"Green" Flooring and Domestic Species
March 4, 2009
There are many environmental benefits that are associated with using temperate hardwood species for flooring products. The forest products industry, which includes domestic wood flooring manufacturers, has long been associated with being a steward of the resource.
Green is the watchword for proper stewardship of the resource. The green concept is associated with using renewable products that come from properly managed spaces, being carbon cycle neutral, and using renewable energy resources in the manufacturing processes. Domestically produced temperate hardwood flooring species will fit most any definition or criterion for “green.” The species used for flooring are common to a diverse mixed hardwood forest or wood lot. The oaks, both red and white, are the most common tree found in the eastern U.S. upland and lowland areas. Hickory, pecan, ash, cherry, maple, beech, birch, and walnut are generally readily available throughout these areas. Trees produce oxygen, remove carbon dioxide and store carbon, thus reducing green house gases. Once they are cut and made into a product such as flooring, that carbon is captured.
First, wood is a renewable resource. You harvest the trees and they grow back. Most all forests and wood lots where the logs are cut are being managed so the overall long term removal is less than or equal to the forest re-growth. Much of wooded hardwood areas are privately owned and considered small from 20 - 40 acres up to 1,000 acres. There is much talk of forest certification, that is, hiring a third party to review and certify that the forest plan is indeed sustainable and meets all the environmental rules and regulations of the certifying body. One problem with this initiative is the added expense to a property owner where income only occurs every generation or so. In addition the professional manager already advises how to maintain the areas. The overall fact is there is more hardwood being grown annually in the United States than is being cut and that wood flooring is a large part of this process.
Second, the manufacturing process also contributes to the “green” label. Economic issues have influenced all manufacturers to become much more efficient. This is especially true for the forest products industry. Traditionally the flooring industry has used the economy grades of rough sawn lumber, No. 2 common and No. 3A lumber, for flooring production. This grade mixture can yield 50% or less in useable flooring product due to defects such as wane, unsound knots, large worm holes, splits, miss-cut boards, etc. Much of the cut off pieces along with the dust and chips from actually forming the flooring in years past were burned or sent to a land fill. Today, the flooring industry makes use of it all. Manufacturers use it as fuel for boilers for heating kilns in the drying processes. Some also use the wood residue as fuel for cogeneration of on- site electricity even selling the off production electricity back to the electric grid. Others further manufacture dust and chips into fuel pellets which burn efficiently with less carbon dioxide production than coal and fuel oil. Some wood residue is also sent to other users of wood fiber such as composition board manufacturers and paper producers.
In the last 75 years urban sprawl and agriculture were responsible for most of the net loss of wooded areas. In the last 25+ years economics related to discontinuing production of marginal farmland, cropping efficiency, biotech developments, and steep increases in overall cost of production of agriculture have influenced farmers to not increase farming areas particularly at the expense of wooded areas. Farmers have allowed the marginal areas to revert to wooded areas. This is particularly true in the frequently flooded areas of the Mississippi river basin. On the other hand wooded areas near urban centers are at risk of development and fragmentation. In today’s economic environment this may not be absolutely true, however, as building and development picks up these areas are at greater risk for development.
Temperate hardwood forest and wood lots are by their nature diverse ecosystems. They have many species of woody plants and extensive animal life. A recent independent research study,* commissioned by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and conducted by a team of international experts led by Alberto Goetzl, of Seneca Creek Associates LLC, confirms that:
• US hardwoods derive from legal and well managed forests.
• Hardwood procured from anywhere in the Hardwood States could be considered Low Risk in all five FSC risk categories.
• There exists a low risk that US hardwoods are produced from controversial sources as defined in the Chain of Custody standard of the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).
• All states in the US hardwood-producing region can be considered low risk for illegal and non-sustainable hardwood sourcing.
• And given the safety-net of national and state regulations and programs that address unlawful conduct and faulty forest practices, the need for traceability, independent chain of custody and/or controlled wood certification to demonstrate legality should not be a crucial consideration for US sourcing of hardwood products.
* The full report can be found at www.ahec-europe.com
Trees sequester carbon as they grow, more so when they are young. As trees mature, they sequester less carbon and some old growth forests (for example in California) can actually put carbon back into the atmosphere. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated that each year, forests in the United States remove the greenhouse gases emitted by 139 million cars. Some consumers fear that using more wood will lead to deforestation. While tropical deforestation is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation is not an issue in the United States.
Some facts about our domestic hardwood forests and wood lots:
• Hardwood trees are often denser and stronger than softwood trees.• Hardwoods include: alder, ash, aspen, basswood, beech, birch, cherry, cottonwood, elm, hackberry, hickory, maple, oak, pecan, walnut and willow.
• The predominant harvesting method for hardwoods is single-tree selection, not clear-cutting.
• North American hardwood forests are not uniform plantations or even-aged, single species mono-cultures.
• Hardwood forests reproduce naturally and prolifically. It is not necessary to intervene and plant hardwood trees after a harvest.
• Harvesting large mature trees in a hardwood forest lets enough sunlight reach the forest floor to stimulate new growth.
• Each year, there are more hardwoods growing than harvested, lost to fire, lost to insects and lost to disease.
• Wood is energy-efficient.
• Wood is grown by harnessing solar power, but more than 60 percent of wood processing is powered by biofuels.
• Wood represents 47 percent of all raw materials used in the United States but the energy used to produce wood products accounts for just 4 percent of the energy used to make all manufactured materials.
• All wood doors, cabinets, flooring, molding and furniture store carbon dioxide.
• Choosing North American hardwood species gives customers assurance that the trees have been legally harvested.
• To grow a pound of wood, a tree uses 1.47 pounds of carbon dioxide and gives off 1.07 pounds of oxygen. Consequently, an acre of trees can remove about 13 tons of dust and gases from the atmosphere.
Sustainability means meeting today’s needs while conserving the resources needed tomorrow.
Thanks to Renee Hornsby, NHLA, for her significant contributions to this article.