Urban Forests and Tree Cities

Photo by Cassie Gallegos on Unsplash

City planners around the world increasingly recognize the importance of trees and are working to increase canopy cover. Urban tree research tells us that green canopy can play an important role in the liveability of cities. Increased tree coverage contributes to lower city temperatures by blocking shortwave radiation and increasing water evaporation. Trees also help reduce air pollution, while absorptive root systems can help reduce the threat of flood during severe rains and storms.

No surprise, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities have listed green canopy cover in its ranking of top ten urban initiatives.To support cities in their efforts to implement green canopy, MIT’s Treepedia, in collaboration with WEF, has developed a metric —the Green View Index—by which to evaluate and compare canopy cover. It relies on calculations based on input from Google Street View. By using street view panoramas rather than satellite imagery, the GVI represents human perception.

The GVI Index is presented on a scale of 0-100, showing the percentage of canopy coverage of a particular location. The group cautions that its calculation is imprecise. It includes only street trees in its calculation due to the limitations of Google Street View. While forested parks are important, for example, they are not considered, aside from street visibility.

Treepedia developers stress that its rankings should not be construed as a competition. “Treepedia is not about rating cities to compete in a green Olympics,” it notes. “Treepedia aims to raise a proactive awareness of urban vegetation.”

Another important constraint that the study is not comprehensive. It includes only 30 cities, globally. It noteworthy that four of the top ten cities with the most tree cover are in North America, including Tampa (#1), Vancouver BC (#4), Montreal (#6) and Sacramento (#9).

A ranking of select North American cities, followed by the estimated proportion of urban canopy, are as follows:

Tampa, Florida — 36.1%

Vancouver, Canada — 25.9%

Montreal, Canada — 25.5%

Sacramento, California — 23.6%

Seattle, Washington — 20%

Toronto, Canada — 19.5%

Miami, Florida — 19.4%

Boston, Massachusetts — 18.2%

Los Angeles, California — 15.2%

Treepedia underscores that only selected cities have been included in its Green View Index. The group encourages other cities to calculate their GVI. More information can be found at this link: (https://github.com/mittrees/Treepedia_Public)

Tree Cities of the World

Leading North American tree cities are also recognized in the Tree Cities of the World program, sponsored by the FAO (The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) and the Arbor Day Foundation. Their intention is to promote more resilient and sustainable cities.

Rather than a ranking of overall canopy or green cover, these cities are recognized for “demonstrating leadership in the management of their urban trees and are serving as part of the solution to many of the global issues we face today.” Of the 68 “Tree Cities of the World” recognized, nine of them are Canadian, and 27 from the United States.

Another useful source of information is the U.S. Forest Service. Its urban forest data are being collected from across the United States based on top-down aerial approaches and bottom-up field data collection. This site links to various data sets and reports for urban forest data at the state level, county level, county subdivision level and local community or place level. Users are encouraged to explore states or communities of interest to see what data are available.

Resources mentioned in this article:

Treepedia: https://senseable.mit.edu/treepedia

Tree Cities of the World: https://treecitiesoftheworld.org/directory.cfm

U.S. Forest Service Urban Forest Data: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/data/urban/

A city park with trees

Urban Forest Wood-An Innovative Look at Recycling

What happens when urban trees reach their end of life?

Urban trees are one of those remarkable stories that largely flies under the radar. We appreciate how a large canopy can shield us from the intense summer sun or help keep us dry during an unexpected downpour, but most of the time, we take them for granted. We shouldn’t.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, urban trees offer a wealth of benefits. Did you know that a mature tree can absorb up to 150 kg of CO2 per year? Aside from sequestering carbon and creating biodiversity, trees help filter pollutants and fine particulates. They also reduce energy requirements for air conditioning and heating when strategically placed.

Research has found that trees aid city dwellers’ physical and mental health and their presence even boosts real estate value. But for urban trees, the story hasn’t always had a happy ending. At the end of life, too often, they have ended up in the waste stream, chipped or burnt, a low repayment for many decades of civic service. The rise of the urban wood movement, however, offers a more promising path.

The sustainability case for upcycling harvested urban wood is compelling. Approximately 3.8 billion board feet of urban wood harvested annually from U.S. cities could be processed into lumber – not counting fire salvage or orchard rescue trees. Utilizing just 10% of that urban wood harvest currently chipped or left to rot would have an equivalent impact on removing 732,000 cars from the street.

