Wood on the Web: American Forests

At Nature’s Packaging, we are always on the lookout for new websites that demonstrate how wood, as useful resource, is a necessary and interesting part of our everyday world. Of course, wood packaging in all its forms would not be possible without forests and the trees that provide the raw materials. In today’s blog post on Nature’s Packaging, we visit the American Forests Organization.

AmericanForests.org

One Nation, Under Trees

Founded in 1875 as the American Forestry Association and originally led by Dr. John Aston Warder, American Forests is the oldest national non-profit organization dedicated to conservation and reforestation throughout the United States. They were also one of the pioneer groups that helped in founding the U.S. Forest Service.

American Forests has three stated goals to accomplish by 2030:

  • To plant at least 4 billion trees across the United States (as part of the Trillion Tree Movement)
  • In 100 American cities, every under-resourced neighborhood, reaches a passing Tree Equity Score
  • At least 100,000 people, especially from under-resourced areas, with jobs in forestry.

The conservation and reforestation movement encompasses both rural and urban landscapes and their mission is to “create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to wilderness, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife”.

To those ends, their endeavors are dedicated to restoring America’s forests through projects and programs like the American ReLeaf Program that helps implement reforestation projects in partnership with local governments and municipalities.

Also, with over 140 million acres of forestland located in urban and suburban areas, American Forests Urban ReLeaf Program works with these communities to properly plan, plant, and maintain urban forest treescapes and environments for the health and well-being of its residents.

American Forests are at the forefront of shaping government policies around forest preservation and reforestation at both a federal and local level. As mentioned, they were instrumental in the creation of the US Forest Service in 1905.

Most policy work today is centered around the 1 Trillion Tree Movement (1t.org), which is “a World Economic Forum-led (and American Forests-supported) platform for governments, corporations, nonprofits and individuals worldwide who have made or will make commitments to increase the number of trees on the planet and/or prevent the loss of trees that are already in the ground. This will, collectively, add up to 1 trillion healthy trees globally by 2030”.

Their website also offers some great report and white paper resources dedicated to urban forestry, forest preservation, wildfire resilience, and government policy among other things.

Tree Equity Score

The American Forests organization has created a unique scoring system based on what they call Tree Equity.

Tree Equity focuses on tree coverage in cities and urban areas across the US and considers multiple factors including:

  • Existing tree canopy
  • Population density
  • Income
  • Employment
  • Surface temperature
  • Race
  • Age
  • Health

These factors are input and summed to create a Tree Equity Score between 0 and 100. A score of 100 means the neighborhood has achieved Tree Equity. The Tree Equity Score Analyzer (TESA) is an interesting tool that can be used by local government and policy makers to help plan where planting trees would have the best positive impact for the local community.

The TESA tool is free for anyone to use, and it will help you explore a location and determine the Tree Equity Score. A tip here is to start with a city near you and use the map feature to pinpoint your neighborhood.

Tree Equity Score websiteWhy?

Why learn about conservation of forests, reforestation, and urban forestry? Because these projects are not only vital to the public at large. The organizations, projects, and tools connected with these initiatives are an integral part of forest management at a national scale.

The organizations and associations that champion our national forests are the ones that ultimately shape the policy and laws around the industries that provide resources and materials for the forest products industry. The wooden pallet and container industry sits squarely within that box and we must be “aware of” and “informed on” the issues and challenges faced by the partner groups and industries that are both upstream and downstream from our own industry.

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable forest management aims to ensure that there is a continuous supply of timber and non-timber forest products. Sustainability also means preserving the processes and structures that create, support, and sustain forests by integrating conservation and development goals. To accomplish these goals, sustainable forest management combines principles from forestry, agriculture, environmental protection, economics, ecology, and sociology.

The Role of Sustainable Forest Management

The role of sustainable forest management is to ensure that forests continue to provide the ecosystem processes that society depends upon. Forests are important for a wide variety of reasons: they prevent soil erosion, regulate water resources, purify the air, and protect biodiversity (by providing wildlife habitat).

Moreover, they have an enormous capacity for carbon storage. Currently, about 350 billion tons of carbon are stored in the world’s forests, which is about 65% of the global total. As an alternative to deforestation, sustainable forest management allows for harvesting timber while maintaining its ecological, economic, and social functions.

Forest Management

The term “forest management” refers to a range of activities required to care for the forest from conception to harvest. These activities include planning the harvesting schedule, silviculture, and road building. Forest management requires up-to-date information about the forest’s standing stock of timber and non-timber products such as herbs, resins, fibers, and its connectivity with other forests to ensure a continuous flow of products into the marketplace. To maintain these connections, a clear understanding of the forest needs to be developed; this requires an analysis of how the forest functions.

