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From Cradle-to-grave, Wood Pallets are Environmentally Favorable

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there were 119 percent more hardwood trees in 2007 than in 1953, with the growth-to-removal ratio of 2.00 (two new trees for every one removed). Want more good news? Each year 1.7 billion trees are planted in the United States - more than five trees for every man, woman and child in America - an average of 4.8 million seedlings each day.

Want another factoid? More trees die, fall to the ground and rot every year in our forests than are removed for use by the forest products industry and consumed by the public.

We are growing twice than what is removed by our industry, we are planting significantly more to expand our forest cover, and we have potential to use even more. What an amazing story. Yet, we continue to receive questions about whether using wood is actually good. Thankfully, we already have a lot of information to resoundingly answer YES. And new collaboration provides a whole new area of opportunity for the wood packaging industry.

Groups like the American and Canadian Wood Council, American Hardwood Export Council, American Forest & Paper Association and groups in Europe like FEFPEB and CEI-BOIS (the European Confederation of woodworking industries), have already commissioned numerous studies that continue to confirm wood is good when comparing the use of wood to alternative materials.

The first crystal-clear benefit… It doesn’t take oil to grow a tree.

There is no other commonly-used building material that requires so little energy to produce as wood. Thanks to photosynthesis, trees are able to use an abundant natural resource (i.e. the sun) as it captures CO2 in the air, combine it with water these plants get from the soil to produce an amazing organic material, wood.

The second crystal-clear benefit… As a substitute, the planet benefits when wood is chosen for oil-based products. And there are numerous ways to choose wood.

According to the CEI-BOIS, here is a great example on the real-life benefits of using wood over alternative materials:

“Every cubic meter of wood used as a substitute for other building materials reduces CO2 emissions to the atmosphere by an average of 1.1 ton CO2. If this is added to the 0.9 tons of CO2 stored in wood, each cubic meter of wood saves a total of 2 tons CO2. Based on these figures, a 10% increase in the percentage of wooden houses in Europe would produce sufficient CO2 savings to account for about 25% of the reductions prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol5.”

And the final puzzle pieces that tie everything together are Life Cycle Assessments and Environment Product Declarations.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life from-cradle-to-grave (i.e., from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). LCA’s can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental concerns by:

  • Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases;
  • Evaluating the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases;
  • Interpreting the results to help make a more informed decision.

Want an example of why LCA’s are so powerful for our industry? Here is a recent LCA of rough sawn, kiln-dried hardwood on the American Hardwood Export Council website.

Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a standardized way of quantifying the environmental impact of a product or system. Declarations include information on the environmental impact of raw material acquisition, energy use and efficiency, content of materials and chemical substances, emissions to air, soil and water and waste generation. The EPD is very much like a product nutrition label. Want an example of an EPD specific to wood? There are a number of wood product EPD’s now listed on the American Wood Council website.

What’s next?

Continuing the great work of our colleagues in Europe (, the NWPCA, Western Pallet Association and the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association have teamed up on an exciting new project to develop and deliver sound, fact-based materials that tout the many advantages of wood packaging. 

We have a great environmental message with emerging tools that will drive the point home to a variety of audiences, and new collaborative opportunities to leverage the power of this industry and our messaging. Nature’s Packaging… two words tell our story.

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