The urban wood movement has been growing in recent decades as people have increasingly recognized the value of harvested city trees that had long been underutilized. One of those many stories is told by Jennifer Alger, Director of the Urban Wood Network Western Region, a not-for-profit organization.

She grew up, she said, riding in her dad’s truck as he scoured neighborhoods looking for trees that needed to be taken down. He had been a contract logger by summer and a burl buyer for a firearms manufacturer in winter.

But when the logging business bottomed in the early 1980s, “I spent my childhood in a vehicle with Dad buying these random dead or dying trees from people’s houses,” she recalled. And so he was doing urban lumber before the term ‘urban lumber’ was even coined. At that time, they were cutting for firewood and cellophane wrapping bundles of it for retailers.

Her father recognized the value of timber from the wood world, and it pained him to be cutting perfectly good lengths of material into firewood.  “Why are we cutting these logs into firewood?”, he asked Jennifer, “These logs are gorgeous”.

They began setting aside the best logs and stockpiled them. Finally, they bought their first portable band sawmill in the 1990s, allowing them to mill lumber. Similar stories are told around the country by other companies and participants who recognize the value of harvesting urban wood.

Like others in the urban wood recovery business, Jennifer found a knowledge void regarding its potential value. With that thought in mind, she began networking informally in the early 2000s with the help of CalFire and the United States Forest Service to reach out to arborists and other stakeholders about more sustainable outcomes for urban trees. “We were importing all these hardwoods from either the East Coast or from overseas and here in California, we were spending hours on chipping them, burning, or landfilling – all of these scenarios,” she recalled.

One of the myths that needed to be overcome was that urban trees would be too expensive to mill because of embedded steel objects.” Everybody told me that it costs too much to mill these urban trees because they have nails in them, and so it’s just going to be too costly.” She responded that they were already milling urban trees at her company, and with the value of a blade only $17 or $20, “not that big of a deal.”

In 2016, Urban, Salvaged, & Reclaimed Woods Inc., a West Coast non-profit network was incorporated. In networking with other groups around the country, however, group members discovered that different regions had slightly different perspectives about urban wood. For example, some regional networks included reclaimed lumber from deconstruction, while others included only urban trees.

“The urban wood movement is big and it’s catching on worldwide,” Jennifer said. “But we recognized that we were fragmented.” That fragmentation was standing in the way of building a stronger industry. Collectively, the urban wood communities recognized the need to rebrand, as well as to create standards and certification programs that would help build consumer trust and shield customers from poor quality suppliers.

After much discussion with each of the networks around the country, it was determined that we would unite under the Urban Wood Network with the previous West Coast group becoming the Urban Wood Network Western Region. As a result of that collaboration, urban wood can be described as:

“Any wood that was not harvested for its timber value and was diverted from or removed from the waste-stream and developed or redeveloped into a product. Urban wood can come from three sources: Deconstruction, fresh-cut urban trees, & salvaged wood.”

The group is working towards several initiatives to increase the professionalism of the industry, including the establishment of lumber grades specific to urban timber and chain of custody certification program.

Jennifer is currently working with an expert team of developers and customer experience specialists on the build-out of AncesTREE™ an Inventory Management System and enterprise application that will allow users to easily adhere to the industry standards, track the chain-of-custody, manage their inventory, and generally better manage and grow their urban lumber businesses.

An integrated approach is increasingly being sought, involving cities, municipalities, and large corporate or educational campuses. Attention to pruning and tree care with eventual salvage in mind can boost the marketable value of timber.

The establishment of urban forest management plans and policies can make an important difference for the industry going forward. The establishment of policies will make the urban wood industry less vulnerable to the loss of key urban wood supporters in key decision-making roles.

There are several forces at play that are helping drive the urban wood movement. On one hand, there are increasing restrictions regarding the landfilling of wood waste. On the other hand, people recognize the substantial benefits of using urban wood. With its beautifully unique appearance, it creates one-of-a-kind home products, while supporting local businesses. Using local urban wood also is a celebration of local history, while playing a part in diverting waste and sequestering carbon.

These days, many individuals and organizations are helping to script a more sustainable end of life scenario for urban trees through solid wood recovery. “By networking together, we can build awareness that brings these trees back into the social and economic lives of the communities they came from in the form of lumber, slabs, flooring, siding, furniture, art, architecture and other value-added wood products,” the Urban Wood Network states at its website.

