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What is Cap and Trade?

The wooden pallet and container industry has been promoting the use of wood as an economical and sustainable solution for businesses and their supply chains for years. Our business model is built on recyclable and reusable packaging solutions so that customers can have faith and hard data in the implementation of their sustainability initiatives.

As climate change and greenhouse gas emissions have taken a more prominent place in consumer concerns, governments are implementing new programs and models to incentivize industries to cut emissions that have a detrimental impact on climate and populations around the world. One of the most successful models to accomplish these goals has been “Cap and Trade”.

In this Nature’s Packaging post, we’ll take a quick dive into cap and trade to learn more about it.

What is Cap and Trade?

In order to combat climate change, governments have employed a variety of methods. One such method is cap and trade. Cap and trade is a system in which the government places a limit, or cap, on the amount of pollution that companies can emit. This system would place a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allow companies to buy and sell allowances for these emissions.

The goal of this system is to reduce emissions gradually over time while giving companies flexibility in how they meet the caps. Companies that exceed their allotted amount must purchase allowances from other companies that have not used up their allotment.

This market-based approach provides an incentive for companies to pollute less, as they can then sell their allowances to other companies. The overall goal of cap and trade is to reduce pollution by setting a limit on emissions and creating a market for buying and selling emissions allowances.

Critics of cap and trade argue that it will lead to higher energy prices and place a burden on businesses. They also argue that it is unfair because it allows some companies to emit more greenhouse gases than others. Supporters of cap and trade argue that it is necessary in order to combat climate change and that it will create incentives for businesses to develop cleaner technologies and implement sustainability processes.

A Short History of Cap And Trade

In the United States, the first mandatory cap-and-trade program was established by the Acid Rain Program of 1990. The program was designed to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that were causing acid rain. The program was successful in reducing emissions and provided a model for future cap-and-trade programs. According to the EPA, the program was a “pioneering effort” that helped the United States meet its Kyoto Protocol commitment.

In 2012, the Obama administration implemented a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions. The program placed a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide that could be emitted by power plants and other large emitters.

The goal of the program was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020. However, the program was never fully implemented, and was eventually replaced by other climate change policies.

Despite its challenges, cap and trade remains one of the most popular mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. California’s current cap and trade system has been in place for a number of years and is see as a model for future use at a broader level.

How Does Cap and Trade Work?

In order to understand how cap and trade works, it is important to first understand what it is. Cap and trade is a system that was created in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The way it works is by setting a limit, or cap, on the amount of emissions that a company or country can produce. If they exceed this limit, they must purchase credits from others who have not reached their limit. This provides an incentive for companies to reduce their emissions, as they can then sell their credits to others.

The cap and trade system has been used in the United States since 2009, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the program in an effort to combat climate change. The program has been successful in reducing emissions, but there are still some critics who argue that it does not do enough to address the problem.

The Pros and Cons of Cap and Trade

The cap-and-trade system is a market-based approach to controlling pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants.

The pros of this system are that it provides a financial incentive for companies to reduce their emissions, and it allows companies to trade emissions allowances with each other. This flexibility means that companies can choose the most cost-effective way to meet their emission reduction targets.

The cons of cap-and-trade are that some argue it may not lead to the level of emission reductions needed to combat climate change, and it could create windfall profits for companies that have already made investments in clean technology.

The Future of Cap and Trade

As the world continues to face the reality of climate change, many countries, industries, and companies are searching for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and implement sustainability into their processes.

The pallet industry continues to explore new areas of their business models to determine where recycling and reuse can fit into a system that rewards lowering greenhouse gas emissions and the ability to sequester carbon.

While we have witnessed the voluntary carbon market slowly rise and gather momentum. It remains relatively misunderstood and somewhat of a black box in terms of value and efficacy.

In the near future, if the pallet industry is able to link custody of certain parts of the sequestration process to recycling that generates a monetary return. Industries and companies will beat a path to the doors faster than you can say, “Wood Is Good”.

Some Great Resources to Explore

Calmatters – The Basics of Cap and Trade

Environmental Defense Fund – How Cap and Trade Works

Cap and Trade – Pros and Cons

 

Hardwood or Softwood: What’s the Difference?

Of the many forest products used by consumers every day, wood in the form of lumber is the most recognizable. The lumber that we use to build homes or make furniture is produced from softwood or hardwood trees.