Sustainability Indicators

Indicators are used to measure changes in forests and determine whether they are being managed sustainably. Changes can be measured by collecting data on indicators such as carbon storage or biodiversity over time. These indicators are vital for measuring progress toward sustainability goals. The key sustainable forest management indicator is the change in biomass or carbon storage over time.

Researchers measure carbon storage using above-ground biomass combined with estimates of deadwood densities at different ages. This approach allows them to calculate the amount of total stored carbon in a forest, which varies with tree size and age class distribution within a forest.

Sometimes, a change in carbon storage is also viewed as an indicator of governmental policies because ‘how’ a society uses its forests impacts the total amount of carbon stored. For example, if deforestation increases while reforestation and afforestation decrease this may indicate that it will not be easy for countries to achieve their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Forests play an integral role in mitigating global warming by sequestering large amounts of atmospheric carbon and increasing biodiversity, protecting watersheds and reducing erosion. Because forests account for about 46% of all terrestrial photosynthesis they remove significant amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

Trees use CO2 from the atmosphere in photosynthesis, converting it into wood and leaves. When the trees die, decomposition returns this carbon to the atmosphere where it is available for re-uptake by plants during subsequent growth. Reducing forest cover and biodiversity will result in lower levels of stored carbon.

Carbon Sequestration Capacity

Forests can sequester more than 1 million metric tons of carbon per square kilometer (km2) over long periods (100 years or more), with the amount varying depending on factors such as climate, soil conditions, and tree diversity. The Taiga, for example, stores the most carbon per unit area. However, tropical rain forests may contain more carbon overall because they tend to exhibit more biodiversity and density than forests in other parts of the world.

The primary aim of sustainable forest management is to increase biomass through active management rather than natural processes such as fire or disease. Depending on the type of land-use management, a country can achieve either negative net emissions from its forestry sector by slashing tree numbers and allowing forests to mature until harvesting starts some years later, or positive net emissions by increasing levels of biomass through practices like reforestation. In fact, afforestation has become one of the most successful tools in reducing net emission levels globally.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, a country accounts for carbon sequestered from its forests within its national greenhouse gas emissions account. This calculation is based on data submitted by each country to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Carbon Emissions Reductions

As well as storing carbon, forests also reduce greenhouse gas concentration by acting as a sink for atmospheric CO2 emissions. The most effective way to reduce net emissions from the forestry sector is to ensure that trees are planted faster than they are being cut down, at least until this balance is achieved. Increased tree planting will result in accompanying social and environmental benefits like maintaining biodiversity and increasing water quality.

Growth of Forests on Former Croplands

Planting forests on cropland is one way to combat climate change. Estimates indicate that if 10% of the world’s arable land were converted back into forests. This would be equivalent to removing half of all cars from roads or closing down 300 coal-fired power stations.

Similarly, successful governmental policies can be adopted around the world to help combat climate change afforestation, such as offering tax breaks to organizations that plant trees or providing subsidies for renewable energy.

Challenges in Sustainable Forest Management

  • Human activities impair the ability of forests to sequester carbon by either causing deforestation or altering the species makeup of existing forests. For example, if native species are replaced with non-native ones while replanting efforts are in place, then there will not be as many environmental benefits because the new plants do not support wildlife. These negative impacts can only be avoided through better education and stricter governmental policies.
  • Effective management of forests requires an understanding of the area’s history, as well as current policies that affect forest use. For example, if a country has under-reported past deforestation amounts and reforestation efforts are not successful, then carbon levels will not decrease and greenhouse gas levels will increase. Countries should be diligent in reporting accurate information on deforestation rates so that proper corrective action can be taken.
  • The success of sustainable forestry is largely dependent on the overall goals of both environmental protection and human economic entitlement. This approach to forest management can only work if all parties are committed to protecting the environment while also ensuring their economic interests are met.

Sustainable forest management employs the use of sustainable forest management indicators, such as monitoring biodiversity or measuring changes in carbon storage. Sustainable forest management is not only a set of techniques that can be applied to forests but also an ideology that encompasses all aspects of political, social, and economic life.

Harvested Wood Products

As governments and policymakers search for solutions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigate climate change, the role of forests and harvested wood products becomes an ever more important part of the discussion. Harvested timbers from forests are converted from raw materials into many different types of Harvested Wood Products (HWPs) that include everything from furniture to fuel.