For her part, Jennifer believes that the groundwork the Urban Wood Network is creating today will set the stage for the growth of the urban wood movement and a more sustainable outcome for city trees. Through its focus on education, standards, and promotional assistance, she sees a bright future. “We expect in the next two to five years an absolute explosion of the urban network and its membership,” she concluded.

wood pallets with shrink wrapped loads

Choosing the Best Amount of Packaging for Your Product

Products need enough packaging to prevent damage, but no one wants to spend more on packaging than needed. Packaging and pallet decision-makers alike will benefit from having a better understanding of downstream supply chain costs.

Over the last several years, consumer products supply chains have trended towards more frequent deliveries and smaller order sizes. Such an approach has enabled retailers to minimize their pipeline inventory while promoting better product availability – having the products that customers are looking for, on the shelf. However, such a strategy poses different challenges.

Smaller orders may require product suppliers to build multiple SKU pallets for inbound delivery to retail distribution centers. Such an approach translates into extra handling during the assembly of the order, as well as at the distribution center when those same orders are sorted and received. Furthermore, smaller, more frequent retail store orders may result in more case touches for distribution center personnel as they are challenged to stack stable pallets for retail store delivery.

According to experts, around 90% of product damage in the CPG supply chain occurs at the DC or retail location. Further downstream in the supply chain there are more interactions between people and products, which increases the likelihood of damage.

So what exactly is the best amount of packaging for your product? Ultimately, it is the amount that delivers the lowest total packaging cost. Take the graph below.

Packaging cost and Product damage

The connection between packaging cost and the amount of packaging is shown in white, while the interaction between the cost of product damage and the amount of packaging is revealed in red. The total packaging cost per package (the sum of packaging cost and damage cost, is outlined in purple.

The lowest cost per package is located at the intersection point of cost and damage. At this point, an extra penny spent on a package would generate a saving of under a penny’s worth of product damage reduction. In the other direction, cutting the amount of packaging by a penny would result in more than a penny’s worth of incremental damage.

While this approach seems obvious, we are left to ponder why product damage is still an ongoing issue. One reason might be a lack of visibility into supply chain damage that happens further downstream.

If the package design does not reflect all product damage costs associated with a package, then the packaging decision will be suboptimal. A suboptimal package design leaves an unrealized opportunity for supply chain improvement.

By better accounting for actual costs, the product damage cost shifts upward, resulting in a new intersection point – one that dictates an additional investment in a package, as shown in Figure 2, below.

Optimal packaging costs graph

Another way to visualize packaging optimization is with the Innventia AB Model (formerly known as the Soras Curve), shown below.

Innventia AB Model

When a product is underpackaged, excessive damage results in a negative environmental impact. When a product is overpackaged, likewise there is a negative environmental impact resulting from excessive resource consumption and residuals.

When it comes to determining whether or not your package provides the perfect amount of product protection, a collaborative supply chain process is essential. With packaging as with pallets, more accurate supply chain feedback can make a positive difference.

Armed with better information designers and decision-makers can better identify costs downstream, enabling them to select the best package – or pallet – for the job.

Picture of BioChar

The Benefits of Biochar-Another Way to Win with Wood

Oregon Department of Forestry, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finding profitable markets for residual wood material is an ongoing challenge for many forest products companies. Forest thinnings, logging slash, as well as wood products milling, and recycling fiber are all regularly generated. Markets such as biomass, bedding, landscaping mulch, pulp mills, OSB plants, and others are well established, but the low value of fiber means that it is not economically viable to ship considerable distances.

Biochar production has often been looked at as a potentially exciting opportunity for such material yet demand for biochar has been slow to materialize. Change may soon be on the horizon, however, as one biochar producer has recently secured the first carbon credits for biochar in the United States.

What is a Carbon Credit?

A carbon credit, also referred to as a carbon offset or a carbon offset credit, is a generic term for any tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide or the equivalent amount of different greenhouse gases.

A company purchases carbon credits to offset its own greenhouse gas emissions. In the recently announced case, the biochar producer sells the biochar to farmers, who apply it to their soil.

As such, carbon is sequestered underground rather than returning to the atmosphere, creating a carbon sink that has now been recognized by a carbon credit certification group. Companies purchasing biochar carbon credits help improve the economics of biochar for producers and consumers of the product.

What is Biochar and it’s Benefits?

