I had a conversation recently with a friend who has a science background and went on to work in economics for years….someone I consider to be well-educated and well-informed. We talked about weather and climate change, and I mentioned that we tell people that one of the many attributes of value-added wood products is that they keep carbon tied up (sequestered) and out of the atmosphere. They actually help the environment by trapping the carbon in the products for the duration of the product’s lifespan. That stored carbon is only released back to the atmosphere when the product is burned or decays. My friend had never considered that and thought it was a great piece of information to offer people as yet another benefit to being part of this industry.
Now I would not suggest that people would choose a woodworking career solely on that basis, but it is a positive message that goes against some of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions about businesses that use wood. A number of years ago we commissioned a report entitled “A Survey of the Educational Needs of the Advanced Wood Products Sector.”
The Executive Summary stated that the majority of high school students were not interested in pursuing a career in the wood manufacturing industry because of its association with unsustainable forestry practices and manual labour, and the availability of more attractive career options.
Searching for positive environmental/sustainable forestry information can lead one in many directions and the information is definitely there. Looking at what some of the major Canadian and U.S. trade associations, foundations and governments make available will provide people with a wealth of detail, both on the forestry/harvesting side of the equation, but also on the use of wood/built environment side as well. There is a lot of science-based material that highlights sustainable practices and the benefits of building products and structures out of wood. This can certainly help inform the general public, including youth, with the negative perceptions they may have about our industry.
The Canadian Wood Council (CWC) tells its website visitors that wood is the only renewable building material that is harvested from sustainably managed forests. It is the only major building material that grows naturally.
Within the extensive amounts of information out there, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) published a “Sustainable Forest Management Fact Sheet,” which states that Canada’s forests purify our air, regulate our water cycle, and provide habitat for wildlife. As a Yale University study attests, the Canadian forest products industry has been making great strides in reducing its ecological footprint and following strict environmental and sustainability guidelines. The State of Canada’s Forests: Annual Report 2016 from Natural Resources Canada acknowledges that Canada has become known as a trusted source of legal and sustainable forest products. We have 347 million hectares of forest, 166 million hectares of forest independently certified as sustainably managed (2015) and 24 million hectares of protected forests. Canada has 38% of the worlds certified forest, independently assessed to follow progressive environmental and social practices and a 2014 Leger marketing study of international customers found that the Canadian sector has the best environmental reputation in the world, as the Canadian industry re-grows as many trees as it cuts down.
The Canadian Wood Council (CWC) tells its website visitors that wood is the only renewable building material that is harvested from sustainably managed forests. It is the only major building material that grows naturally. With growing pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment, building designers are increasing being called upon to balance the function and cost objectives of a building with reduced environmental impact. Wood can help achieve that balance. Numerous life cycle assessment studies worldwide have shown that wood products yield clear environmental advantages over other building materials at every stage. Wood buildings can offer lower greenhouse gas emissions, less air pollution, lower volumes of solid waste and less ecological resource use.
On a global scale, CWC highlights that the Government of Canada, as a signatory to the Paris agreement, has committed to reducing Canada’s Greenhouse Gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. In addition, the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change acknowledges that forests and wood products have the ability to contribute to the national emissions reductions strategy through enhancing carbon storage in forests, increasing the use of wood for construction, generating fuel from bioenergy and bioproducts and advancing innovation in bio-based product development and forest management practices.
The importance of the forestry and wood products sector as a critical component towards mitigating the effects of climate change is also echoed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who proclaim that mitigating options by the forest sector include extending carbon retention in harvested wood products, effectively storing carbon for life of that product and reducing the amount in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The American Forest and Paper Association notes that today one third of the U.S. is forested and there are more trees than there were on the first Earth Day celebration nearly 50 years ago. As well, a 2012 report from the U.S. Forest Service indicates that more than 3.2 million trees are planted per day in the U.S. They note that through sustainable management, tree farmers harvest and replant trees responsibly taking into consideration wildlife, diversity of plant species and the forests’ ability to create watersheds and sequester carbon. They go on to briefly talk about clean air, clean water, habitats and biodiversity.
To preserve the renewable resource, their members have long supported and followed sustainable forestry practices, developing a sustainable forestry system more than 25 years ago which became the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which is now an independent non-profit organization. Members who source from the forest adhere to a set of Sustainable Procurement Principles and by insisting the wood fibre they procure is sustainably grown, harvested and replanted, members invest in the future of forests, using a sustainable business model and ensuring the forests will be plentiful for future generations.
We have to acknowledge that the news about all the fires in the Amazon rain forest has certainly made people concerned about the state of our environment, so our positive representations are being made into that backdrop. But there are many environmental good news stories out there too, and internationally the idea of using trees to store carbon to help the environment has also spawned many good community tree planting programs and projects.
An Atlas Obscura article documents the achievements in Ethiopia where volunteers across the country planted over 350 million trees on 1,000 sites in only 12 hours. The accomplishment was considered an “eco-challenge” as part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “Green Legacy Initiative,” a reforestation plan to address the country’s exponential tree loss. During those 12 hours, citizens were challenged to each plant a minimum of 40 seedlings. Not only do projects like this help the planet absorb carbon from the atmosphere but they help countries’ communities and economies as well.
In July, a study published in Science (July 5) argued that planting a trillion new trees over the next few decades could absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. In a summary in Science, it was noted that planting trees on 0.9 billion hectares of land could trap about 2/3 of the amount of carbon released by human activity since the start of the Industrial Revolution. They note that the planet has that much tree-friendly land available for use. Without knocking down cities, or taking over farms or natural grasslands, reforested pieces could add up to new tree cover totalling just about the area of the US, researchers report.
I got thinking about all the positive things people in our industry do – for their business, their employees, for the industry (through associations etc.), for causes and for their communities. A favourite quote comes from the Netflix series After Life. Tying that into the environmental message, a woman in the show says to the main character “society grows great when old men plant trees the shade of which they know they will never sit in. Good people do good things for other people.”