POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Composite Wood is a Green Choice

Point/Counterpoint provides equal time to both sides of a controversial topic. This month, we take on the question: Treated Wood or Composite Decking?

Composite Wood is a Green Choice

When a customer asks if manufactured deck materials—like composite wood decking— are “green,” how can deck professionals respond? Do wood-plastic composite decks meet sustainability requirements? What can we tell our customers to help them make an informed decision?

There is good news. Wood plastic composites do provide a sustainable alternative to wood decking materials; manufacturers of composite wood products have been working hard to ensure that these beautiful and durable materials meet new sustainability requirements. When you take a close look at what goes into the making of composite decking, the answer is clear.

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Green products are evaluated using this cradle-to-grave approach that utilizes a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that takes an inventory of the environmental impacts from manufacturing, installing, using, and eventually ending the useful life of the product. Experts in LCA development agree that when making decisions or comparisons about product selection, it is very important to take a close look at a product—from as many different perspectives as possible.

Green construction codes, like the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), include options for buildings to be constructed using a “Whole-Building LCA” that includes a close look at the materials and products. Green codes also require that designers include materials that feature sustainable attributes including recycled content and recyclability, use of bio-based ingredients, material optimization, and other environmental impact measures.

Wood plastic composite deck boards are manufactured from a combination of plastic and wood or cellulosic materials. In many cases, the wood comes directly from post-industrial manufacturing of wood products, like furniture factories, and helps reduce waste from those operations. Diverting these biobased materials from landfills to be reused in other building products is about as green as it gets.

Production of composite decking typically requires much less energy than harvesting, transporting, and processing natural wood products. Composite deck manufacturers generally use materials produced in regional proximity to the plant, reducing the transportation impact of their products. After all, the source wood material has already been farmed, logged, shipped and manufactured; reusing that byproduct takes advantage of the original embodied energy.

Composite deck materials aren’t just a beautiful alternative to natural wood; they provide a durable and low-maintenance option for the discerning and environmentally-conscious home-owner. With no need to apply regular coats of sealing materials, and no need to infuse the boards with chemicals to resist rot and decay, composite deck boards perform well above par compared to some other options. It is that strength that is the key to one of the truest measures of sustainability: durability. Every extra year of use forestalls that next environmental footprint, and maximizes the benefits of composite decks.

While we are considering maximizing the benefits, it’s important to remember that composite deck boards are available in lengths that are optimized to reduce jobsite waste, keeping scrap materials out of landfills and money in the customer’s pocket.

Groups like the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which maintains the LEED program that helps designers select sustainable materials, include lists and points systems that direct architects and builders in the right direction. Specifying composite decking helps designers meet the points-based criteria of many green certification programs. When considering recycled content, durability attributes, transportation impact, jobsite waste, and the environmental benefits of low-maintenance products, composite wood products fit the green material profile.

When making the decision about which deck system provides a green choice to meet the demands of today’s environmentally-savvy and planet-conscious consumer, wood composite deck boards fit the bill, provide a green solution and so much more.

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