Why wood products should be used more

The environment benefit of using wood products is greatly underestimated, according to new scientific research which questions the assumption that all of the carbon stored inside trees is released once the trees are logged.

NSW Department of Primary Industries forestry researcher, Fabiano Ximenes, says carbon accounting schemes worldwide fail to recognise the fact that wood continues to store carbon long after the trees it comes from are felled.

Mr Ximenes recently completed a review of the current state of knowledge about carbon storage in wood products in Australia for the Federal Government’s Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation.

Most research in this area has been undertaken within the last 10 years, and it has found that wood products can significantly extend the carbon sequestration benefits provided by forests.

Mr. Ximenes said that one study found that the total carbon in wood products in Europe is equal to about 30% of the carbon in European forests – and this did not take into account the carbon stored in wood products in landfills.

Research for the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting (CRCGA) into the life cycle of wood products in Australia shows that once wood is discarded in landfills only a small percentage decomposes, and hence it continues to store carbon.

An estimated 25 million cubic metres of logs are harvested from Australian forests each year – the equivalent of eight million tonnes of carbon or 30 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents.

“Depending on the type of product manufactured and on how it is disposed of at the end of its life, the carbon will remain ‘locked up’ in the product for many decades.”

He said that a method proposed by the CRCGA of assessing carbon storage, when applied to Australia (not including paper products), estimated that 70% of the carbon in commercial logs could be considered to remain in long-term storage, either as products in use, in landfills or through avoided fossil fuel use.

Mr Ximenes said “the inclusion of wood products in carbon trading schemes would make carbon trading a more attractive proposition for those in forestry or wood products industries.

“If wood products were considered in carbon trading, this would immediately increase the dollar value of carbon, because the penalty currently paid at the time of harvesting trees would be greatly reduced.

“There could be an immediate increase in revenues from carbon sequestration and further incentives to establish forests.”

Increased carbon revenue could also help offset the cost of environmental plantings for biodiversity, salinity and catchment management purposes.

The benefits of using wood products are reflected in their environmental performance when compared to alternative materials.

The manufacture of wood products requires less energy than competing materials and often utilises the waste generated to obtain the energy needed. This fact is reflected in research that shows that the use of wood products can reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases associated with house construction.

“For example, a CRCGA study estimated that more than 25 tonnes of CO2 equivalents would be saved if a typical one-storey house in Sydney was built primarily using wood products.”

Mr Ximenes said the greenhouse benefits of wood compared to other materials are yet to be properly recognised in energy rating schemes.

“As a result, their outcomes may significantly disadvantage the use of wood products.

“Wood products are also disadvantaged when life cycle assessments are performed to compare the environmental credentials of materials, as carbon storage in wood products is not recognised.”