Harvested Wood Products hold carbon through sequestration and, when recycled, continue to act as a unit of storage for the carbon dioxide. HWPs are an essential part of the overall carbon cycle. The carbon in HWPs moves through different stages and storage levels until it is finally released back into the atmosphere. This cycle for wood-based products can last anywhere from a few days to centuries depending on the application.

As mentioned in another Nature’s Packaging post, substitution of fossil-based fuels with wood-based fuel types is an active area of research by the USFS Forest Products Lab. Research and development of new and novel ways to use wood will change the demand for wood products and ultimately have an impact in the fight against climate change.

Think about this, the manufacture and transport of wood products requires less fossil fuel energy than traditional building materials such as concrete, aluminum, and steel. Recent comparisons show that the production of steel and concrete as construction material requires multiples of more energy overall than harvested wood products.

The combination of extended carbon storage through wood products and their recycling lifecycle, innovative new sources of fuel types from wood based sources and use of less fossil fuels in the creation usable building materials will help to optimize the climate mitigation effects in the use of wood products.

Research plays is key in developing new applications, improving the efficiency of the raw material to usable wood product process, advancing product quality, and extending the life span and cycles of harvested wood products.

Extending the lifespan of wood products through recycling not only carries a longer service life for the product (looking at you pallets!), it also means longer carbon storage and less energy consumption through replacement by new materials.

Certification of harvested wood products through new technologies like blockchain can contribute to increasing their share of the market overall by informing consumers that the wood products come from sustainably managed forests.

These new initiatives coupled with an increasing demand for wood products through demonstrating their value not only as a renewable resource, but also as a versatile medium for innovation can thus have an important role in the fight against climate change and the future of wood based products for the global community.

Recycling and Re-usable products

Today I Learned – Carbon Sequestration

Carbon is the most common GHG (greenhouse gas) produced in both natural ecological processes and in abundance by human being’s through various industries and technologies. The excess of GHG has an adverse effect on climate.

The overview of climate change is already familiar to us:  excess carbon production as a greenhouse gas leads to a rise in global climate temperature which in turn leads to climate events and patterns that can cause great suffering and cost.

Many countries, and once again the United States, are participating in The Paris Agreement to tackle the mitigation of climate change and global warming through science, technology and policy. The current President of the United States’ stated goal is a 50-52% reduction of emission by 2030 with net zero emissions by 2050. This is certainly a bold goal for climate mitigation and sustainability.

As a renewable resource-based industry, we must embrace the science and continually proclaim the contribution of our business practices to the greater good of sustainability goals as tied to the supply chain.

As an industry, we earn it by every pallet and pound of wood that is recycled and re-used, and contributes to a reduction in greenhouse gases through continued carbon sequestration.

In today’s Nature’s Packaging discussion, we take a look at carbon sequestration and how wood and pallets are capable of net positive impacts on sustainability goals for the industries serviced by the wooden pallet and container industry.

Carbon Sequestration

The chemical, physical, and biological processes of the earth capture carbon from the earth’s atmosphere. In carbon sequestration, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by trees, grasses, and other plants via photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass (the trunks, branches, foliage, and roots) and soils.

Trees feed on the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A truly efficient carbon capture system created by nature. As a renewable resource, forest management and tree planting are a core strategy to reduce carbon emissions and combat deforestation.

As long as that wood exists in some form, the carbon stays trapped inside. Thus, wood-based building materials keep the carbon trapped. Mass timber technologies is a great example here.

As far as wood pallets are concerned, the National Wood & Pallet Container Association in conjunction with the USFS-Forest Products Lab has developed a cradle-to-grave Life-Cycle Assessment that speaks directly to emissions and carbon capture. The Environmental Product Declaration is a great resource to share with customers and those that manage sustainability initiatives in their organizations.

Another great tool is the NP carbon calculator, which is available right here on the Nature’s Packaging website. The carbon calculator is an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand tool that allows you to demonstrate to customers, employees, and others just how effective pallet recycling is for reducing carbon emissions.