Biochar can be described as the solid material obtained from the thermochemical conversion of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment in a process called pyrolysis. That low oxygen environment results in the creation of charcoal rather than merely residual ash.

USDA describes the benefits of biochar as “incredible—improved soil health, enhanced soil water holding capacity, increased plant growth and vigor, cleaner air quality, and perhaps most importantly… the ability to sequester carbon forever.”

Biochar improves soil fertility in two ways. The first and primary advantage is that it aids in retaining soil nutrients from fertilizer and other sources. Secondly, biochar can provide nutrients such as potassium, a limited amount of phosphorus, and other micronutrients. Given that most agricultural soils have been depleted of considerable amounts of carbon in recent decades, the addition of biochar can help reverse the loss.

Farmers can realize long-term improvements to soil health and crop yield with biochar inputs. In one multi-year study, funded by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), was administered by Sonoma Ecology Center and included support from researchers from the University of California, Riverside, the results were impressive. Biochar increased pinot noir grape yield by an average of 1.2 tons per acre over two years of harvest, paying back the cost of biochar application in just the first year.

There are other applications for biochar. Uses include filtration systems, stormwater management, remediation, and composites. Although in its early stages, biofiber is a good candidate in the latter application as a substitute for costlier and higher environmental impact carbon forms.

Biochar and Climate Change

Beyond its benefits for farming and other applications, biochar also is widely acknowledged for its carbon sequestration benefits in the fight against global warming. It is listed as one of the top five natural climate solutions for climate change mitigation in a 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

However, the role of biochar in preventing climate change is not guaranteed. As one article notes, biochar production results from combustion, with greenhouse gases given off in the process

Yet, when energy from the pyrolysis process is harnessed and used in a way that displaces the need for fossil fuels in electricity production, for example, the result may be a positive carbon balance. Such has been the case for the California producer, which utilizes biomass waste removed from sustainably managed, high-risk forests to generate electricity. Its success has now been recognized through the issue of carbon credits.

As businesses increasingly look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to offset the emissions they still create, carbon credits may hold the key to accelerating demand for biochar. The biochar market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.45% through 2025.

Carbon Cycles and Sinks: How Forests Fight Global Climate Change

A graphic representation of the environmental cycle with hands holding a seedling in soil.

In December 2020, the Canadian government announced its plan to plant two billion trees in the next decade, at a cost of $3.16 billion. That strategy is anticipated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 12 megatons by 2050, while creating as many as 4,300 jobs in the process.

As that recent announcement reflects, forests have been increasingly recognized by policymakers around the world as a crucial component in the “carbon cycle” and the fight against climate change. Effectively managed forests can play a leading role in absorbing and storing carbon, and as such, help reduce atmospheric carbon levels associated with global warming.

What is the Carbon Cycle?

The “carbon cycle” refers to the series of processes by which carbon transitions from land and water through the atmosphere and living organisms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration refers to the carbon cycle as “nature’s way of reusing carbon atoms, which travel from the atmosphere into organisms in the Earth and then back into the atmosphere over and over again.”

Most of the carbon is stored in rocks and sediments, while the remainder resides in the ocean, atmosphere, and living organisms. While carbon travels throughout the cycle, the total amount of carbon has not changed over time.

Due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, however, carbon balances within the cycle have shifted, with more of that carbon having been introduced into the atmosphere.

In forests, trees absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. During this process, oxygen is emitted and carbon is stored in woody stems, branches, roots and leaves. The process of absorbing and depositing carbon is known as sequestration.

A forest is referred to a “carbon sink” if it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases back into it. This outcome is positive, from a climate change perspective, with carbon stored in woody biomass, wood products, dead organic matter and soil.

On the other hand, a forest becomes a “carbon source” if it releases more carbon than it absorbs. Catastrophic disturbances such as forest fires, windstorms, and major insect infestations can increase the release of carbon and make a forest a net source of carbon in the short run.

Forest Carbon Reserves are Growing

In the past 40 years, forests have moderated climate change by absorbing approximately one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and the changing of land uses. That carbon uptake reduces the rate at which carbon accumulates in the atmosphere and thus slows the pace of climate change.

In the United States, where forests cover approximately one-third of the country, forest carbon stocks have expanded by 10% since 1990. “ Overall forest carbon stocks have increased annually…, meaning U.S. forests have been a net carbon sink, absorbing more carbon out of the atmosphere than they release,” according to a 2020 report by Congressional Research Service.

