First Impressions from the 'Green' Wood ConferenceI just got back from Indianapolis and the 3rd Dollars & Sense of Going Green Conference and my brain still feels numbed from the forest-full of information it processed.

As was the case of the previous two symposiums by the same name organized by Purdue University and Wood & Wood Products in 2008 and 2009, the March 17-18 conference not only provided timely updates of ongoing "green" wood industry activities and best practices, it offered a window to things that are likely to be coming down the pike.

Sifting through my voluminous pad of notes, I was struck by the depth and breadth of topics covered by a distinguished faculty of speakers representing the major wood certification programs, trade associations and wood products companies. The program's content alternatively ranged from a lively debate of FSC, SFI and PEFC certification; to updates on the Lacey Act and the CARB and new federal formaldehyde rule; to case studies of sustainability programs at Century Furniture and Kimball Office.

What struck me most, though, is how presentation after presentation reaffirmed that wood is the greenest building material on the planet in that it is both recyclable and renewable. What's more, woodworkers are blessed to have such a diverse pallet of species at their disposal with which to craft functional and pleasing-to-the products.

Some Wood Is Good Highlights
1. No other building material can do more to mitigate global climate change and keep the atmospheric CO2 concentration below a dangerous level. Margaret Fisher, marketing director of Lange Brothers Woodwork Co., spoke on woods' ability to sequester carbon even long after it has been milled from a tree and converted into a finished good. For example, a life cycle analysis study by the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM) found that carbon accounts for approximately 49% of the dry weight of wood flooring, she said.

2. Michael Snow, executive director of the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), announced that his group plans to commission a major a major life cycle analysis study of U.S. hardwood products, including flooring, interior doors and window frames. The study will compare wood's physical attributes, including carbon sequestration; manufacturing requirements, including carbon footprint; and ability to be recycled versus, steel, plastics and other materials.

3. Snow added that the study's results will lead to the development of Environmental Product Declarations (EDP). Such a label would be akin to a nutrition label on a box of cereal, he said. Tom Reardon, executive director of the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association said BIFMA is already working on developing EDPs for member product categories, which include office furniture. "We see these multiple-attribute standards, based on product category rules and life cycle analysis data as the direction in which environmental product claims are moving," Reardon said. Through the use of EDP's, a consumer could, for example, compare the environmental attributes of various wood office desks in terms of things like percentage of recycled content, VOC emissions, use of certified materials, and social responsibility quotient of the manufacturer.

4. Corey Brinkema, president of the Forest Stewardship Council U.S. (FSC-US), defended his position of why he thinks FSC is the gold standard of wood certification schemes and deserving to be the only system that is recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED points. He added that FSC plans to petition the USGBC to require that other building product industries, including steel and concrete, develop certification programs that consider their environmental impacts.

5. A new attempt to establish a Hardwood Check Off program is said to have widespread industry support and would create a mechanism for not only promoting the virtues of wood and wood products, but help fund research and development activities. Snow, Mark Barford, executive director of the National Hardwood Lumber Association and Kip Howlett, president of the Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Association were among presenters who said the Hardwood Check Off program could yield positive results for the industry, such as been the case by American dairy industry's "Got Milk" and the pork industry's "The other white meat" campaigns. The program, which could be in place by the end of 2012, would raise an estimated $10 million of year by collecting monies levied on sawn lumber, hardwood plywood and other sources.  

Take that steel, concrete and plastic!

Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.

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