The calculator will show not only the metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions that are saved per month, it also frames that calculation into how many equivalent cars are taken “off the road” per month. “This estimation is based on the EPA Waste Reduction Model (WARM) for “dimensional lumber”. It is derived by taking the difference between the net CO2 emissions produced by land-filling and the net CO2 emissions produced by recycling dimensional lumber”. *from the Nature’s Packaging carbon calculator tool

The WARM Model

The Waste Reduction Model (WARM) calculates and sums greenhouse gas emissions, energy savings and economic impacts of baseline and alternative waste management practices, including source reduction, recycling, combustion, composting, anaerobic digestion and land-filling. The model calculates emissions, energy units and economic factors across a wide range of material types commonly found in municipal solid waste in the following categories:

  • Metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E),
  • Energy units (million British Thermal Unit – BTU),
  • Labor hours,
  • Wages ($), and
  • Taxes ($). *Basic Information about WARM

The EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) recognizes 54 material types. In situations where a material isn’t directly recognized, it is acceptable to use a proxy. To be considered a suitable proxy, a material should be similar in processes related to:

  • How materials are acquired
  • How the product is manufactured
  • How the materials are collected at the end of their lifecycle
  • What materials and processes are offset when the primary material is recycled

A proxy is rated as Acceptable, Good, or Very Good. In the case of wood pallets, they are rated as Very Good based on the components of a pallet being dimensional lumber.

The WARM and proxy information for dimensional lumber are utilized correctly in the carbon calculator tool on the Nature’s Packaging website, so feel confident you are using an important tool to help your customers.

Climate change mitigation and sustainability goals are fast becoming center stage in government and corporate policy initiatives around the world. The wooden pallet and container industry will continue to do our part through beneficial business practices and helping other industries achieve their recycling goals now and into the future.

Today I Learned-Wood Stringer Pallets-Part 1

For those in the wood pallet industry, pallet types, pallet parts, and vocabulary are second nature. The terms and topics are a part of doing business everyday.

For those outside of the pallet industry that may be tasked with buying pallets, these terms and topics can be difficult to understand or there may be some gaps in understanding.

So today, we at Nature’s Packaging want to help you (the pallet buyer) with a short and simple guide about the most common wood stringer pallet in the supply chain and some of the terminology around it, the 48×40 wooden stringer pallet (shown above as the featured image).

The 48×40 Wooden Stringer Pallet

While there a certainly a whole range of wood pallets sizes in the the supply chain, the standard 48″x40″ wood pallet is by far the most common and utilized for transporting goods. The 48″x40″ is also sometimes called a “GMA” pallet. GMA stands for, “Grocery Manufacturers Association” and the GMA pallet is a guideline developed by that association to help streamline transportation of products within the food industry.

As seen in the image above, the standard 48″x40″ pallet is usually composed of a few different components:

  • stringers
  • deck-boards
  • fasteners (nails)

Stringers – also known as “runners”, are a continuous length-wise beam component that acts as support for deckboards and allows the deckboards to be spaced apart according to the needs of the pallet user. On a typical 48×40 pallet you will find 3 stringers spaced evenly apart with a center stringer and two at the edges.

Notice the notches in the stringers in the image above. A standard 48×40 stringer pallet is also known as partial 4-way pallet. This means that a forklift or pallet jack can enter from the front or back of the pallet to move the load, but only a forklift can lift a 48×40 pallet by coming in from the side using the notches. Most pallet jacks will not fit in the space.

Deck-boards – wooden components typically nailed perpendicular across the top and bottom of the pallet to the stringers. Deck-boards are spaced according to the needs of the pallet user and their unit load. The top and bottom deck-boards that sit on the front and back edge are commonly known as the lead boards and the others are the interior deck-boards. Typical configurations for the number of top and bottom deckboards on a 48″x40″ pallet are 7 top deck-boards and 5 bottom deck-boards. Many times you will find the lead boards are wider than the interior deck-boards, this aids in stability and can help lower the repair rate due to forklifts running into the edge frequently.

Sometimes the bottom deck-boards will be “chamfered”, this a beveled cut along part or the full width of the deck-board to help with the passage of the pallet jack forks into the pallet.

Fasteners – or “nails” are almost always threaded, rather than a common nail used in carpentry, as the threading will help with the pallet durability and strength. Usually 2-3 nails are used per deckboard to secure it to the stringer. Here is a sample below for better understanding.

Fasteners or nails

Pallet Size

When discussing a wood stringer pallet with your supplier, the pallet length and width are based on the stringer length and deck-board width respectively. So a 48″x40″ stringer pallet has 48″ length stringers at full length and 40″ deck-boards across. Pallet size for a stringer pallet ALWAYS starts with the stringer length. Remember that.

Pallet Build Types

A 48×40 wood pallet can be built several different ways. What this refers to is the components used for building the pallet. The following are different build types:

  • New
  • Combo
  • Remand
  • Recycled

New – A wood pallet built with all new components

Combo – A wood pallet built with a combination of new and recycled components. Typically the stringers would be new and the deck-boards would be recycled. Often a more cost effective alternative to completely new pallets.