The differences between the two types of trees seem obvious from their names, but the actual differences are much more compelling. Interestingly, one basic fact is that “hard” wood and “soft” wood is really based on the botanical properties of a tree rather than the objective hardness of the wood.

Both hardwood and softwood are integral to global industry and infrastructure.

What is a Hardwood Tree?

Angiosperm trees produce what we know as hardwood. Angiosperms are flowering trees with enclosed seeds. The enclosure is often a fruit or nut.

They are usually deciduous, dropping their leaves in the autumn, sometimes with a vibrant display of color. Hardwood trees have broad leaves with fine veins.

Angiosperms grow slowly, which makes their wood dense and heavy. They have a tubular cell structure with pores that produce prominent grain patterns. They are found in tropical and temperate forests all over the world.

Common angiosperm hardwood trees include oak, maple, and walnut.

What is a Softwood Tree?

Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees, which, unlike angiosperms, do not flower. Softwood trees are usually conifers like pine, cedar, and spruce. Their seeds are not enclosed and they’re often in the form of a cone.

Because gymnosperm seeds do not have a fruit or nut enclosure, they spread more easily and in a wider area than angiosperms. Softwood trees also grow faster, have a simpler cell structure, and produce sap.

Gymnosperm leaves are needle-shaped and do not drop seasonally. They’re commonly called evergreen trees. Approximately 80% of timber comes from these softwood trees. The most common group of softwood trees, conifers, is also those most valued for its lumber. Conifers grow all over the world but are especially abundant in cooler climates and higher altitudes.

Do Hardwood and Softwood Trees Store Carbon?

Yes. Through the process of photosynthesis, hardwood trees and softwood trees both remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, light, and water transform into sugars including glucose, starch, and cellulose.

This is a form of carbon sequestration, in which carbon is captured from the atmosphere. Trees are natural carbon cleaners. The carbon they store helps offset carbon emissions from other sources.

Carbon is used and stored in every part of a tree, from leaf to root. Starch is found in flowers, fruits, and cones. Glucose aids in respiration, keeping the tree alive. Cellulose, which makes up 40% of wood, supports cell walls. Without cellulose, trees would be unable to stand upright.

An astonishing 50% of the dry mass of a tree is made up of carbon captured from the atmosphere. Harvesting trees and using them for lumber or paper does not release the carbon they’ve stored. Only burning or decay will send it back into the atmosphere.

Though softwood and hardwood trees absorb carbon differently (primarily due to growth rate) they are equally efficient.

What is Made From Hardwood Lumber?

Hardwood lumber is more expensive than softwood because it takes longer for the trees to reach a suitable size for harvest. Hardwood is used for furniture, flooring, cabinets, and musical instruments.

Though hardwood in general is denser and stronger, that is not the case for every species. For example, yew (a softwood) is significantly denser than aspen (a hardwood).

If a project is more decorative than functional, a softer hardwood may be used for its grain pattern rather than a denser softwood that would be more durable.

Hardwood is more difficult to work with than softwood. It is valued by woodworkers for its beauty and strength.

What is Made From Softwood Lumber?

Softwood is the workhorse of the lumber world. It is less expensive and easier to work with and finish. It is used for everything from framing houses to making paper. It’s also used for every single thing hardwood is used for, even instruments.

Softwood is used for Christmas trees, window frames, wood pallets, doors, and plywood. Cedar is used for outdoor decking and siding due to its natural resistance to fungi, insect, rot, and bacteria. Its popularity makes cedar’s price rival that of many slower-growing hardwoods.

Softwood is versatile, renewable, recyclable, and ubiquitous. We’re surrounded by it every day.

Wood is a Renewable and Recyclable Resource

Both hardwood and softwood are incredible, versatile resources. Lumber and other forest products are used in the daily lives of people across the globe.

Wood is one of our most recycled and reused products. Wood furniture is passed down through generations, recycled lumber is used for other projects, and wood pallets are transformed into décor or other items after being reused many times.

Modern logging practices create sustainable, healthy forests. The days of clear-cutting entire old-growth forests are long gone. Today, replanting, selective harvesting, and fire prevention are creating strong, productive forests that benefit both the environment and the economy.

The forest products industry is efficient and dedicated to the health of every aspect of the woodland. From wildlife habitat to soil conservation, forest management strives to keep these amazing resources sustainable for future generations. Private forests currently grow more trees than are harvested.

A harvested tree is used for more than lumber. Every piece of the tree has a use. Small branches, bark, and sawdust can be used as biomass for energy production. This material would otherwise be left to decay, burned on site, or sent to the landfill. In every one of those scenarios, the carbon is released without benefit.

When used as fuel, this material becomes part of the energy grid, reducing reliance on fossil fuels. It is carbon-neutral, releasing no more carbon than had it been left to decay.

The demand for forest products including lumber, paper, wood packaging, and biomass has steadily increased for decades. Rather than harming our forests, responsible woodland management resulted in a 50% increase in trees in the United States since the 1950s.

Responsible management of hardwood trees and softwood trees across the country has made the forest products industry a model of economically beneficial sustainability.

Wood biomass

Woody Biomass: A Nature’s Packaging Study – Part 2

***Nature’s Packaging continues this week with Woody Biomass – Part 2***

 

How Does Woody Biomass Produce Energy?

Woody biomass produces energy through several methods:

Combustion

Combustion of biomass is one of the oldest controllable energy resources. Combustion involves burning wood to produce heat.

It is a chemical reaction during which oxygen and biomass combine under high temperatures to produce water vapor, carbon dioxide, and heat.

Combustion is a widely used process to generate electricity that is an efficient, economical, and practical energy source.

Gasification

Gasification involves converting woody biomass into a fuel gas. The combustible gas can then facilitate powering engines. The process of gasification uses a low amount of oxygen and when utilized to convert solid carbonaceous materials, it can also produce hydrogen-rich gas.

Pyrolysis

Pyrolysis is a promising way of generating energy from waste. During pyrolysis, wood is heated without oxygen to produce a liquid or solid fuel.

Biomass pyrolysis involves breaking down organic matter into simpler molecular chains using heat. This process produces not only energy but also fuels and other chemicals.  The fuels created using the fast pyrolysis process have the potential to help reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 51% to 96%.

Heating biomass breaks it down into cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose. These components can be used to produce energy through combustion or other means.

Other Products from Woody Biomass

Woody biomass is a versatile resource that can be utilized to create many different types of products, the following are just a few:

Biochar

We have covered biochar in a previous Nature’s Packaging blog post. Biochar is a form of carbon generated from biomass sources like wood chips, plant residues, and other agricultural waste products. It is created to convert biomass carbon product into a more stable form, otherwise known as carbon sequestration.

Biochar isn’t actually a single product. Instead, biochar is many different forms of black carbon that are unique in chemical and physical composition due to the original feedstock materials, creation process, cooling methods, and overall storage conditions.

Wood Vinegar

Wood vinegar is a liquid byproduct derived from the production of charcoal. It is a liquid generated from the combustion and gas of fresh wood burning in airless conditions. When the gas is cooled, it condenses and the remaining liquid is a vinegar product. Raw wood vinegar contains more than 200 chemicals

Wood vinegar is used to improve soil quality, eliminate pests, and control plant growth. It accelerates the growth of roots, stems, tubers, leaves, flowers, and fruit, but can be very toxic to plants if too much is used in application. Wood vinegar is safe for living matter and organisms in the food chain, especially to insects that help pollinate plants.

Wood-based Polymers and Composites

Recycling wood from end of life utility in packaging, construction debris, and demolition waste then combining those materials with plastics to form wood-polymer composites (WPC) creates strong wood-based products that have very wide usage capabilities. These recycled composites have very low environmental impact in terms of global warming potential (GWP), and greenhouse potential. The versatility of wood-polymer composites allow products to be created that have pre-determined strength values that correspond to their many applications.

Chemical Source Materials

In the past, it was something of a challenge turning woody biomass into fuels or other primary products. The lignin present was difficult to extract. Now through thermodynamic breakdown and chemical science, the lignin can be extracted and is quite good as a bio-polymer additive to adhesive formulas and also can be further processed into binding agents, dispersing agents, and emulsion stabilizers. Meaning that its versatility in multi-functional chemical applications makes it an excellent application in chemical manufacturing processes.

Woody Biomass in the Future

Technological advancements in the forest product sciences are finding more functional uses for woody biomass every year. Starting as a sustainable resource and source of energy that can be replenished over time, it is an environmentally friendly catalyst that is now finding new applications in materials science.

