Measuring Sustainability: How Do Wood Pallets Stack Up?

There are more than 1.8 billion pallets in service in the United States each day, and ninety-three percent of these pallets are made from wood. That staggering statistic begs the question of just how sustainable wooden pallets really are. Luckily, we know who to ask.

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have set out to investigate the life cycle of wooden pallets in an effort to help manufacturers keep up with the demand for environmentally friendly pallets.

Wooden pallets used for shipping purposes in the United States (NWPCA 2016).

Wooden pallets used for shipping purposes in the United States (NWPCA 2016).

Supervisory Research Forest Products Technologist Rick Bergman said the life-cycle assessment (LCA) study has a number of goals and benefits.

“LCA is a method used to measure the environmental impacts. For example, greenhouse gas emissions that result from the production of a product over its entire life cycle,” Bergman said. “From the extraction of raw materials through production, use, recycling, and ultimately, disposal of the product.”

Researchers are also using the information to help the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), with whom FPL has a memorandum of understanding, develop future environmental product declarations that will result in more sustainable pallet use, and pinpoint areas of success and improvement within the production market.

Bergman and his team will survey a number of pallet manufacturing facilities to collect the assessment data and plan to present the findings at a future conference on LCA or green building.

To learn more about this project and the life of wooden pallets, read the full Research in Progress report.

Interestingly, this isn’t FPL’s first foray into the world of pallets. Click here for a historical perspective dating back to the 1930’s and a great video showing just how monumentally “pallets move the world.”

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta

Greener Grades: Updating LCA Data for Forest Products

Green building. The term has become synonymous with sustainability, environmental awareness and responsible development—but how do we define what is green and what isn’t? Wood products have received overwhelming positive marks from environmental activists and policy makers, but due to the wide range of options designers have when choosing forest-sourced building materials, the question remains: are there some that are greener than others?


Researchers are conducting life-cycle assessments for wood products used in construction.

It is this question, among others, that researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) are determined to help answer. FPL employees with the Coalition for Advanced Wood Structures, in cooperation with the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM), are conducting life-cycle assessments (LCAs) for wood products used in the construction of buildings throughout North America. These analyses will be instrumental in helping developers make smart choices about using sustainable building materials.

LCA research identifies all of the material and energy inputs (and environmental emission outputs) associated with the production of specific wood products. This information is needed by building designers to gain credit towards environmental certifications such as LEED, the International Green Construction Code, or the National Green Building Standard. Much of the existing life-cycle data for construction wood products was collected more than three years ago, and many of the production processes have been modified.

Researchers hope to provide up-to-date data for all wood construction products produced in the United States and Canada by collecting information with help from wood industry associations, mills, and other secondary sources. By accessing national and international databases, designers will then easily be able to see a product’s LCA results, essentially an environmental report card for a product, informing prospective consumers about the material’s ecological footprint—from the amount of waste generated in its production, to the fresh water and fossil fuel required to bring it to market.

In some cases, the LCA projects data far into the future, and covers the product from the “cradle-to-gate”—from the harvesting of the tree, to the eventual disposal of the wood product long after the building has been demolished. This comprehensive approach provides the most transparency to the consumer as possible.

For more than a decade, FPL and CORRIM have partnered to generate LCAs for lumber, engineered wood beams, wood panels, laminated veneer, glulam beams and other forest products. This project is an example of the continued commitment they share toward ensuring design professionals make informed choices, and that future development around the world is greener than ever before.

For more information, please see this Research in Progress report.

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.