Remand – A wood pallet “re-manufactured” from recycled components entirely (except for the nails used). Often, these will be a smaller size than a 48×40 pallet as the components are recycled from the larger pallet size. 36×36 pallets are a common size for remand pallet.

Recycled – A wood pallet that has components repaired so that it can be re-used. Typically, this will be some number of damaged deck-board components that are removed and a “new” recycled deck-board is nailed back into place. There can also be a companion stringer, otherwise known as a “plug” or “crutch” that is nailed alongside the interior of a stringer to act as support when the original stringer is cracked or partially broken.

Wood pallets have a 95% recycle rate which makes the industry one of the most environmentally friendly in the supply chain services. We at Nature’s Packaging hope that this quick guide will help you when making decisions to purchase pallets. Always work with your pallet services provider to help you find the solution to your pallet needs.

 

*The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association has an excellent resource library that contains documents like the Uniform Standard for Wooden Pallets that provide an in-depth review of  the subject matter. Please use the links to visit the library and learn more.

 

Searching the web

The Wide World of Wood on the Web

Here at Nature’s Packaging we love wood and are always on the lookout for new resources where we can learn more about it. Recently, we discovered this gem of a website:

The Wood Database

 

Front page of the Wood Database website

The website creator is a gentleman named Eric Meier. As a woodworker, he found himself using the library to find material on wood identification and began pulling it together on his computer and printing out a file for reference. This wood reference sheet or chart was added to over time and became an indispensable resource.

He came to realize that a lot of the information and data available about wood species was vague and subjective (moderately hard and heavy, with good strength properties…what does that even mean?). There was no benchmark or standard or so he thought until he came upon this:

Wood Handbook:  Wood as an Engineering Material

This is an excellent free resource made available to the public by our friends at the USFS-Forest Products Laboratory which we covered previously on Nature’s Packaging, All Things Wood: USFS-Forest Products Laboratory The Wood Handbook and Tropical Timbers of the World became the cornerstone pieces for the project.

Over time, Eric compiled more data and information on various woods and decided it was time to build a website for his project. Thus, the Wood Database was born.

The Wood Filter

The key feature of the Wood Database website is the Wood Filter. Here you can use various filters narrow down the search for a specific wood. Here is a list of the Basic Filters:

  • Genus
  • Wood Type
  • Location
  • Color/Appearance
  • Decay Resistance
  • CITES Status
  • IUCN Status

and some of the Advanced Filters:

  • Tree Height
  • Trunk Diameter
  • Avg Dried Weight
  • Janka Hardness
  • Modulus of Rupture
  • Elasticity
  • Crushing Strength
  • Shrinkage %
  • T/R Ratio

There are also numerous good articles on general wood information, identifying wood, mechanical properties, wood shop reference sheets, working with wood, and wood safety.

The Wood Database by Eric Meier is truly a great resource for wood workers and those working in wood. Take a few minutes to read a few articles, try out the filter, and learn more about the wide world of wood.

Man at laptop entering data for sustainability ratings

Are You Ready for Sustainability Scoring?

For many companies, the economic downturn in 2020 meant that sustainability was less important than survival. Supply chains were tested, shocked, and stretched with the results being an extended wait for critical replenishment or empty shelves altogether.

The need for sustainable policies didn’t evaporate as businesses continued to call for mitigating their impact on the environment. However, keeping the lights on became the number one priority.

As the country begins to return to some sense of normalcy with the coronavirus pandemic receding and companies in recovery mode, many are looking to renew their pledge to sustainability in the supply chain. Prompted by climate change predictions that are growing increasingly extreme, they are implementing changes with a restored sense of urgency.

To accelerate their aims, many companies are utilizing third party sources to evaluate their operations in regard to sustainability. As the pallet industry can be a vital piece in these efforts, many providers in our industry are getting questions from customers about sustainable practices or are learning more about these ratings. In today’s blog post at Nature’s Packaging, we will take a look at one of these popular third-party sources that customers use to help rate and score their sustainability commitments, a company known as EcoVadis.

Sustainability Scoring-EcoVadis

To date, EcoVadis has rated over 75,000 companies worldwide. They provide a multi-dimensional sustainability rating of companies. The EcoVadis sustainability process is based on 7 core principles that are designed to measure the quality of a company’s sustainability policies, actions, and results.