As of 2019, U.S. forests stored 58.7 billion metric tons (BMT) of carbon in 2019. Most of this amount (95%) was held in forest ecosystem pools, with the remainder sequestered in harvested wood products.

Forest ecosystem carbon pools include above-ground biomass, below ground biomass, deadwood, litter, soil and harvested wood products. Forest soils are the largest pool of forest carbon, accounting for roughly 54% of storage. The second largest pool is above ground biomass, which holds around 26% of forest carbon.

The graph below shows the ongoing growth of overall carbon storage as well as the relative importance of the various forest ecosystem pools, measured in billion metric tons of carbon.

How Forest Management Helps Improve Carbon Stocks

Effective forest management helps to ensure that more carbon is sequestered and that less is released through events such as forest fires or processes such as slash burning.  In the short term, management efforts are aimed at reducing carbon emissions through measures to protect against fire and insect infestations, as well as through avoiding the burning of logging slash.

In the longer term, strategies such as afforestation (planting new forests), and preventing deforestation will play critical roles. Management practices such as lengthening harvesting rotations, species selection and ensuring prompt replanting after harvest or disturbance will also play a part in promoting forest health and further building forest carbon stocks as a critical pillar in our defense against climate change.

Forklift Traffic sign on loading dock

Forklift Safety in the Warehouse and Working Yard

Forklifts and pallet jacks play a critical role in the handling of goods in supply chains. They are essential in moving palletized loads, crates, bundles of lumber, and other products.

Powered industrial trucks (PITs), such as forklifts and pallet jacks can raise, lower, and transport materials, expediting the flow of materials through various stages of manufacturing and distribution such as loading and unloading, transporting work-in-process, and storage operations.

PIT training is an OSHA requirement and the importance of training for people who work around forklifts, while also emphasizing the importance of facility design in promoting safety for others, is a priority. Consider not only your facility employees, but also visitors, customers, office staff, or salespeople that venture into the plant or yard. Pedestrians in the vicinity of forklifts can be at risk.

While OSHA does not address forklift-pedestrian training specifically, the OSHA General Duty Clause spells out that employers take measures to protect employees from recognized risks. For example, they point out the importance of clearly delineated travel lanes for forklifts with speed limits.

The following are some ideas for helping to ensure pedestrian safety in warehouse and working yard facilities:

Plan traffic patterns. The creation of routes that keep pedestrian injury.  Physical barriers, signage, and painted markings can help identify pedestrian-only paths. Be sure to create and uphold safety rules around traffic right-of-way and pedestrian-only paths.

Training for pedestrians. While infrequent visitors to your plant do not require an exhaustive session, pedestrian training should cover the basic hazards related to forklifts and the rules that need to be followed, such as sticking to designated pedestrian paths, engaging operators through eye contact or verbally when in proximity, and taking extra care at intersections.

Pedestrians should be mindful of keeping clear of material that might fall as well as ensuring that they are outside of the turning radius of the PIT and its load. In wood products industries, for example, they should be mindful of the wide turning radius of long lifts of lumber.

Utilize safety equipment. Personal protective equipment such as a high visibility vest, safety shoes, and in some workplaces, hardhats are required. Additionally, forklifts are required to have horns and may be fitted with warning lights and forklift travel alarms such as a backup warning indicator.

Onboard cameras and sensors are also increasingly available to help alert operators that a pedestrian is present. Curved mirrors can also be used to improve pedestrian safety at intersections and corners.

While forklift training in the past has largely centered on operators, we should also be mindful of risks to pedestrians. Effective communication among managers, supervisors, PIT operators, as well as pedestrians are essential to creating an effective network of safety in a busy warehouse and/or yard environment.

Small Pallets Can Carry Huge Benefits

When it comes to the efficient handling of pallets, it makes sense that bigger should be better. Why move 100 cartons at a time when you can do 125? A larger pallet translates into more productive forklift handling. In the case of pallet selection, however, other factors can skew decision-makers toward smaller footprint pallets.

What is a Pallet Footprint?

To take a step back, the footprint of a pallet refers to its length and width. The pallet’s length is determined by the length of the stringer, or in the case of a block pallet, the length of the stringer board. The width of a pallet refers to the deck board length.

For a 48×40” stringer pallet, for example, the stringers are 48,” and the deck boards are 40”. In a 48×40” block pallet, the stringer boards, which lie between the deck boards and the blocks, are 48” and the deck boards are 40”.

