Environmental Awareness Could Lead to Wood Re-emerging as the Green Material of Choice



Minneapolis, MN (08/25/08) - When people understand the true environmental impact of various building materials, wood could re-emerge as the material of choice. So claims a leading authority on the environmental impact of building materials in an article published in a recent issue (July-August 2008) of Forest Products Journal.


James Bowyer, Director of the Responsible Materials Program of Dovetail Partners and University of Minnesota emeritus professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering, writes that, “As people become more knowledgeable about environmental life-cycle assessment, and as bioenergy and carbon storage and mitigation move to the forefront of public discourse, wood could well re-emerge as the environmental material of choice for the 21st century and beyond.”


Dr. Bowyer's analysis runs counter to claims that using wood is somehow bad for the environment and to popular standards for so-called green construction that discourage the use of wood.


Life-cycle assessment is a process that analyzes the environmental and social impact of producing and using a material such as wood, concrete, or steel. The process involves systematic evaluation of the use of resources and the resulting environmental impacts of a product from resource extraction and through manufacturing, distribution, use, maintenance, and end of life.


“Ironically, it may be environmental issues that cause society to 'rediscover' wood,” Dr. Bowyer writes. “Current attention to carbon, for instance, could bring active forest management and use of wood squarely to the forefront in a society seeking solutions to the threat of climate change.”


Dr. Bowyer explains that wood is the only building material that faces requirements that it be certified that it has been produced in a way that doesn't harm ecosystems. “There are no requirements or incentives for certification of steel, aluminum, concrete products or any other construction material,” he writes. This could lead to increased interest in wood. “An environmentally conscious customer who wants assurance that the materials he or she is specifying or about to purchase were produced in an environmentally responsible manner can only find that assurance in one line of products: certified wood,” he explains.


One obstacle to the increased use of wood, according to Dr. Bowyer, is widespread misinformation about forest conditions and wood.


Surveys of student and young adults' attitudes, perceptions, and knowledge regarding environmental topics over the past several decades have all pointed to deep and pervasive misinformation among this age group. . . . Students were found to consistently underestimate the current extent of forests as compared to original forest cover, to believe that the United States is being rapidly deforested and that annual timber removals exceed growth . . . As homeowners, parents, and voters of today, and the business, community, and legislative leaders of tomorrow, attitudes they gained early-on are likely to influence decisions and to guide future behavior,” he writes.


Dr. Bowyer's remarks are contained in an article titled “The Green Movement and the Forest Products Industry,” which describes how the green movement and other environmental initiatives have shaped the forest products industry, especially in the United States.


Last year, in a previous article published in Forest Products Journal, Dr. Bowyer challenged many of the assumptions and existing guidelines for so-called green construction, pointing out, among other things, that a number of materials listed as environmentally preferable by green building organizations have demonstrably greater environmental impacts than nonfavored alternatives.


In addition to holding the title of Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering and Director of the Responsible Materials Program of Dovetail Partners, Inc.-a Minneapolis-based nonprofit consulting firm-Dr. Bowyer is President of Bowyer & Associates, Inc., a wood science and bioenergy consulting firm. He is an Elected Fellow of the International Academy of Wood Science, chairman of the Tropical Forest Foundation (Alexandria, Virginia), and member of the Governance Board and chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Temperate Forest Foundation (Portland, Oregon).


Bowyer was founder and Director of the Forest Products Management Development Institute at the University of Minnesota from 1994-2003. He served as project leader of the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station project “Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Bio-based Materials and Products” from 1988 to 2003, and he also led a research team focused on global raw materials consumption and supply trends for more than 30 years.


Bowyer has published more than 270 articles dealing with wood science and technology, environmental life-cycle analysis, and environmental aspects of forestry, timber harvest, and wood use. He is also coauthor of the leading introductory wood science textbook, Forest Products & Wood Science-an introduction, now in its 5th edition.


The Forest Products Journal is a monthly journal containing mostly reviewed articles reporting on research involving forests and forest products. It is published by the Forest Products Society, an international professional membership organization with headquarters in Madison, Wis. The complete text of Dr. Bowyer's article is available by clicking here (pdf).




For more information, contact Dovetail Partners at info@dovetailinc.org or 612-333-0430. For more information about the Forest Products Journal, contact George Couch, via e-mail at george@forestprod.org, or phone 608-231-1361, ext 214.