Labeling Wood Products for a Greener World

Seven updated Environmental product declarations (EPDs) for wood products were recently released by the American Wood Council (AWC).  Maintaining up-to-date industry-wide, cradle-to-gate EPDs is a joint venture among several organizations including the AWC, the Canadian Wood Council (CWC), Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM), The Engineered Wood Association (APA), Composite Panel Association (CPA), and Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

The updated EPDs cover a diverse selection of wood products: lumber, plywood, oriented strand board, laminated veneer lumber, I-joists, glue-laminated timber, and redwood lumber.

EPDs aren’t just arbitrary labels slapped onto wood products—they offer a transparent and straight-forward way to understand the potential and overall environmental impact of a wood product, starting from its harvesting and ending at its usage, its cradle-to-gate profile. Industry-wide EPDs also include a permanent carbon sequestration calculation that can be balanced against the amount of carbon emitted during manufacture.  

EPDs are based off of life-cycle assessment (LCA) reports, which identify “all material and energy inputs and environmental emission outputs associated with production of specific products, and in some cases use and final disposition.” LCA reporting is governed by guidelines of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Additionally, as a matter of good standard practice, the wood industry has chosen to employ third-party verification of the LCA reports for each product. UL Environmental serves as the industry’s program operator. They make sure certified EPDs conform to verified LCA reports.

Wood product EPDs must be updated every five years to stay valid. Originally, six EPDs were issued in 2013. But with FPL involvement and support from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, wood product EPDs expanded to a current total of twelve.

Richard Bergman
Economics, Statistics and Life Cycle Analysis Research
Supervisory Research Forest Products Technologist

Rick Bergman heads up the FPL researchers invested in keeping EPDs current. He explained that EPDs “show the public how wood products are the preferred choice when considering the environment because they are less fossil-fuel intensive than their non-wood alternatives. And they maintain or increase market share/trade of wood products in U.S. and internationally.”

When asked about the history of FPL’s involvement in EPD development, Bergman stated, “FPL, through U.S. Forest Service Research & Development, has helped fund LCA research for decades with our primary partner, CORRIM. They maintain a consolidated library of wood product LCAs. EPDs came about to help the green building movement provide some scientific basis on choosing building products through green building certification schemes. For example, LEED and Green Globes certification.”

CORRIM’s LCA library can be found at https://corrim.org/lcas-on-wood-products-library/.

EPDs are about consumer trust and offering a verifiably green building product. Basically, EPDs help consumers and building designers make informed choices about their construction products in order to build a greener world.  

EPD information is easily accessible. To look up a wood product’s EPD go to https://awc.org/sustainability/epd.

To find out more about the amazing advancements our scientists are making, visit the Forest Products Laboratory at https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/.