Watch This: USDA Secretary Discusses Climate Change, Sustainability

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently attended a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) to discuss climate change and sustainability practices.

Vilsack and fellow panelists detailed efforts by the USDA and other organizations to increase sustainable crop and animal production and decrease greenhouse gas emissions and food waste on a domestic, as well as international, scale. He also reviewed recent innovations in sustainable building construction across the United States and around the globe.

Vilsack spoke about goals like reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030 and planting 100,000 trees throughout urban areas in the coming years. The USDA expects the incorporation of more trees in these areas will lead to lower crime rates and energy costs and increased property value.

The Secretary focused on recent accomplishments in green building practices through the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and other forest products. According to Vilsack, construction of CLT buildings such as the high rises in New York City and Portland, Oregon, provide timber industries opportunities for growth.

CLT has been studied here at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) from many angles, including fire performance, possibilities for use in earthquake-prone regions, and the effects of moisture on CLT.

FPL researchers also played a role in the development of the U.S. CLT Handbook, which provides technical information for the design, construction, and implementation of CLT systems and illustrates applications adapted to current codes and standards.

“[CLT] is going to change the face and appearance of landscapes across the U.S.,” Vilsack said. “It’s going to create jobs in rural areas, and it’s helping to fuel, already, the decline in unemployment in rural areas.”

Vilsack discussed the benefits of building with CLT with Weyerhaeuser Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Timothy Punke.

Punke said in an attempt to “keep working forests as forests”, it’s important to make sure there is a market for forest products. In this way, sustainable building construction can help conserve forests.

Building with wood also uses less energy.  According to Punke, wood creates 26 percent less greenhouse gases than steel and 31percent less emissions than concrete.  Construction with wood also stores carbon in the wood, thus continuing the  cycle that keeps forests breathing. Punke mentioned the introduction of the Timber Innovation Act, which was proposed to accelerate research and development of buildings made of wood.

Other topics Vilsack discussed include renewable energy conservation efforts, drought adaptation strategies, and sustainable production of animal feed.  To learn more about what was discussed at the panel, see it for yourself:

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta