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 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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


US Forest Service Badge

All Things Wood: USFS-Forest Products Laboratory

With a recycling rate at 95%, wood pallets and containers are an essential part of environmentally friendly initiatives to create a more sustainable supply chain. Much of the research in wood products as a renewable, sustainable resource is conducted by the forest products industry in conjunction with government entities. In this week’s post, Nature’s Packaging will explore one of those agencies with a deeper dive into the United States Forest Service-Forest Products Lab.


The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) was created in 1909 under the direction of the 1st Chief of the Forest Service – Gifford Pinchot. He, along with McGarvey Cline and Overton Price, recognized the need for a facility to study, research, and test the physical properties of wood for commercial, industrial, and military uses.

McGarvey Cline is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of the lab and he led the initiative to align with a university. Cline realized that seeking a collaborative agreement with a university would benefit both the pathway for technical study and research of wood, and develop a steady stream of expertise for the forest products community. He also selected the first 45 scientists and personnel to staff the lab.

McGarvey Cline chose the University of Wisconsin at Madison as the official location of the first Forest Products Laboratory and was appointed its first official director. The official ceremony of dedication was conducted on June 4th, 1910 with an upgraded building and laboratory facility built in 1932.

Forest Products Lab

Vision & Mission

The current strategic plan of the Forest Products Lab was devised in 2010. It includes both the mission and vision statements of the FPL:

Mission – To identify and conduct innovative wood and fiber utilization research that contributes to conservation and productivity of the forest resource, thereby sustaining forests, the economy, and quality of life.

Vision – To be a world leader in innovative wood utilization research that significantly improves quality of life and national competitiveness while conserving wood and fiber.In reaching our vision, we will help create a future in which people throughout the world benefit from healthy forests and grasslands that provide round wood, solid sawn wood, composites, fiber, chemicals, energy, and other renewable materials in a sustainable manner.

Research Areas

The focus of the FPL is currently centered around 5 key areas of emphasis:

Advanced Composites – representing more than 40% of the total materials used in residential construction, the FPL works to create composite products from bio-based materials. Composites are especially useful because they can be created from fibers, particles, and flakes from smaller tree species and can also utilize post-industrial and post-consumer wood waste materials.

Advanced Structures – centered around creating innovative wood-based technologies for housing and buildings like engineered wood products, moisture control, performance coatings and finishes, adhesives, wood preservation and composites. Many of the materials used in modern wood frame house and building construction originate here.

Forest Bio-refinery – focused on the development of bio-based fuels and chemicals. This group of technologies utilize chemical, biochemical, and thermal methods to create fuels and chemicals from biomass. Secondarily, this area also works on how to efficiently and effectively remove the woody biomass that can choke forests and create extreme wildfire situations.

Nanotechnology – research in nanocellulose technology through the use of structural, chemical, and mechanical techniques. This section also launched the Nanocellulose Pilot Plant in 2012, which has become a premiere worldwide research facility for the science.

Woody Biomass Utilization – concentrating on the utilization of small diameter, overstocked and underutilized tree material that represent significant forest overgrowth. This area of emphasis has worked to identify other ways to use this material to create profitable by-products and businesses. Examples would include structural material for use in bridges, walkways, and buildings.   

FPL & Wood Pallets

The Pallet Foundation, in conjunction with the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, recently released an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). This important document is made available to the public and provides transparent, factual, product specific environmental data and information which is independently verified through the UL Environment EPD program.

A key part of the EPD is the Life-Cycle Assessment which was a study conducted by the Forest Products Lab that evaluated the environmental impact of manufacturing and recycling wooden pallets. The study covered the cradle-to-grave life-cycle stages of the wooden pallet supply chain using an FPL life-cycle assessment methodology. This included:  sourcing of raw material, product manufacturing, transportation, and reuse, repair, and final disposal of pallets.

The overall conclusion is that recycling and proper end of lifecycle disposal practices with wooden pallets are carbon neutral. Because of the difficulty in tracking pallets through the supply chain, a key feature of the study was an assessment based on a single repair of a pallet. Typically, in real world situations, pallets are repaired multiple times over the life of the product. This would increase the positive environmental impact of wood pallets over their lifetime:

Wood pallets and their components are easy to repair. This study considered a single repair, which was conservative and thus probably overestimated the environmental impacts of a sectoral analysis as indicated by the repair and reuse stage [B2]. If more repairs were considered, less virgin wood material would be required in addition to extending the RSL, which would probably have a substantial positive environmental impact because of how much the wood material inputs affected the GHG profile.

The Future

Since 1910, The US Forest Service – Forest Products Lab has endeavored to provide meaningful facts, data, and science that utilizes wood as its primary resource. Going into the future, the FPL will work to address the critical challenges that affect our modern world. These challenges include:

Carbon Sequestration – forest products research to improve the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions

Sustainable Forestry – sustainable development of forests in the face of worldwide exponential population growth and deforestation

Alternative Energy Sources – ever increasing energy demands coupled with the need to develop new alternatives and create more efficient energy sources that will touch everything from transportation to housing

Urbanization – incorporating and improving forest conservation, maintenance, and growth in the face of increased urban development

Globalization – informing decisions from a local, national, global level by understanding the interconnectedness of all nations and people across the globe and how forests and trees play a key role as a resource

Technological Change – staying at the forefront of information dissemination and structuring accessibility to information utilizing modern communication technologies

Economic Forces – the status of both the US and global economy play a key role in determining how research and study is conducted and how the results are implemented to the benefit of all concerned

Political & Social Forces – All branches of the US government and the public itself will continue to have a profound impact and strong influence on the FPL as it continues to lead research and science in the areas of sustainability, renewable resources, environmental health, and industrial processes.

The Forest Products Lab will continue to uphold its mission, vision, and strategic plan into the 21st century and promote the healthy, sustainable growth of US forests. The lab will also continue to develop cutting edge technologies and science that further enhances the renewable resource of wood and traditional forest products.

Tree farm

Did You Know – What is Silviculture?

Forest-Overhead view

ISPM-15 Protects Forest from Harmful Pests

Forest-Overhead view
Photo by Ron Whitaker on Unsplash

Wood packaging such as crates and pallets are critical to international trade, and to the global economy. Consider that almost two billion wood pallets are used daily within the United States to store and transport goods, and that approximately $400 billion worth of American trade is exported each year using wood pallets and containers.

Wooden packaging is often made from recently milled timber, however. As a result, there is the potential for live insects to be transported unknowingly from one part of the world to another, where they can wreak havoc in stands of timber that have evolved without the benefit of natural defenses to hold invading species at bay. According to the U.S. Forest Service, many of the non-native bark- and wood-infesting insects now in the United States are thought to have arrived in untreated wood packaging.

The motivation for the establishment of ISPM-15 followed some high-profile infestations in North America as well as in other parts of the world. Infestations have been caused by Asian Longhorned Beetle, first identified in the United States in 1996, and the Emerald Ash Borer, initially discovered in Canada and the U.S. during the 1990s.

The Asian Longhorned Beetle was first discovered in 1996, where it was found to be attacking ornamental trees in Chicago and New York City. It subsequently was detected across most northeastern states and California. This insect is native to Asia, where it destroys many deciduous tree species, including maples, elms, and poplars. It is believed to have arrived in untreated wooden crates shipped from China.

The Emerald Ash Borer is another destructive insect that has inflicted considerable damage. It is speculated to have arrived in North America in the 1990s in solid wood packaging and was first detected around Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario in 2002. It has killed millions of ash trees already and still threatens most of the 8.7 billion ash trees located across North America.

With the knowledge that wooden packaging can be a pathway for the international movement of forest pests from one country to another, new international standards under ISPM-15 were established in 2002 and fully implemented in 2006.

ISPM-15 requires that all wood packaging material (WPM) used for international shipments be heat-treated (HT) using conventional kilns or heat treatment chambers, fumigated with methyl bromide (MB) prior to export or treated with dielectric (microwave) heating (DH). All WPM treated to meet ISPM-15 requirements must be marked with a designated ISPM-15 stamp. In Canada, only dielectric heating and heat treatment are allowed. All producers of ISPM-15 stamped products must be approved.

In order to become approved, facilities are inspected and certified. After certification, the supplier is assigned a number and issued a stamp that is applied to wood packaging material to show it is compliant with the ISPM-15 standard. The stamp marking acts as a passport for wood packaging to officially enter ports of entry in foreign countries, and is recognized as sufficient proof that the wood products meet the ISPM-15 standard. There are more than 100 participating countries, worldwide. Lists are available of approved HT agencies and approved MB agencies in the U.S.

The U.S. Forest Service stresses that when properly implemented, ISPM-15 treatments “have been scientifically proven to be highly effective in killing quarantine pests.” In one study, the Nature Conservancy found that the infestation rates of pests in wood packaging decreased by up to 52% between 2003 and 2009, following the implementation of ISPM-15 in 2006.

As NWPCA notes, “Since the wide-scale adoption of ISPM-15 in the United States, there has been a significant reduction in[BG1]  new large-scale establishments of invasive wood-boring insects.”  The full collaboration of the wood packaging industry and plant health organizations in countries around the world has proven to be highly successful in controlling invasive species and thereby ensuring that wood pallets and packaging can continue to safely play their critical role in international commerce.

Innovation in Wood – Cross Laminated Timber

cross laminated timber

The W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana is just one of an increasing number of institutions looking to cross-laminated timber (CLT) for new construction. UM recently requested money from the state legislature to help fund the building of its new $45 million CLT building, to be built from wood grown, harvested, and manufactured in that state.

“It just makes perfect sense for a forestry building and tells the story, and it is a much more sustainable and reasonable way to go,” Alan Townsend, the Franke College dean, told The Missoulian. “And it can look really cool. It’d be a pretty iconic building on campus.”

Based on its earlier adoption in Europe as a building material, interest in CLT structures continues to grow in North America and around the world. Buildings manufactured with CLT panels are faster to construct, more energy-efficient and made from renewable material. Let’s take a closer look.

What is Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)?

Cross-laminated timber (CLT), a sub-category of engineered wood, is created by gluing together several layers of kiln-dried lumber. Laid flat, they are glued together on their wide faces, with grain in alternating directions at 90 degrees.

Panels most frequently consist of three, five, seven or nine alternating layers. Layer thickness typically ranges from ⅝” to 2” and board width from 2.4” to 9.5”. It is similar to plywood, however with significantly thicker laminations or layers.  The layered stacks are glued and then pressed vertically as well as horizontally to create panels, which can then be accurately sized and finished for installation.

Typical panel widths are 2, 4, 8 or 10 feet, while panel length may extend to 60 feet. CLT is different than glued laminated timber (glulam) in which all laminations are oriented in the same direction.

What is the History of CLT?

Cross-laminated timber was first introduced in the early 1990s in Germany and Austria. Since that time, it has continued to gain popularity for residential and non-residential building construction in Europe.

After slow initial growth, its popularity began to increase in the early 2000’s thanks to the green building movement, as well as through newfound efficiencies, product approvals, and improved marketing and distribution.

CLT usage in buildings has increased significantly in the last decade. Hundreds of impressive buildings and other structures built around the world using CLT bring to life the substantial benefits made possible by CLT. The European projects demonstrate that CLT construction can be competitive, particularly in mid-rise and high-rise buildings.

What are the Advantages of CLT?

According to, the major benefits of CLT are listed as follows:

Design flexibility: CLT panel thickness can be easily increased to allow for longer spans, and custom cut as required with CNC equipment to exacting tolerances.

Thermal performance: CLT’s thermal performance is related to panel thickness. Thicker panels require less insulation, and because panels are solid, there is little potential for airflow through the panel system. As a result, interior temperatures can be maintained with as little as one-third the amount of energy otherwise required for cooling or heating.

Cost-effectiveness: Even without considering the added benefits of faster construction time (up to 25% less time and up to 50% less labor) and lower foundation costs, CLT compares favorably to certain concrete, masonry, and steel building alternatives. According to a 2010 study by FPInnovations, CLT was 15% lower for mid-rise residential, 15 to 50% cheaper for mid-rise non-residential and 25% cheaper for low-rise commercial structures.

Less waste: Because CLT panels are custom manufactured for particular building projects, they generate little or no job site waste generated. Additionally, fabrication scraps, if created, can be used for other architectural elements such as stairs, or as biofuel.

Environmental advantages: Aside from superior thermal performance that saves building operators money on their heating bill, CLT is also valued because its production has a lower environmental footprint than the manufacturing of other construction alternatives, including the production of less air and water pollution and the generation of less CO2. The environmental case for CLT is enhanced as it acts to sequester carbon.

Fire protection: The thick cross-section of CLT panels provides superior fire resistance because panels char slowly. Once charred, the panels are protected from further degradation.

Seismic performance: Thanks to its dimensional stability and rigidity, CLT performs well under seismic stresses. Extensive testing has determined that CLT panels hold up exceptionally well with no deformation, particularly in multi-story applications.

What is the Outlook for CLT?

While mass timber is considered a more sustainable building material than steel or concrete, its uptake until recently has been limited due to negative perceptions regarding its strength and cost as well as building code restrictions that have limited its use in mass-market building types.

However, as one recent report notes, as the price of mass timber products continues to fall and local jurisdictions improve their code approval processes, the wood material is anticipated to become a more viable everyday choice for building commercial office buildings.

According to The Economist, mass timber is expected to account for US$1.4bn of the US$14trn global construction industry by 2025 and 0.5% of new urban buildings by 2050. With concerted investment in global manufacturing capacity and building projects for mass timber, however, The Economist believes that the share of the construction market could rise exponentially by 2050, capturing trillions in value.


Canada CLT Handbook, 2019 Edition

Solid Advantages

U.S. CLT Handbook

Women In Wood

TIL – The Women In Wood Group

In the field or in the office, women are a positive force in forestry

Women are an integral part of the forest and forest products eco-system. Their impact in every area, from science to recreation, to corporate and government, has propelled the forest and wood industries to new places and perspectives.

In this post we celebrate Women’s History Month in March, Nature’s Packaging has reached out to the Women In Wood Network to learn more about their history, why they came together and what the future holds for women in wood.  

Please explain what Women In Wood is and how the group came about.

Women in Wood (WIW) is a network for women who work in, with and for the woods. It brings together passionate women from around the world to share their love for forests. Through a private Facebook group, Twitter, Instagram, our website, blog, newsletter, and LinkedIn group, it helps women find mentors, seek career advice, and meet other passionate women in the forest sector.

We met because, at the time – more than 10 years ago – we were often among the only young women at forestry events and conferences. We joke that we were united by never having to wait in line for the bathroom.

For years, we talked about starting a “rebuttal to the old boys club” and decided to make it official in 2016 by creating a private Facebook group for women we knew in the forest sector.

Although we both have had excellent and encouraging male colleagues, we recognized that there was definitely room for more women around the table. At that time, we added the 20 or so women we knew, and it just started growing.

The group now has 2,200 women from all over the world. It turned out that there was a gap to be filled, and women really appreciated having a safe space to go to for support and comradery.

*Please note-the Facebook group is reserved for women only, but the rest of their social media is open to all.

Can you elaborate on the 3 objectives listed on the Women In Wood website and how they guide the group and members in networking and collaborating with each other?

