Suppose America stopped harvesting its trees to make lumber, plywood, paper,
and other wood products. What effect would this have on our environment? Let's
What would we use as a building material for homes and furniture? What would
we use to print books and stationery? Would we substitute steel, aluminum, masonry,
plastic, and other products? Buy wood from other countries? Or do without?
If we substituted non-wood building products, the environment would be the clear
loser. Non-wood products are environmentally expensive. The supplies of ores
and petroleum for their production are finite; once gone, they are gone forever.
Wood, on the other hand, is a renewable resource from an endless supply of trees.
Non-wood products require far more energy to manufacture than wood: nine times
as much to make a steel stud as a wood stud, for example. That further depletes
supplies of fossil fuels and coal. Not to mention increased pollution of the
air and water, while adding to the potential for global warming through the greenhouse
Wood is also the best insulator of all structural building materials, with
millions of tiny air cells trapped within its cellular structure providing a
barrier against heat and cold. An inch of wood is 15 times as efficient an insulator
as concrete, 400 times as efficient as steel, and 1,770 times as efficient as
aluminum. So, homes and other buildings built with wood require far less energy
to heat and cool, thus conserving fossil fuels and coal. Another benefit of using
wood is that it is reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable. Inorganic materials
not only require excessive energy to produce, but also to recycle or dispose
of them when their use has been terminated.
Source: Athena, A Life Cycle Assessment Technology, Forintek
Each American uses nearly 718 pounds of paper and 100
board feet of lumber and structural panel products annually.
Some may ask if we running out of trees by harvesting
so many of them for the needs of a swelling population?
Not at all. Fortunately, the United States has some of
the best tree-growing land in the world, and billions
of tees are planted each year to sustain the forest.
More wood is grown each year in the U.S. than is harvested
or lost to disease, insects, and fire. Growth exceeds
harvest by 28%. It's no surprise, then, that the nation
has more trees today than it had 75 years ago, or that about a third of the
entire United States - 747 million acres - is covered
with trees. Or even the fact that this amount of forestland
is two-thirds of what existed in pre-Columbian America
some 500 years ago.
A major reason that trees are so plentiful in America is because people plant
and grow them for use as wood products. These trees also provide important
environmental benefits, ranging from windbreaks, shade, and soil stabilization
to pure aesthetics, wildlife habitat, plus improved air and water quality.
Forests are oxygen factories and greenhouse exchangers. Growing just one pound
of wood in a vigorous younger forest removes 1.47 pounds of carbon dioxide
from the atmosphere and replaces it with 1.07 pounds of life-sustaining oxygen.
Carbon dioxide accounts for about half of the world's greenhouse gases, which
trap solar rays. An old forest reverses the process, removing oxygen and emitting
As long as America continues to plant and grow new trees for wood products,
the environment will be the clear winner. So, in a very real sense, wood products
are the most environmentally responsible building material anyone could ever
Resource: Southern Forest Products Association - sfpa.org