The AHEC-commissioned LCA study has the following objectives:
- To ensure appropriate and fair recognition of American hardwoods’ environmental profile. Existing LCA data indicate that wood products in general, and hardwood products from managed natural forests in particular, have an excellent environmental profile compared to competing products. However as things stand, the marketing opportunities are constrained and environmental claims open to challenge due to relative lack of LCA data specific to American hardwoods.
- To identify environmental "hotspots" - processes with particularly significant environmental impacts in the American hardwood supply chain - to facilitate implementation of targeted programmes of continuous environmental improvement.
- To counter the environmental claims of non-wood materials. The concrete, steel and plastics sectors have all invested heavily in LCA research to identify their products’ environmental strengths and weaknesses. Despite relatively poor environmental profiles compared to wood, access to comprehensive LCA data provides non-wood sectors with a powerful marketing and lobbying weapon. The American hardwood sector needs access to information of equivalent quality to counter this trend.
- To encourage a broadening in the scope of procurement policies. European public sector timber procurement policies emphasise requirements for forest certification to the exclusion of all other environmental considerations. As a result American hardwoods often struggle to access public sector contracts despite strong potential to greatly reduce the wider environmental footprint of government purchasing activities. The study should help convince government procurement officials of the value of policies that fully account for environmental costs and benefits.
- To ensure the environmental credentials of wood are given appropriate recognition in Green Building Initiatives. Independent research suggests that the full environmental benefits of using wood products, for example their carbon sequestration and energy efficient properties, are not yet given due credit in evolving green building initiatives like LEED, CASBEE (Japan), and the Green Building Label (China). Access to product-specific LCA data would greatly facilitate AHEC’s efforts to engage with these initiatives and encourage an LCA based approach.
- To counter-act an emerging tendency towards “localism”. Feedback from architects, designers and retailers in major export markets suggests growing concern to minimise the carbon footprint of materials. This concern is often simplistically associated with increased use of local products at the expense of imports. An effective response would be to provide unequivocal scientific data to demonstrate that the carbon sequestration benefits of using American hardwoods greatly outweigh the emissions associated with transport into key export markets.
- To facilitate inclusion of wood products in UNFCCC national carbon accounts. The carbon footprint data collected for the study will facilitate inclusion of the carbon contained in Harvested Wood Products (HWPs) in U.S. national accounting for forest management activities under UNFCCC procedures. According to the draft text of a possible international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, timber producing countries may have the option of accounting for the emissions from HWPs on the “basis of estimates of when emissions occur, provided that verifiable and transparent data are available”. This would be a significant change from existing practice under the Kyoto Protocol which considers all wood harvesting as an immediate emission.