USDA Forest Service Research Provides Evidence of Environmental Benefits of Redwood Lumber

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Humboldt SawmillNumerous environmental benefits are associated with using natural wood for building. Fast-growing naturally durable softwood species, such as redwood, offer advantages in terms of carbon sequestration and efficient energy usage, among others. Research from the USDA Forest Service provides scientific proof of these and other benefits. 

Research paper, FPL-RP-706, entitled Cradle-to-Gate Life-Cycle Assessment of Redwood Lumber in the United States, was published based on primary data collected from three major redwood producing lumber mills: Humboldt Sawmill Company, LLC, Mendocino Forest Products Company, LLC, and Big Creek Lumber. These mills represent 67% of the total production volume of the redwood lumber industry (2017 figures). 

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A life-cycle assessment (LCA) study can be thought of as an audit where all the environmental impacts from raw material extraction and processing (cradle) through manufacture and preparation for distribution (gate) are scientifically measured. For this LCA study, primary data on forestry operations, transportation of logs from forests to the mills, and lumber production, including sawing, drying and planing, was collected. 

Key findings of the study focus on energy consumption, biogenic carbon, and global warming potential. Because of large renewable energy inputs including electricity and heat from cogeneration of mill residuals, the environmental impact of redwood lumber production is low. In fact, 69% of total primary energy used in redwood lumber production comes from renewables, especially biomass. Despite the energy used in milling processes, fully 76% of the kilowatts produced were exported to the commercial grid. The low cumulative energy consumption for redwood lumber production occurs because of the relatively minimal use of kiln-drying.

Humboldt RedwoodIn terms of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, this study showed redwood lumber stored about 12 times the total GHG emissions released during cradle-to-gate product manufacturing. CO2 uptake from the atmosphere into redwood trees and the storage of the resultant carbon in long-lived redwood lumber is a substantial environmental attribute because this carbon is sequestered or kept from the atmosphere.

One of the study’s authors, Richard Bergman, PhD, sums it up this way, “The wood products industry and their products have a low environmental impact compared to non-wood products and are able to be harvested at a sustainable pace unlike any fossil-based product on the market. As one of the solutions to mitigating GHG emissions, sustainably harvested wood products are an excellent resource in substituting for fossil fuel-intensive products.”

The results of this study have been used to develop a redwood lumber Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) which provides verified data on environmental performance in a standardized business-to-business format. EPDs are increasingly requested by architects and specifiers as well as being a commonly required document by government regulators.

Dealers and distributors interested in redwood are encouraged to contact Humboldt Sawmill by calling (707) 764-4341. General information about the company may be found at GetRedwood.com or by connecting on social media: FacebookInstagramYouTube.

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