We all want to make choices that are good for the bottom line and for our planet. Fortunately, choosing hardwood products is both. Because of a variety of factors ranging from deciduous trees’ reproduction to their carbon-absorbing powers, hardwood lumber is one of the most environmentally responsible building materials available.
Trees Are a Renewable Resource
Once extracted building materials—metals, minerals, stones—are removed from the Earth, they’re gone. New trees, however, can be grown. Deciduous trees, the source of hardwood timber, naturally replenish without requiring replanting. In fact, only about 9% of our total forest land is planted. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the “vast majority of forest land in the United States regenerates naturally,” allowing our forests and timberlands to stay healthy and vibrant with little need for outside intervention.
Today, hardwood forests cover 279 million acres in the United States. The latest federal assessment of U.S. forest resources notes that hardwood growing stock is more than doubled what it was in the 1950s. Thanks to healthy reproduction cycles working in tandem with responsible harvesting, for every deciduous tree harvested, two new ones emerge.
Harvesting is Part of Responsible Forest Management
Plants in a garden need to be pruned and thinned to remove competition for essential soil nutrients and sunlight. Forests benefit from the same kind of planned harvesting. Harvesting mature trees allows for more growing space for the remaining trees and seedlings. Extra sun in open forest spaces also facilitates new tree growth and creates a welcoming wildlife habitat.
In addition to playing an important role in local economies, responsible harvesting also helps maintain the overall health of our public and private forests. Through their attention and conservation efforts, forest management experts identify naturally occurring botanical diseases or pests, removing unhealthy stock in an effort to decrease overall mortality rates.
Minimizing our Carbon Footprint
We all know that trees are grown using the power of the sun rather than fossil fuels—but did you know that hardwood harvesting and processing is also less carbon intensive? The manufacturing processes for wood products require “less fossil-fuel based energy and are responsible for far less greenhouse gas emissions” than other man-made building alternatives, according to Woodworks.
And, while most people know that trees take in CO2 from the air, what many people don’t know, says Woodworks, is that “wood is about 50 percent carbon by dry weight.” Absorbed carbon stays in the wood—instead of being released back into the atmosphere. “Wood products continue to store much of this carbon… for the lifetime of the product—even longer if the wood is reclaimed and used elsewhere.”
The Bottom Line is a Green Line
It’s best practice in the timber industry to make sure nothing goes to waste. Tree bark becomes mulch. Sawdust fuels the boilers that operate dry kilns. Trimmings are chipped and processed into paper and other products. Getting full use out of every harvest does more than help offset the cost of turning each log into usable lumber—it also helps reduce the overall number of trees needed to satisfy global demands for wood and paper products. At the end of the day, hardwoods are not just an acceptable option— they are the responsible choice.