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.  

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Documenting the Carbon Impact of Laminated Veneer Lumber Production

 

Laminated veneer lumber

Research Forest Products Technologist Richard D. Bergman continues his good work for the environment with a recent publication, Life-Cycle Inventory Analysis of Laminated Veneer Lumber Production in the United States.

Bergman’s study found that documenting the actual environmental performance of building products is becoming widespread and important because of concerns that some organization’s green-marketing claims are actually misleading. This is known as “greenwashing” in the business and borrows from the term whitewashing.

Developing environmental product declarations (EPDs) for building products is one way to provide scientific documentation that counters efforts to greenwash. Life-cycle inventory (LCI) data are the underlying data for subsequent development of life-cycle assessments (LCAs) and EPDs. EPDs are similar to nutritional labels for food.

This report follows data and reporting requirements as outlined in the Product Category Rules (PCR) for North American Structural and Architectural Wood Products and contains the LCI components for producing a North American EPD. At present, many EPDs for structural wood products made in North America exist. LCI compiles all raw material and energy inputs and outputs associated with the manufacture of a product on a per-unit basis within defined system boundaries. These boundaries can be limited to only one stage within the product life-cycle.

Multiple sequential LCI stages are usually combined to produce an LCA. LCAs describe the total environmental impact for a particular product. Many engineered structural wood products have been developed in the last several decades; for example, laminated veneer lumber (LVL ), which is comprised of many thin layers of dry wood veneers glued together with resins to form lumber-like products. LVL is designed to be used in the same manner as solid wood  products such as sawn lumber. Structural wood products such as LVL used in building construction can store carbon for long periods, which is typically greater or far greater than the carbon dioxide emissions released during manufacturing.

Environmental product declarations based on LCA data are an important means of documenting the environmental performance of building products. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) requires that underlying LCI data be recent; this study updates the LCI data for LVL needed to develop an updated EPD. The amount of carbon stored in LVL exceeds total CO2 emissions during manufacturing by about 350 percent.

Cooperators include the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin, and the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, Seattle, Washington.