Our objectives are:

1. Build a community of women who work with, in and for the woods. This happens mostly in the private Facebook group. Not a day goes by without several posts from women sharing job opportunities, asking for advice or encouraging one another. We have also had many events – both in person, and more recently, virtual – for men and women to network and share stories.

2. Encourage women to pursue careers in the forest, wood and related sectors. Our blog and social media have featured many inspiring Women in Wood over the years – from the first female forester in Ontario to students about to the enter the field. Many students in the group report that seeing the success of and getting insight from women already in the sector has encouraged them. We even had an event sound technician’s young daughter who listened in at a panel event follow up with one of the panelists about how to pursue a career in forestry!

3. Help Women in Wood succeed in their career goals by collaborating for success, sharing information, improving skills, and navigating the workplace. This also happens through lots of sharing within the group, and we have had some skill-building webinars recently, delivered to WIW by other WIW. It’s really something to see a WIW pose a question, for example, about how or if to negotiate a salary, and see more than 50 other women respond with their experience and advice. That’s the power of a network!

What are some of the recent events that Women In Wood have created or participated in that bring women in the industry together?

During COVID, we’ve had several virtual get-togethers, and a few learning webinars – preparing for interviews, for example. We’ve also been having WIW Chats on our Insta channel, giving insight into the roles and pathways of various WIW. We are grateful to have had many opportunities to speak to groups and at events about the evolution of WIW. The conversations that follow are always rewarding.

What are the different ways that women are creating leadership roles for themselves in forest industries today?

We’re seeing more and more women in leadership in the forest sector, but there’s definitely still progress to be made. One of the most powerful ways to inspire women is to have other women who are in leadership share their stories and advice on how to work up to leadership positions. When you see women leading, it inspires you.

What is the role of a mentor in the Women In Wood network?

We don’t have a formal mentorship program, but mentor/mentee relationships have developed organically through the relationships built in the group. There’s a good mix of women new to the sector, middle-career, late career and retirees. It can mean so much to just have someone to chat with who may have had a similar experience as you, but is on the other end and can offer you what they learned.

What is the most common path today for women to enter the forest industry workforce? How has that changed over the last several years?

Lately, many forestry and related programs (degree and technical) are reporting impressive numbers, with great representation from women. This is quite a shift from even 15 years ago.

The key will be ensuring these women successfully navigate getting their first jobs and finding employers who will continue to support them early in their careers. A challenge many WIW report is “falling behind” their male counterparts when they take time off to have a family or not being given the same training or growth opportunities.

We are seeing many more women as foresters, technicians and other woodland roles, but still limited representation in mills, trucking and logging. There also seems to be a lot of variance geographically, and some companies have made major strides to encourage and successfully recruit women in the mill environment.

Where did the idea of the Women In Wood logo origination from?

We wanted a logo that was fun but powerful. We really left it to our graphic designer to come up with what would represent WIW, but hoped to have an image that would empower women and rally women together.

We think we have achieved that, as our logo is not only high in demand (our t-shirt sales speak for themselves!) but also well recognized. We can’t tell you how many times we have gone to events (pre-covid) and see women wearing the shirt with pride. It does exactly what we had hoped for – bring women together.

*Answers written by Lacey Rose and Jessica Kaknevicius

Transparent wood product

Windows to Wearables: Innovation in Wood Products

While wood products have been used by humanity for millennia, researchers are recently finding new and exciting ways that the material can be used to promote sustainability. The forest products sector welcomes these exciting new opportunities for wood products, particularly for its woody residuals such as sawdust, bark, and chips. Woody residuals are generated from tree harvest tops and branches, woodlot thinnings, low-grade logs, sawmill activities, and the chipping of recycled wood, including end-of-life pallet material.

Woody residuals are used for various purposes, including mulch, soil amendments, playground surface material, boiler fuel, pellets, as well as fiber for pulp and structural panels such as OSB. Demand in many market segments is healthy. In some cases, in fact, it is booming! COVID-19 helped provide a “turbo boost” for wood residual products associated with consumers such aslandscaping mulch and home heating pellets as people have been spending more time at home and investing in home improvement projects.

Other market segments can be more fickle. One of the key challenges faced by wood product producers is that wood fiber is not economically feasible to ship great distances due to its low value. A common rule of thumb is that wood chips and sawdust are not profitable to ship more than 100 miles.

For this reason, wood fiber markets tend to be highly localized, depending upon the local demand for fiber products. If wood producers in an area are dependent upon a large local consumer of residuals such as a pulp and paper plant, and the local source is lost, it can leave businesses scrambling to find an outlet.

One particular challenge has been the closure of pulp and paper plants. In the case of the newsprint market, we are witnessing a decline in demand as people increasingly embrace digital media. In 2019, the global demand fornewsprint plunged 13% from the previous year. In 2020, thedemand for newsprint in Europe dropped by a whopping 20.5%.

Given the significance of that decline, it will be important for the forest sector to identify new markets for its woody residuals. One area of active research and investment is in bioproducts, a fast-growing category of products that include biochemicals, biomaterials, and bioenergy.

Wood Insulation for Buildings

Wood fiber home insulation is a $700 million market in Europe, supported by 15 production plants and offering insulation products with a much lower carbon footprint than alternatives. While the product line has a proven track record in Europe dating back over 15 years, it has not been produced in the U.S. That situation is about to change, with a new wood fiber insulation plant scheduled to begin production in 2022.

Equipment for the new Maine production plant has arrived from Germany. The facility, which will support up to 130 employees when at full production, is utilizing a shuttered pulp and paper plant. It will use woody residuals as feedstock, providing a valuable market for that material.

The plant will produce three products, including insulated board, batt, and loose-fill wood fiber. According to the manufacturer, the carbon footprint of the wood insulated board is four times better than that of foam plastic boards and seven times better than mineral wool board, its main competitors. For batt, the carbon footprint is five times better than fiberglass and seven times better than mineral wool. Other beneficial features of note are that the products don’t trap moisture, and they can be recycled without specialized equipment. They are also non-toxic and biodegradable.

Wood Fiber Clothing

A company based in Finland has been developing more sustainable alternatives to fiber materials such as cotton and rayon that rely on the use of chemicals in processing, which in turn can lead to water pollution and employee health issues.

The company’s production process turns wood material, including biomass, into a material called micro fibrillated cellulose, which in turn can be manufactured into eco-friendly clothing. The only production byproduct is evaporated water, and its process consumes a much smaller amount than would be required for cotton production. The company recently entered a 50-50 joint venture to build a $61 million plant to produce clothing fabric from wood pulp, scheduled to open in 2022.

Transparent Wood

Glass is commonly used for windows, but experts note that it comes at a significant economic and environmental cost. Regulating building temperatures accounts for 14% of primary energy consumption in the U.S., and one-quarter of this energy is lost through inefficient glass windows in cold weather.

Transparent wood windows, on the other hand, boast a thermal conductivity more than five times lower than glass, and toughness three times greater than glass. Earlier attempts to make transparent wood involved removing lignin through the use of toxic chemicals and high temperature, but it was an expensive product and the resulting product was brittle.

Researchers have developed a new cheap and effective method to produce transparent wood, however. A thin veneer of rotary cut wood can be treated with a solution of hydrogen peroxide, and after an hour in the sun or under a UV lamp, the peroxide bleaches out the color but leaving the lignin intact and the wood turned transparent. While this technology has yet to commercialized, the researchers feel it holds great potential as a new building material.

Research continues in the development of cellulose-based innovations that provide a lower carbon footprint than existing products, without compromising performance. Some of these products offer the potential to better utilize woody residuals while underscoring the importance of our forest resource.

milled wood blocks

Find Out More About the Forest Products Industry

forest products-milled wood blocks

From the structures we call home, to the colored mulch in our flower bed, to the wooden pallets that deliver the goods we rely on, products from grown forests play a crucial role in our lives.