What is a Fractional Pallet?

Small pallets can be fractional pallets such as half pallets and quarter pallets. They are fractional in the sense that they combine to become the equivalent of a full-size pallet. In North America, where the most popular pallet size is 48×40”, a half pallet is typically half of that measure.

To envision a half pallet, think of a full pallet that has been cut in half – either to 48×20” or 24×40”. Likewise, a quarter pallet is often 24×20” or 20×24”.  Because fractional pallets can be combined to fill a standard pallet footprint, they readily integrate into supply chain transport and handling systems designed for standard full-size pallets.

What are the Benefits of Small Pallets?

Less touch labor at the warehouse and at retail. Half and quarter pallets permit the benefits of unit load shipping in smaller order quantities. Unit load shipment from a distribution center to the retailer translates into less touch labor for order pickers, resulting in improved productivity. Likewise, where the small pallet is displayed on the floor or positioned in-aisle, retail stocking activities can be largely eliminated.

Less product damages. According to one study, 80% of product damage in the FMCG supply chain takes place between the distribution center and retail. Because half or quarter pallet displays remain intact until they arrive at retail, the product damage associated with case picking, stacking and shelf stocking activities is avoided.

Sales boost on the retail floor. Evidence suggests that shoppers are drawn to floor displays, and as a result, they help boost sales. Small pallets can further enhance sales enabling more SKUs to be available to shoppers. Because small pallets take up less space, it is possible to increase the number of displays at a given time. Smaller pallets are also more shopper-friendly, eliminating the need to stretch across a full-size pallet to grab an item.

Easier navigation for shoppers and material handlers. Small pallets are better suited for delivering product through narrow doorways or in and out of backroom coolers with small openings. For deliveries to convenience stores, for example, the use of small pallets has been found to help reduce driver time at each stop. Small pallets also provide retailers with the opportunity to create displays that take up less space and therefore are more pedestrian-friendly.

Where they better fit product requirements. Small pallets also provide value where they conform to a particular product being shipped, thereby avoiding pallet underhang and wasted space (the product not utilizing the complete deck of the pallet).

More facings at the warehouse or assembly line. Because small pallets are not as wide as full pallets, more pallet facings can be created in the same distance, thus reducing travel time for assemblers.

What are the Disadvantages of Small Pallets?

Smaller payload. As mentioned above, half pallets hold only half as much product as full-size pallets. As a result, twice as many pallets are required, and twice as many unit loads must be handled to deal with the same amount of product.

Small pallets can add complexity. Small footprint unit loads can also pose challenges for material handlers. Some configurations may be more unstable than full pallets, requiring attention to mobile equipment operator training. Once emptied, small pallets must be sorted for return or otherwise recycled. Small pallets, especially non-fractional sizes, may be less desirable to pallet recyclers.

Benefits of small pallets aren’t applicable. While small pallets are becoming increasingly popular for retail display, they may not be applicable for many other supply chains.

The bottom line is that in some applications, such as retail, small pallet displays are helping retailers to boost sales and reduce stocking labor. No matter what size of pallet best meets your needs now or in the future, however, the good news is that pallet manufacturers can readily fabricate wood to produce the optimal size for your supply chain.

Wood Pallet Recycling

Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for Wood Pallets

Wood Pallet Recycling

EPDs can provide insight to buyers, as well as support pallet customer LCA and green marketing efforts. Think about EPDs as you would the nutrition label that you look at on food packaging, except instead of reporting saturated fat and calories, it is environmental impacts that matter.

“EPDs are a disclosure tool that helps purchasers better understand a product’s sustainable qualities and environmental repercussions, so they can make more informed product selections,” explains UL, a global leader in PCR creation and EPD certification.

Beyond procurement, the information included in an EPD can also help a pallet user understand the broader environmental impact of manufacturing or distribution activities in aggregate when particular EPDs for various inputs are examined collectively.

EPDs can also be useful for marketing purposes. “In marketing, many organizations want to make claims of their product´s environmental performance, especially if it is superior compared to other similar products on the market,” observes Stockholm, Sweden-based EPD International. “However, such claims must be conveyed in a manner which is recognized by the market as being relevant, credible, and transparent.” That’s where an EPD can help.

EPD’s: Standardized, Independently Verified, and Registered

Each Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of a product. EPDs provide a declaration of environmental performance based on a standardized, common methodology used for performance evaluation.