  • Evidence Based – supporting documents are a critical burden of proof. These can be certifications, policy documents, reporting KPI’s. Credit is given only where evidence is provided.
  • Industry, Location, and Size – sustainability management is evaluated considering material industry issues, presence in risk countries, and the size and geographical footprint of the company.
  • Diversification of Sources – in addition to the evidence based internal supporting documents, the viewpoint of organizations around the company are taken into consideration. These can be trade unions, local authorities, and other third-party organizations that work with the company.
  • Technology – a rating system can only become reliable if supported by technology. Technology is the key to learning, growth, and scalability.
  • Assessment by International Sustainability Experts – supporting documents are analyzed by a team of sustainability experts who keep track of the latest best practices in sustainability.
  • Traceability and Transparency – every document used in the rating process is stored securely and can be traced back. Rated companies have access, if needed, to the most detailed results and to each scoring decision.
  • Excellence Through Continuous Improvement – A professional rating methodology is open to quality controls, continuous improvement, and feedback from stakeholders.

*from EcoVadis Ratings Methodology Overview and Principles

The assessment considers a range of sustainability issues, which are grouped into four broad themes:

  • Environment
  • Labor and Human Rights
  • Ethics
  • Sustainable Procurement

The evidence-based assessments are distilled into scorecards, providing zero to one hundred (0-100) scores when applicable.

  • 85-100 Outstanding
  • 65-84 Advanced
  • 45-64 Good
  • 25-44 Partial
  • 0-24 Insufficient

The scorecards provide direction on strengths and areas that may need improvement. The rated companies can use their scorecards to focus efforts and evolve plans that improve their sustainability performance. A rated company can also compare their score to benchmarks in their industry.

Through their services, EcoVadis provides a platform that drives companies to collaborate with their supplier/partners and have them rated as well. All devised to propel continuous improvement in a company’s sustainability program and bring it to a more comprehensive level.

The sustainable supply chain is a strategic directive for many executive leaders. The benefits of achieving supply chain sustainability are numerous. It can reduce the risk of disruption, serve as a guard for brand reputation, lower costs through collaboration with upstream and downstream participants, and add a significant market advantage with consumers who are much more aware of a company’s efforts to implement a green and responsible supply chain.

For our part, the pallet industry doesn’t struggle with sustainability, we embrace it. The ability to incorporate wood products and processes into a customer’s sustainability goals makes for an easy win when it comes to policies in a company green supply chain. As a service provider to companies that utilize third-party sources like EcoVadis, we have many resources available that will help provide that necessary evidence-based documentation. Visit the NWPCA’s website to learn more, download those important documents, and be ready when your customers talk to you about sustainability ratings and scorecards.

graphic logo for Nature's Packaging website

The New Nature’s Packaging

Welcome Friends!

The Pallet Foundation, in conjunction with the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, the Western Pallet Association, and the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association are proud to present the newly re-designed Nature’s Packaging website!

The new website is now more user-friendly than ever with easier navigation and packed full of resources that you can use to help educate your customers, or educate yourself.

Take look around and come to the Nature’s Packaging LinkedIn page to let us know what you think.

Renewable Resources-Woody Biomass

Wood is one of nature’s best and most abundant renewable resources and human beings have used wood in a myriad of ways since time immemorial. In lockstep with technological progress, the utilization of wood products has advanced to create new opportunities in such diverse fields as architecture, computer technology, and energy consumption. In this week’s Nature’s Packaging post, we will look deeper into wood as an innovative energy resource.

Biomass

Biomass is renewable organic plant or animal material. Biomass energy sources include things like plants, crops, left over materials from agriculture and forest harvesting, gases produced from landfills, and industrial/municipal solid wastes.

What makes them renewable? In the case of plants, crops, agriculture and forest residuals, they can be consumed through various means and then replanted and grown quickly again. On the other hand, industrial and municipal waste is produced on a continual basis.

In many cases biomass, as a renewable energy source, can be converted to energy by burning or through chemical reaction. This energy can be used for everything from producing heat for homes, electrical power for buildings, and even fuel for vehicles (i.e. Ethanol).

Woody Biomass

Woody biomass is the residual material from trees and shrubs that includes the parts of a tree not normally harvested for use:  the roots, leaves, branches, smaller limbs, bark, and sometimes vines. Woody biomass comes from various sources:  forest management operations, trees grown for energy use, forest products waste, wood used as fuel, urban wood waste, tree and forest thinning operations that are implemented to reduce the damage from forest fires and woodland pests.

