Using wood reduces our carbon footprint in two key ways—through carbon storage and avoided greenhouse gas emissions. As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, release the oxygen (O2), and incorporate the carbon into their wood, leaves or needles, roots and surrounding soil. One of three things then happens: When the trees get older, they start to decay and slowly release the stored carbon, the forest succumbs to wildfire, insects or disease and releases the carbon quickly, the trees are harvested and manufactured into products, which continue to store much of the carbon. (Wood is 50 percent carbon by dry weight.1) In all of these cases, the cycle begins again as the forest regenerates and young seedlings once again begin absorbing CO2.
The other aspect to wood’s light carbon footprint is the fact that wood products typically require less energy to manufacture than other building materials, and most of that comes from renewable biomass (e.g., bark and other residual fiber) instead of fossil fuels. Substituting wood for fossil fuel-intensive materials is a way of avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. Wood products have many environmental advantages over nonwood alternatives. Documenting and publicizing these merits helps the future competitiveness of wood when climate change impacts are being considered. The manufacture of wood products requires less fossil fuel than nonwood alternative building materials such as concrete, metals, or plastics. By nature, wood is composed of carbon that is captured from the atmosphere during tree growth. These two effects—substitution and sequestration—are why the carbon impact of wood products is favorable. Some of the longest-lived wood products are those used for housing and light industrial buildings, estimated to have a useful life of at least 80 years. For every use of wood there are alternatives, for example, wood studs can be replaced by steel studs, wood floors by concrete slab floors and woody biofuels by fossil fuel.
These benefits continue when wood is used to manufacture other products. Wood is better for the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution, and other impacts. Steel and concrete consume 12% and 20% more energy, emit 15% and 29% more greenhouse gases, and release 10% and 12% more pollutants into the air, and generate 300% and 225% more water pollutants than wood, respectively. Wood helps reduce energy consumption across the life cycle of growth, harvest, transport, manufacture and construction compared to other structural building products according to life cycle assessment (LCA). Wood can improve energy efficiency,an excellent insulator, wood has a cellular structure that allows for air pockets, helping to slow the conductivity of heat. Wood products store carbon, helping to mitigate climate change while also providing a good alternative for materials that require large amounts of fossil fuels to produce. Using wood helps to sustain our forests and increases our carbon storage potential by helping to ensure that it is affordable for forest owners to continue sustainably managing their forestland
Go green and buy wood products for something useful that can have a real, tangible effect on our lives, and avoid carbon emissions. Leave no footprint for our generations to come. Implementing green practices into your home or office can help reduce waste, conserve natural resources, improve both air and water quality, and protect ecosystems and biodiversity.