They rely on third-party-verified documentation of environmental performance and follow a scientifically accepted and objective methodology detailed by a product category rule (PCR).

An individual EPD is based on a specific PCR. Each PCR contains a set of requirements and guidelines used for conducting and reporting environmental life cycle assessments of a particular category of products. The PCR evaluates environmental performance including aspects like carbon emissions, resource depletion, and energy use, to name a few.

PCRs ensure that products of the same function are evaluated consistently for a meaningful comparison of results. PCRs and EPDs are available for various product categories, including construction and architectural wood products.

An EPD for Wood Pallets: A First for Shipping Materials

The PCR for wood pallets certified by UL in 2019 set the stage for the creation of a wood pallet EPD in 2020, also certified by UL. The PCR and EPD initiative was sponsored by the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) and Pallet Foundation in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Lab. UL’s PCR for wood pallets is the first of its kind for shipping materials. 

“UL applauds the efforts of NWPCA and the Pallet Foundation to develop a PCR and now issue an EPD for wooden pallets to better understand the environmental impact they have,” said Alberto Uggetti, vice president and general manager of UL’s environment and sustainability division. “The reusable nature of wooden pallets makes them a more circular, sustainable form of reusable packaging, and with this EPD, manufacturers will be able to communicate the impacts of their products with more transparency and confidence.”

The EPD solidifies wooden pallets as the clear sustainable choice for supply chains across industries. “This industry-wide wood pallet Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is not only a first in the supply chain, it is a major step toward scientifically validating the benefits of wood pallets,” said Brent McClendon, President and CEO of NWPCA. “Beyond anecdotal evidence, this research supports the sustainability of wood. The results are something that all wood pallet companies can trumpet to their customer base as a new tool in their toolbelt.”

The creation of an EPD for wood pallets marks a crucial step in communicating the sustainability advantages of wood and providing clarity for pallet buyers.

Santa Claus driving a forklift

Four Essential Tips to Manage Pallets During this Holiday Season

Santa and his helpers always practice safe pallet handling

It is definitely not the season to be jolly if your supply chain grinds to a halt for lack of pallets. If the order picking crews are scrambling to find pallets to build orders, then shipments can quickly get delayed and complicate the delivery schedule. Here are four essential tips for making sure that customers are happy and workers stay safe throughout the holiday season.

Plan ahead for the need

Based on previous experience and projections, make sure to have the pallets on hand needed to fulfill orders. This year (2020) presents a unique challenge in projecting demand, so it makes sense to be nimble in terms of finetuning pallet requirements. Clear communication and an ongoing dialogue with your pallet suppliers are critical.

A best practice tip is to have the supplier hold an inventory of ready-to-ship pallets, so they will available when you need them. Do not be left in a position where you run out of pallets and must start cold calling pallet vendors for an emergency delivery.

Train the seasonal workers

Peak season volumes and seasonal employee support go hand and hand. By taking the time to train new team members in safe manual pallet handling and the efficient forklift handling of pallets, you can reduce the risk of injury and damage to products and pallets alike.

Remember other seasonal team members who make pallet-related decisions, such as new delivery drivers and temps hired to sort pallets. Do they have the necessary knowledge to ensure that damaged pallets are consistently removed from use and that drivers fulfill their responsibility regarding empty pallet return or other duties related to pallet management?

Don’t neglect to bring pallets back

When logistics systems reach peak and delivery driver capacity is stretched to the limit, one shortcut that companies take is to delay bringing back distribution residuals such as cardboard, reusable trays, and, of course, empty pallets. With trucks focused on keeping up with outbound shipments, retail locations are faced with stockpiling pallet accumulations either in the back room or in the parking lot.

Unwanted buildups of pallets can impede store operations and result in those pallets not being returned to the warehouse, where they might be urgently needed. Also, consider that the unprotected outdoor storage of pallets and reusable packaging at retail dramatically increases the risk of pallet theft.

Consider outsourcing to your pallet provider

It can be a scenario of all hands on deck for retail distribution during the holiday season. With labor urgently needed for filling and delivering orders, roles such as pallet sorting are often viewed as secondary. Unsorted stacks of pallets can back up in warehouse corners or fill up trailers desperately needed for outbound shipments.

The other alternative, the introduction of unsorted pallets into your system, can result in other inefficiencies. And as mentioned above, driver and road equipment limitations can impede your reverse logistics process.