  • Forest management operations – This includes the material typically left behind when a forest is harvested for timber like branches, treetops, stumps, and other remains
  • Trees grown for energy use – Trees or woody plants that grow back quickly when trimmed. This includes short-rotation plantings for species like poplar and willow.
  • Forest products waste – The sawdust and scrap material from sawmills and furniture production are included in this category.
  • Wood fuel – items like pulp wood and commercial grade timber used as a fuel source for heating buildings or used as heat in an industrial process.
  • Urban wood waste – Wood debris that is generated from clearing land, storm residues, trimmings from landscaping and clearings from power-line trimmings.
  • Tree and forest thinning – trimming and thinning forests and tree stands including the removal of unwanted tree species and plants. All remnants that are removed in order to maintain or improve the ecological health of the forest and improve its ability to prevent the risk of wildfires.

Woody Biomass Energy

Most of the woody biomass sourced for energy is the by-product of forest management operations and the forest products industry. As an energy source, woody biomass is primarily converted to energy through the processes of combustion, chemical conversion, biochemical conversion, and thermo-chemical conversion.

  • Combustion – burning woody biomass to produce heat.
  • Chemical conversion – breaking down woody biomass using a chemically induced process. Think biodiesel.
  • Biochemical conversion – using a living organism (i.e., bacteria or yeast) to break down biomass
  • Thermochemical conversion – exposing biomass to heat produces different types of gases and liquids, or solids (i.e., gasification, liquefaction, pyrolysis)

Electricity

Wood can be burned in a boiler to produce electricity. Heat from the burning wood boils water and generates steam, which powers turbines and creates electricity. The electricity is often utilized to power everything from small industrial operations to municipal power plants.

Heat

Building and using a fire to keep warm is the oldest heating method in the world. In the context of woody biomass and heat, these heating systems (boilers, stoves, and outdoor furnaces) are typically used to heat building and/or industrial spaces. A common alternative includes wood pellet heating systems for both the home and commercial uses.

Wood pellets are a biomass product that has been processed and condensed into small cylindrical pellets that are ideal for storage and heat production due to their small size and density. In recent years, they have become a popular method for heating homes, via a wood pellet stove, and are increasing in popularity for commercial/industrial heating as well.

Co-generation

When electricity and heat are generated and used at the same time, this process is referred to as co-generation or Combined Heat and Power (CHP). In commercial and industrial settings, boilers that use wood to produce electricity also produce hot water and/or steam which is utilized in other applications. Co-generation is the most common use of wood energy in the United States. Pulp and paper manufacturing plants use woody biomass and wood by-products in these systems to produce heat and power.

Biofuels

While most fuels for transportation are produced from refining petroleum products, biofuels are being explored extensively to mitigate concerns over traditional fossil fuel depletion, environmental issues, national energy security, and fluctuating prices. The most recognized biofuel types are ethanol, methanol.

  • Ethanol – wood based (cellulosic) ethanol is produced from the cell walls of woody materials. Chemically more complex than traditional plant-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel. It has low carbon, sulfur and particulate emissions as well.
  • Methanol – also known as wood alcohol, it is derived from the distillation process of wood. Typically used in professional racing fuel and as an additive to increase the octane of gasoline.

Woody biomass as a natural, renewable resource utilized to generate heat, electricity, power, and fuels has both advantages and disadvantages. In removing it from forests, it can help maintain healthy forests and help mitigate the risk of wildfires, however it is important to understand that over-use or stripping out too much woody material can have a negative effect on soil fertility and natural habitats. It is a delicate balance between economy and ecology where practices like silviculture can help define the right mix.

A common question is whether there is enough woody biomass available to create a sustainable resource that can scale to meet the needs of a large population sector or manufacturing base. This will depend in part on government policies, incentives, and entrepreneurial activity that drives new innovations in the sector.

While there is no energy source, renewable or otherwise, that is complete in its ability to solve all the challenges associated with energy production and consumption, woody biomass certainly provides viable alternatives that can and will complement those needs now and in the future. Wood will always be good.

 

The Triple Bottom Line

As issues related to climate change, recycling of resources, and carbon emissions become ever more important to the public, many companies are being guided by the present social awareness and political initiatives to implement more sustainability practices into their normal business operations.

Additionally, many C-suite executives of companies are using their leadership to focus on corporate social responsibility plans that incorporate sustainability to save energy, reduce waste, and find alternative uses for the byproducts of their processes. One of the key areas for this exercise is in a company’s supply chain.

A successful sustainable supply chain operates by generating competitive returns on the use of its’ assets without forfeiting the requirements of internal stakeholders and the external partners that are a part of that chain. This is accomplished with legitimate concern for the effect of those operations on the environment and all the people involved.

