It demonstrates the credibility and reliability of the LCA data that AHEC will be making available to manufacturers, designers and retailers through formal Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and AHEC’s own online species guides and environmental profiles. It also underpins the ongoing collaborative work by AHEC and PE International to develop innovative computer-based systems for modeling environmental impacts of wood material choices in product design.

The critical review panel also praised the broad product coverage of the report and quality of the data stating: "One of the outstanding features of the study is the broad coverage of American hardwood species. The 19 different species addressed represent more than 95 percent of the hardwood species harvested in the U.S. by volume and more than 95 percent of the wood volume exported by AHEC members. Another positive feature of the study is the substantial share of primary data collected to reach representative results for American hardwood lumber. Primary data were collected from 46 AHEC companies, representing approximately 20 percent of AHEC members and approximately 12 percent of the hardwood lumber production volume. Due to the substantial share and relevance of the primary data, the data quality is considered to be high."

Roderick Wiles, AHEC Director for Africa, Middle East, India and Oceania, who is currently in the UAE this week, said: “One of the biggest misconceptions with the general public, most policymakers and even the construction industry is that they often see wood as a ‘traditional’ material, with little or no relevance to modern technologies and current environmental concerns. Contrary to this, it is important to note that through forest products, forests, as well as sequestering carbon, play a crucial role in storing carbon and in replacing fossil fuel, concrete and steel, which have higher carbon emissions and a significantly larger ecological footprint. Our groundbreaking LCA study provides users with a scientific method to assess the ecological footprint of a material or product from cradle-to-grave, which will allow them to make informed choices.”





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