So exactly what are forest products? Simply stated, forest products are materials derived from trees that are used for commercial use or consumer consumption. When most of us think about forest products, we typically focus on wood products such as lumber, structural panels, and paper.

Forest products include a range of non-timber items such as fruit, nuts, seeds, sap, and oil. In this installment of the Nature’s Packaging blog, however, we turn our attention to forest products that are derived from wood, and the wood-based forest products industry.

The Forest Products Industry

The forest products industry is an important contributor to both the Canadian and U.S. economies. It accounts for around 1.5% of the U.S. economy and contributes about 5% of the nation’s total manufacturing output. Regionally, it can be very significant. Forest products ranks as one of the top three contributors in some southern states. Canada’s forest sector contributed $23.9 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2019 or about 1.4%.

The forest industry comprises three main subsectors:

  • solid wood products manufacturing
  • pulp and paper
  • forestry and logging

Solid wood products manufacturing includes primary activities such as lumber and structural panels, as well as secondary products such as millwork, engineered wood products and wood packaging.

The pulp and paper product manufacturing subsector produces a wealth of products, covering everything from newsprint and household tissues to dissolving pulp for rayon production.

The forestry and logging subsector spans field operations and timber harvesting, including logging and transportation to mills.

Tree Harvest for Various Products

The harvest of trees generates three types of material, including sawtimber (including chip-n-saw), pulpwood, and finally harvest slash. Sawtimber, used to make products such as lumber and veneer, is typically most desirable. This is followed by pulpwood. Slash refers to the treetops, limbs, and other woody material left behind after logging takes place. The amount of slash generated is influenced by variables such as the size and quality of the harvested trees.

In the US South, for example, pine trees usually mature between 25 and 40 years, with thinning operations undertaken at 12-15 years and then again at 18-22 years, allowing trees the space they need to grow to maturity. As trees become larger, they become more valuable on a per-ton basis. Forest owners, therefore, are motivated to maximize their yield of mature timber.

Logs of a larger diameter are usually categorized as sawlogs, while those of a smaller diameter are considered pulpwood. Smaller diameter trees may be classified as unmerchantable. According to Forest2Market, plantation pine logs can be designated as follows:

  • 5”-7” diameter at breast height (DBH) – pulpwood
  • 8”-11” DBH – chip-n-saw
  • 12”+ DBH – sawtimber

Wood-based Forest Products

Natural Resources Canada suggests that forest products can be categorized into four segments: solid wood products (including lumber and structural panels), wood pulp, paper products (including newsprint, printing, and writing paper), and bioproducts (e.g. biofuels, biochemical, bioplastics) derived from biomass.

Lumber refers to harvested timber that is milled into products such as dimension lumber, and boards. Softwood dimension lumber is used mostly for framing purposes in residential construction. Lower-grade material is typically used for wood packaging products such as pallets. Logs may also be peeled from the outside in to create veneer. Veneer can be glued into layers or plies to make plywood. Other structural board products include oriented strandboard (OSB) and fiberboard. Cross laminated timber, constructed from glued layers of solid wood, is becoming increasingly popular.

Wood pulp is the term for wood fiber that has been reduced chemically or mechanically to pulp for use in the manufacture of paper and other products. Pulp can be derived from virgin forest harvest material such as pulpwood as well as from wood processing residuals. Pulp is used as an intermediate product to produce paper, packaging, hygiene, and textile products.

Biomass is generated from a variety of sources, including the branches and tops of trees after harvest, forest thinning and salvage, wood products manufacturing residuals and wood products recycling. Biomass has been a substantial energy source for the pulp and paper industry. Biomass is also used for a variety of other uses, including pulp feedstock, pellets, structural board, animal bedding, soil amendments, landscaping mulches and more.

