By Margaret Fisher

The people who cry, ‘No timber harvesting’ are the same people who enjoy the benefits of using toilet paper every day.

For decades, the wood industry has taken it on the chin. The economy, trade, weather, bad PR and environmental groups have all taken their toll on every facet of our good industry. A whole generation has adopted a mindset of doing everything it can to save a tree while ignoring other, more serious, environmental problems. As a forest is far more visible than the operations of other finite source materials that require, say, mining, it is an easy target.

With all these negative influences, one might think the wood industry will never be able to regain its good reputation. It took one generation to damage our industry’s reputation; the next generation is where we have a chance to take it back — and we have a golden opportunity to do it.

It is no secret that our growing global culture is concerned about climate change and, therefore, the emission of greenhouse gases. You can’t turn on the television or radio, or pick up a newspaper or magazine, without seeing something about it on a regular basis. In fact, recently the AIA (American Institute of Architects) launched a bold initiative called, “The AIA 2030 Challenge” which is, basically, to have zero carbon buildings by 2030.

In the August 2008 issue of CWB, I wrote an article titled, “Wood: The Alpha Material,” in which I talked about how wood is carbon negative — the only building material that is, in fact. (The article is available online here.) If AIA wants zero carbon buildings by 2030, our industry can help champion that effort by providing wood materials for the project.

As someone deeply committed to our industry, I believe it is every person’s job to help others understand that wood is carbon negative. Specifically, framing lumber stands at minus (-)457 kg and MDF is minus (-)382 kg per metric ton. When we compare building materials to each other in terms of how much carbon is produced while creating one metric ton of the material, wood is the only winner.

If you look at the small chart on this page, you can see how other building materials compare. If AIA buildings incorporate any of those materials, which are high in the “plus” column for carbon, using a lot of “negative” wood will provide the balance to achieve a zero mark overall.

Information Resources

The following Web sites have useful information about wood:

• A report comparing the carbon of wood to other building materials;

• American Hardwood Export Council, Sustainable Hardwoods;

• “Appalachian Hardwood Verified Sustainable;”

• Hardwood Manufacturers Assn.;

• Society of American Foresters;

These Web sites are for groups whose members may have an interest (or need) to learn more about wood:

• Sierra Club;

• Audubon Society;

• National Wildlife Federation;

• The Nature Conservancy;

• Defenders of Wildlife;

• Ducks Unlimited;

• National Wild Turkey Federation;

• USGBC (71 Chapters);; click on “Chapters,” then “Find a Chapter,” then “Find your Local Chapter”

• ASID, American Society of Interior Designers (50 Chapters);

• IIDA, International Interior Design Assn. (30 Chapters globally);; Click on “About,” then “Chapters”

• AIA, American Institute of Architects (300 Components, i.e., chapters);

• CSI, Construction Specifications Institute (145 Chapters);; Click on “Chapter Locator

Spreading the Word

Being passionate about all the issues involved in climate change, initially I wanted to “change the world.” However, I could not find a way to change 6 billion people. So I focused on changing the country I live in. But, having no background in politics, this became a problem. Even trying to change a situation in my town involving local wetlands loss just unearthed rampant corruption. So, I gave up.

But, in talking to neighbors, I found I was not alone. This made me decide to try to change the resistance of just one group of people. However, they had other issues more pressing to address and were not interested in exploring the problem. So I decided to change myself and be less of a complainer and more of an advocate.

Thus, when I got a postcard from Sierra Club inviting me to a meeting about starting a new Chapter of the organization in my town, I showed up.

Twenty people occupied a folding chair circle in someone’s home. Most were retired professors, teachers, business people, etc. All were smart people. As the only employed person in the room, they wanted to know where I worked. When I mentioned the name of the large international lumber company I worked for, the reaction was, “Gasp! You’re at fault for all this deforestation!” with a lot of finger pointing.

This type of alarmed and hysterical reaction is common, and it is why our industry suffers a bad reputation. Why does the perception exist? Because someone else has been allowed to do the talking for us.

I realized that if I didn’t say something to this group, that perception would persist. At the end of the meeting, I spent some time talking to a guy who mentioned his profession of photography. I like this, too, and we agreed to take a hike Sunday at a local bog. He was to show me some techniques to take better nature photos.

During our walk through the bog and the adjoining woodland, I pointed out some interesting things about a tree. In wonderment, he admitted he had never noticed them. He took some pictures.

I also explained what a leaf does, why light and root protection are important, what bark does, different examples of geotropism, why we need tree crops, our gaining forestry acreage, etc. I took the opportunity to talk about the fact that we get more than 3 million products from trees and how they impact our lives in many ways.

In two hours, I changed the perspective of one person forever, without even making a speech at a podium or quoting technical data or reports. “Anyone can do this,” I thought. The next Sierra Club meeting would be different.

The following month, I sat next to my new friend. In conversation with the folks on either side, he showed a photo of a part of a tree that he took on the hike and mentioned a tree fact that he had found fascinating. That spurred a new conversation about trees and forestry among the four of us.

The next month, I talked to four more people about these things as they came up, and within four months, the perspective of 20 people was changed from “alarmed and hysterical” to “well reasoned and insightful.” My company went from being the enemy to being the careful provider they couldn’t live without, within 10 minutes’ time and one cup of punch.

The Chair Next to You

The point is, this is the easiest way we can all change mistaken public perceptions about our industry. There are places to get good information about our abundant and well-managed forests and how we rely on them.

At the end of this article is a list of Web sites where you can get good information to use in your conversation, as well as for groups where such information can be shared. Twenty minutes of fact-finding is worth enough material for 25 casual conversations. Find a few interesting facts and use them in your conversations.

You don’t have to look far to find a nature or conservation group in your area. Their meetings and events are listed in newspapers, and you can also find them online. Look at your own interests and start there.

This is what I believe: This is our time to tip the scales in the other direction. In our lifetime, we are never going to get another opportunity to change perception on such a grand scale. With carbon dominating a well-lit stage and wood’s carbon negative advantage, it is our time to shine.

You might say, “It’s not my job,” and that’s true. It’s not something you are going to get paid for. But it is everyone’s job if things are going to change. If each woodworking company in your state has a handful of employees who will spread knowledge in different environmental/outdoor/hunting clubs or green building chapters, eventually every person’s perspective in your state could change.

We have about five good years to get wood well on its way as the “alpha material” in the early stage of this 2030 Challenge. Every wood trade association, every wood-producing company and each of their employees creates the army needed to get this done.

Join something this week and be amazed at the good you can do with very little effort. Perspective change for our industry likely won’t happen from a podium, quoting studies and technical data; it will happen in the chair next to you.

And if you take such a step, let me know what happens. Share your stories with me and other woodworkers on an “alpha material” blog at (use the “Blogs” tab at the top of the home page). I look forward to your feedback.

Margaret Fisher is Market Development Manager of Saunders Wood Specialties in Park Falls, WI, and serves as the AWI (Architectural Woodwork Institute) liaison to the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council). Her previous articles about LEED and wood as a sustainable material are archived on CWB’s Web site here.

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