Retailers can avoid this seasonal strain by working with their pallet company partners to provide pickup of pallets and other distribution residuals. The result is pallet and residual processing capacity that does not strain your labor availability and provides ‘ready to go’ pallets as needed for the distribution center.

When it comes to the holiday season and pallets, it can be a time of extremes – too few for order picking or too many to return and sort. Attention to planning, training, and pallet supplier coordination can make a big difference.

How Forklift Drivers can Reduce Wood Pallet Damage

wood pallet scraps

Call it synergy – the combined result is exponentially more potent than the sum of the individual components involved. That’s the way it is for pallets and forklifts. The development of pallets and unit load handling dramatically has improved material handling. The mutually beneficial relationship between lift trucks and wood pallets spans over 80 years and continues to evolve.

Today, palletized handling is a fact of life in many supply chains. Logistics professionals, however, continue to strive for continuous improvement opportunities. As they explore ideas for reducing product and pallet damage, an opportune place to start is the interface between the forklift and the product – the wood pallet.

Why is reducing wood pallet damage important?

There are crucial reasons for eliminating pallet damage. Let’s start with safety. Exposed nails and splinters can cut or puncture the skin. More seriously damaged pallets can result in toppled loads or load failure – events with potentially catastrophic outcomes. Broken pallets can damage palletized goods, and the impacts that damage the pallets can also damage the products they carry. 

Pallet damage can also put a damper on supply chain flow. This factor has become critically important as operators find themselves pressed to process orders faster than ever before. Pallet damage can unexpectedly disrupt that flow and cause unplanned delays.

For example, warehouse staff must re-board, or double-board unit loads palletized on damaged pallets before inducting them into the warehouse or production plant. Damaged pallets can get caught up in material handling systems such as conveyors and pallet racking, requiring intervention and causing expensive downtime.

How forklift operators can reduce wood pallet damage.

Slow down upon pallet entry

It may seem counterintuitive to slow down when speed is required, but slowing down immediately before entering the pallet will reduce impact damage to pallet lead boards and product alike, eliminating the need to deal with these issues subsequently.

Place forks accurately

Incorrect fork placement can result in fork tips damaging the ends of pallet stringers or blocks. Take care to enter the pallet cleanly. Remove obstacles that make a level fork entry into the pallet difficult, such as floor debris.

Keep forks level

Ensure that forks are horizontal when lifting palletized products. If forks are angled, stress on the pallet’s top deck boards will not be uniformly distributed, increasing the likelihood of broken boards.

Avoid “shortforking”

Shortforking is an industry term for not completely entering the pallet with the forks. As in the case above, shortforking results in uneven distribution of weight. With all of it being shouldered by the pallet’s front half, the chance of pallet damage is increased.

Avoid bottom deck damage with correct pallet jack placement

Where forks are longer, such as in the case of a double pallet jack, markings on the forks can help. The operator can use the markings to quickly determine that forks are correctly positioned. This technique eliminates the risk of load wheels resting over bottom deck boards and damaging them when raising the forks.

Don’t hump pallets

One common cause of lead board damage results from operators making contact with an adjoining unit load in a row before completely lowering. The best practice is to lower the pallet immediately prior to placing it next to another unit load. When one pallet rides on top of the adjoining pallet lead board while being lowered, it can damage the lead board.

Take a look at your warehouse floor. Suppose you see many longer splinters on the floor. In that case, the chances are that forklift operators are lowering pallets after contact rather than prior.

Don’t bulldoze pallets across the warehouse floor

Pushing or bulldozing stacks of pallets or unit loads with a forklift is still commonly practiced. It is seen as a time-saving technique – moving several unit loads rather than one. This approach can cause damage to forklift and pallet deck boards alike, however. As one article notes:

Pushing an object (by forklift) subjects the drive train to higher loads than it’s designed for. Additionally, the inertia used to push can apply higher peak forces than it is supposed to handle. All of this can significantly reduce the life of the transmission.

Bulldozing pallets also presents safety risks. If an operator’s line of sight is blocked by the unit loads being pushed, they may not see other workers or equipment. Additionally, if a bulldozed load catches on a seem in the floor, it can topple and cause injury and damage.

Attention to forklift operation best practices can help your company minimize pallet damage, as well as damage to products and other equipment. Better forklift practices can reduce your pallet repair and replacement costs, and most importantly, better protect people who work in proximity to pallets. Now is the time to incorporate pallet handling best practices into your forklift training program.

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