There are also exciting new opportunities for bioproducts such as biochemicals and biomaterials. According to Natural Resources Canada, the growth potential and projected market size for emerging bioproducts are much greater than for traditional forest products combined, including pulp, lumber and newsprint.

Forest products sourced from sustainable North American forests are critical to our daily lives. In the future, there is also the exciting potential for new and emerging forest products to take center stage, further accentuating the importance of timber in our everyday lives.

reforestation and replanting trees

Reforestation Opportunities in North America

reforestation and replanting trees

While North American forests today are growing due to more sustainable harvesting practices and new planting, it hasn’t always been that way. In the first centuries of European settlement, deforestation was significant. Before colonization, 46% of U.S. land area was carpeted in forest cover – over 1 billion acres in 1630.

For three centuries following the arrival of Europeans, however, the land was cleared, predominantly for agriculture, to feed a growing population. One to two hectares of land was cultivated for every additional resident.

As a result, deforestation followed in the path of settlement, reaching its lowest point in 1872. Almost two-thirds of the net conversion to other uses occurred in the second half of the 19th Century. By 1910, the area of forest land had declined to an estimated 754 million acres or 34% of the total land area.

Turning the Tide on Deforestation

The good news, however, is that deforestation has been curbed in North America. In the last Century, forest cover has become stabilized and has begun to expand. In the 20th Century, it has remained relatively constant, and has started to expand. Forest cover grew between 2010 and 2020, increasing at a rate of 0.03% annually, according to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

In addition, there are opportunities to reforest even more of the contiguous U.S., focusing on the most cost-effective and feasible options. A new online tool, the interactive “Reforestation Hub” is a collaboration of The Nature Conservancy and American Forests.

The most comprehensive analysis available, according to the group, it identifies up to 133 million acres of formerly forested lands in the United States that could be reforested to boost carbon storage. That would translate into absorbing an additional 333 million metric tons of carbon per year — equivalent to the carbon emissions from all of the passenger vehicles in California, Texas, and New York combined, or 72 million vehicles.

The Reforestation Hub allows stakeholders such as foresters, land managers, and private landowners to explore the study’s findings. It identifies the number of acres — down to the county level — potentially available for different types of reforestation.

“People are excited about reforestation for good reason,” said lead scientist Susan Cook-Patton, Senior Forest Restoration Scientist at The Nature Conservancy. “New trees represent a powerful natural solution to global warming. But until our analysis, there was no quick and easy way to figure out where exactly we might put all those new trees. This work provides a menu of possibilities to get it done.”

Cook-Patton hopes this granular analysis will help land managers and policymakers find the options that best meet local, state, and national goals around growing trees for public and private benefit.

The Reforestation Hub uses several filters for isolating the most promising places for new forests: where forests grew in the past; current land ownership; land type; benefits to wildlife and watersheds; and cost. In sum, the study highlights the potential for 60 billion new trees to be grown across the country with 1.3 billion already planted annually.

Among ten different reforestation options, the Reforestation Hub suggests that three of them provide the most potential: formerly forested lands now used for pasture (49% of potential); floodplains (17%); and urban open space (14%). But the top results change by county, so the Reforestation Hub allows users to find the places with the most potential in their area.

Land ownership is also an important consideration. “Over one-third of the total potential for reforestation within existing forestland is on federal lands,” said Jad Daley, President, and CEO of American Forests. “That means we have a massive lever for climate action right in our hands, because we have the power to reforest these lands if the federal government simply allocates sufficient staff and funding.”

According to The Nature Conservancy, several existing reforestation programs could be scaled up to put the new Reforestation Hub’s information to work. On public lands, this includes the Reforestation Trust Fund, which can be enhanced via the soon-to-be-introduced REPLANT Act to fully fund the reforestation of America’s national forests.

On private lands, they include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), as well as state conservation agency cost-share programs.

Stakeholders are encouraged to visit the Reforestation Hub to inform their tree planting programs. Questions about the Reforestation Hub and its underlying study can be directed to

*This post was based on the following press release:

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