A fundamental question that arises is how to connect the practice of sustainability with supply chain operations in a way that is meaningful, measurable, and manageable. Enter the “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL) or the three P’s – People, Planet, Profits. In today’s post at Nature’s Packaging, we will take a look at the Triple Bottom Line and how the wooden pallet industry plays an integral part in sustainable supply chains.

What Is The Triple Bottom Line?

In the mid-1990’s, author and activist John Elkington worked to develop an accounting framework that aimed to measure the impact of a company’s operations along three dimensions:  service to community, environmental impact, and economics. Rather than focus solely on the bottom line as profit, companies needed to enact sustainable development and tie it to corporate social responsibility as a means to holistically make the world a better place. The end result, according to Elkington and other adherents, is a positive outcome for all stakeholders and customers that improves business operations.

“Sustainable development involves the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social equity. Companies aiming for sustainability need to perform not against a single, financial bottom line but against the triple bottom line”-John Elkington

Corporate Leadership & TBL

When the triple bottom line of people, planet, profits are put into action in supply chain operations, the values outlined are determined by a company’s mission statement, strategy, management, owners, partners, and customers. Each one of these segments aids in creating the tactics, functions, goals, and expectations that demonstrate a commitment to the policies and guidelines developed in a sustainability plan.

It is the job of executive leadership to properly articulate a program that includes consistent feedback from the ground floor upward as each level, from the warehouse worker to C-suite themselves, will need to understand their role and how it may change in order to execute effectively overall.

Fundamentally, an active supply chain sustainability plan incorporates lean management principles as it is utilized to identify and eliminate waste in process and materials. This means that quantitatively, a measurement of the elements mentioned previously (tactics, functions, goals, and expectations) according to a TBL framework, involves assigning a financial criterion to outcomes that are desired and align to a sustainability model.

People, Planet, Profits, Pallets

To put the above statements in more concrete terms and involve an aspect of financial criteria, it is best to take examples that are easily identifiable in terms of not only supply chain operations, but business operations overall as they often can overlap in achievement of goals.

For example, one method of pegging sustainability as a people-oriented goal in supply chain operations can be reduction of lost workdays due to injury. In fact, this is very often in used in warehouse and manufacturing settings when it is noticeably posted in a high traffic area for all the workers to see. Another way is to measure improvements to worker safety by logging all warnings issued and comparing the volume over a set period of time.

More intangible, but no less important, would be opportunities for education that advances the skillset of workers on the floor and allowing managerial staff to play the role of mentor. All of these initiatives are measurable in terms of participation and can improve the quality of work and output by staff.

In a larger sense, especially as it relates to environmental impact (read: planet), sustainability can be measured in the amount of energy used by various facilities and assets, and the source of the energy itself. In example, many warehouse facilities are incorporating solar energy as an on-site source.

Another example, overall usage of resources like water and tracking the amounts utilized in various processes within the supply chain. The recycling and re-use of various packaging used in the transportation of materials throughout the supply chain is another common metric and easily adapted to sustainability goals.

Sustainability in terms of profits can be measured as an end result to all the initiatives implemented in a TBL-based plan. This includes measuring the level of efficient use of revenue from top to bottom line in reference to sustainability goals from a business unit perspective (supply chain operations, production, administrative, etc.).

In supply chain operations, the utilization of assets and warehouse throughput as measured in key performance indicators against the framework of triple bottom line is one way to integrate sustainability goals to performance goals.

Pallet management operations for customers are a perfect fit in terms of sustainability goals. The pallet industry lends itself quite well to achieve of those goals as a natural part of supply chain operations. Standard operating procedure in a pallet management scenario includes tracking of materials as recycling and re-used.

Additionally, documents like the Pallet Environmental Product Declaration and the Life Cycle Assessment add to the credibility of both the service provider and the customer. Further, The Nature’s Packaging website offers tools like the carbon calculator that gives a tangible sum to pallet recycling efforts by customer companies and their direct positive effect on the carbon emissions of a company’s operations.

In supply chain operations, the triple bottom line to sustainability is a path built by the stakeholders, both inside and outside of the organization. The path advances as growth and improvements are recognized in business units, employees, leadership, and the learned development of best practices in sustainability. Triple bottom line supply chain practices lead to innovation and progress. These in turn create real profit and higher quality standards throughout the chain. As always, the wooden pallet and container industry stands ready, willing, and able to assist in the effort.

 

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