U.S. Sustainability: an environmental strategy

By November 1, 2014Blog, News Posts

By: David Venables, American Hardwood Export Council
November 1, 2014

The development of the American Hardwood Environmental Profile

When I look back at my early days with AHEC in the 1990s, our environmental strategy was all too often reactive rather than proactive. This began to change with our “are you wasting the wood” campaign, that some of you may recall, which challenged for the first time the environmental implications of how the material was used and specified. Since then the U.S. hardwood industry has been actively engaged in taking its environmental argument directly to the market place with a series of unique and ground-breaking initiatives. We have focused on a broad strategy to deliver accurate, verifiable data that not only assists our customers in the wood industry, but can also be used to encourage a decisive shift away from the “greenwash” which has done so much to devalue the concept of sustainability in recent years. If we are to challenge mis-leading environmental claims from other industries, (“steel – the ultimate sustainable material” is still my favourite), then we must support wood’s case across a wide range of issues. A tick for good forestry practice on its own is not enough.

As I am writing this column, the final adjustments are being made to AHEC’s latest and arguably most important environmental initiative, the American Hardwood Environmental Profile, or in short, AHEP. An exciting development for the U.S. hardwood industry, the AHEP is designed to bring together in one shipping document individual species data on legality, sustainability and environmental impact (LCA). It binds together three crucial sources of independent information.

Firstly, data collected and published regularly by the USDA through the Resource Planning Act (RPA) that documents growth and removals for individual species in U.S. forests. It is this information that tells us that the growing stock of usable hardwood timber has more than doubled in the last 50 years. Secondly, the AHEP draws on the Seneca Creek legality study commissioned by AHEC in 2008. This peer-reviewed research examines the legal framework and forestry practices at a national and regional level throughout the American hardwood forest resource. The report concludes that there is a less than 1% risk of illegal hardwoods entering the wood chain. And thirdly, it provides a scientific based environmental impact of harvesting, producing and shipping U.S. hardwood lumber and veneer sourced from AHEC’s recent ISO-conformant Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) project.

By making all this information easily available at the push of a button, our industry will be the first in the wood sector to deliver a consignment based environmental profile incorporating LCA data as well as information on legality and sustainability. In the short term the AHEP will be most useful as a tool for importers to demonstrate due diligence under the EUTR, however the industry’s long-term benefit is the ability to trade accurate LCA data for every shipment. Why is this important? A simple answer – EPDs.  A global framework is emerging for issue of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to communicate data on individual products to specifiers and consumers. At European level, the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), which became law in July 2013, requires use of EPDs to meet standards for environmental performance for construction products in all Member States. EPDs are based on LCA. By making “cradle-to-gate” LCA information available now, we will make it easier for European industries to develop EPD’s for hardwood products. I believe EPDs could become the most important driver for future growth and a real opportunity for us to challenge the dominant use of non-wood materials in the built environment. The future’s bright, the future’s green.

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