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Wood must be at the heart of the green economy, say scientists

Published: 16 October 2012

A green economy must be based on natural, environmentally sound and sustainable materials and goods. For this, wood is surely the ideal candidate. It’s a renewable material, and products made from it store carbon. Through forest products, forests, as well as sequestering carbon, also play a crucial role in storing carbon and in replacing fossil fuel, concrete and steel, which have higher carbon emissions and a significantly larger ecological footprint.

The general public, most policymakers and even the construction industry often see wood as a “traditional” material, with little or no relevance to modern technologies and current environmental concerns.  UNECE wants to change this perception and has therefore turned to science.

Over 100 experts and scientists gathered in Geneva on 15 October to discuss Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), and how this methodology can highlight wood and its qualities as a sustainable material with an increasing number of innovative uses.  LCA can be applied to evaluate the total environmental impacts of a material or a product throughout its life.  

The experts and scientists drew up a set of recommendations for action by governments, the private sector and UNECE.  When discussed and approved by the UNECE Timber Committee, which is meeting this week, the recommendations will help better communicate the benefits of LCA to a larger public so that consumers can make the right choices when selecting materials and products.

Paola Deda, Chief of the UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section, said that “as consumers, we need to be sure we’re not basing our choices on erroneous beliefs and perceptions.  LCA provides us with a scientific method to assess the ecological footprint of a material or product from cradle to grave so that we can make informed choices”. 

LCA can compare the efficiency and sustainability of wood with that of other materials for use in different products and purposes. It thus helps to identify in which instances wood use is the best choice.  The sustainability of using wood for energy, for instance, depends very much on the life cycle and related impact of the woody material that is used, as well as on the scale of its use.

The “cascaded” use of wood helps to make the best use of wood and its ability to store carbon and replace other, less ecologically friendly materials. “Cascaded” means where wood is used in one product and then, at the end of that product’s life recycled into another. And this process is repeated many times before the “final” wood product is used for energy.

For more information on the results of the workshop and to view all the presentations, please refer to: www.unece.org/forests/lca-workshop.html

Workshop coordinator:
Elina Warsta
ECE-FAO Forestry and Timber Section
Palais des Nations

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

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