As the need for energy sources grows, woody biomass is complementary to other natural energy sources like wind and solar and ensures energy security for manufacturing and production-based industries. Thus, commercial companies are exploring many different types of bioenergy solutions.

Developing the technology to enhance the economic viability of woody biomass ensures a sustainable future for energy production. Its renewable, carbon-neutral, and lower environmental impact is an ideal attribute for future needs.

 

Carbon Sequestration

What is Carbon Sequestration?

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing carbon and storing it in a way that won’t contribute to climate change.

If you’re familiar with the concept of a carbon footprint, then you are off to a great start. A carbon footprint measures how much greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are due to activities like driving a vehicle or using electricity to run facilities and machinery.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere and contribute to global warming. They’re “greenhouse gases” because they work like the glass of a greenhouse: they let sunlight in but don’t allow the heat that is generated to escape back outside the atmosphere of the Earth into space. The result is that global temperatures rise, and weather patterns become more severe and less predictable.

Carbon dioxide and methane are two common greenhouse gases  that are produced by activities like burning fossil fuels or managing livestock.

But nature has developed an excellent resource to help pull carbon out of the environment.

The wonderful tree.

As trees mature, they absorb sunlight through photosynthesis and store carbon in the form of carbohydrates, which are used by the tree for growth. This carbon capture process occurs within all plants to convert sunlight into chemical energy. Trees are especially good at it because they typically have an extensive root and leaf structure.

If the tree is harvested to become a forest product like lumber, it retains that carbon—meaning that wood products act as “sinks” for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In other words, using wood helps remove carbon from the atmosphere—which can help mitigate climate change.

Wood:  A Carbon Storage Powerhouse

A tree’s roots, trunk, branches, leaves, and sap all contain carbon, and while they’re growing, they take up even more carbon dioxide.

The amount of carbon stored in any particular tree varies with its size and age, the type of wood it produces (hardwood or softwood), and how dense the wood is. You can determine the density by measuring how much space an oven-dry wood sample occupies.

The ability to store carbon in plant biomass, such as trees, makes possible the creation of a sustainable energy source.

The process of carbon sequestration involves three main steps:

  1. Capturing CO2 from the atmosphere
  2. Transporting it to underground storage.
  3. Storing the captured CO2

The quantity of carbon sequestered will depend on various factors, including climate, geography, and land management practices.

For centuries, humanity has relied on forests and wood for a multitude of products. Today, industries harvest and utilize trees for everything from construction materials to cosmetics.

However, it turns out that forest products are capable of continuing their carbon sequestration process. Instead of releasing carbon back into the atmosphere through decomposition, wood products can store carbon within their cellular structure, keeping it out of the atmosphere. It means wood products are a great source of renewable energy!

As a renewable resource, wood is a vital component of the circular economy. Wood products store carbon throughout their life cycle and can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Wood is very often one of the few materials that is produced and utilized within the same geographic region. It results in a low carbon footprint compared to many other materials (e.g., concrete, steel, plastic).

Reduce > Re-use > Recycle > Renew

Encouraging the use of wood products that sequester carbon is a small part of the larger positive impact on the environment and climate change. Another step to this equation is to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle whenever possible.

Wood is a renewable resource. Responsibly managed forests help in the fight against climate change by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere on a global scale. And they do it at an astonishing rate. A single hardwood tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and one acre of forest can absorb twice as much CO2 as an acre of farmland.

When you purchase products like wood pallets to use in your supply chain, you support an industry that uses a renewable resource and recycles that resource millions of times a day, every day.

 

Wood for the W.I.N. – Carbon Accounting

There is a huge market gathering around carbon and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG’s). Governments are being pressured by the public to address climate change and global warming, and very soon regulation and the monetization of carbon offsets will create an asset tradeable marketplace that will classify a price for it.

As you read this post there are numerous bills in the US Congress being proposed to put a price tag on carbon. This prospective legislation, along with other cap and trade proposals, are the foundation of a new paradigm in the world economy. Imagine carbon offsets as the tradeable asset and a model price at around $100 dollars per metric ton. These are very real numbers based on existing frameworks in the EU system. Let’s break it down for the United States.

In 2020, the United States is estimated to have generated ~5.16 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. At the $100 per ton number that represents a VERY LARGE number, and about 2.5% of the total estimated US GDP for 2020. That is also accounting for the effect of the pandemic on the US economy.

Who is accountable for all of these emissions you ask? All of the companies in the US, and in the larger frame, the world. Now you can begin to grasp why the C-suite is concerned, and why companies are in a blitz of marketing and green policy initiatives.

In this exclusive Nature’s Packaging post, we dive into What’s Important Now (W.I.N.) for the wooden pallet and container industry by examining a methodology called “Carbon Accounting” that companies and organizations around the world are utilizing to assess their greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon Accounting 101

Carbon accounting, also known as greenhouse gas accounting, is an approach and process designed to audit and provide an assessment of the company’s carbon “footprint”, which is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by the company both directly and indirectly.

Carbon accounting measures the emissions produced by a certain business activities and processes. It quantifies the amount of output from the use of fossil fuels, agricultural practices, industrial production, various supply chain operations, and other indirect processes. The data and information generated from an account and inventory of emissions becomes the framework that a company utilizes to further manage their climate change impact and determine possible strategies to mitigate that impact going forward.

In terms of reporting, many countries have regulatory agencies that require companies to report their emissions. In the US, this would be part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.

Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP)

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is a guideline created by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in partnership with the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD). Many companies around the world have adopted the GHGP as it provides accounting and reporting specifications, guidance appropriate to different industries, tools for calculation, and training for businesses and government entities.

The GHGP provides a standardized framework for measuring and managing emissions from both public and private sector companies and organizations. Additionally, an accounting protocol for emissions created from logistics operations was established in 2016 by a newly formed council. It was established in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, and it is known as the Global Logistics Emissions Council (GLEC) Framework.

Emission Scope

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol divides emissions into 3 Scopes. Companies measure and set goals to reduce emission based on the framework of these Scopes:

Scope 1

This scope is based on all the direct GHG emissions by a company. These are emissions that created by resources owned or controlled by the company. These include GHG’s produced from fuel combustion in assets like vehicles, boilers, and furnaces.

Scope 2

Scope 2 refers to indirect GHG emissions from consumption of utility purchases like electricity, heat, cooling or steam. These emissions occur outside any company’s actual facilities as a result of utility usage and are considered an indirect source of emissions.

The Corporate Standard is an accounting and reporting standard provided by the GHG Protocol that gives guidance on how an organization can calculate and inventory its Scope 2 emissions. The standard is designed to ensure consistent methodology and transparency of results between organizations around the world.

Scope 3

Scope 3 contains other types of indirect emissions that can be the largest source of GHG emissions for an organization and represent up to 90% of the total carbon footprint. Scope 3 sources include emissions that occur both upstream and downstream of the organization’s activities, as in supply chain and logistics operations. This upstream/downstream activity constitutes the organization’s full value chain in creation of its products and/or services.

Scope 3 includes 15 overall categories:

  1. Purchased Goods and Services
  2. Capital Goods
  3. Fuel- and Energy-Related Activities Not Included in Scope 1 or 2
  4. Upstream Transportation and Distribution
  5. Waste Generated in Operations
  6. Business Travel
  7. Employee Commuting
  8. Upstream Leased Assets
  9. Downstream Transportation and Distribution
  10. Processing of Sold Products
  11. Use of Sold Products
  12. End-of-Life Treatment of Sold Products
  13. Downstream Leased Assets
  14. Franchises
  15. Investments

Corporate Sustainability & You

Scopes 1 & 2 mentioned above are the starting points for any business and generally are the easiest to assess and reform as they are the closest to day-to-day operations. They can include anything from changing out lighting systems in buildings to promote savings on electricity costs, implementing new HVAC systems and filtration, utilizing new control software that maximizes the efficiency processes in building maintenance systems, to using “green” vehicles.

Scopes 1&2 are the ‘proof of concept’ phase in most cases as a company ramps into a sustainability program across the entire organization. However, companies also have to account for Scope 3 emissions in order to achieve and claim successes. The difficulties in Scope 3 accountability are directly related to the above-mentioned value chain that include suppliers and customers as part of the framework.

Many companies are embracing the GHG protocol and it’s variants like the GLEC Framework and the Corporate Standard. In example, Walmart has launched it Project Gigaton which aims to avoid one billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030. Pepsico has incorporated the Pepsico Positive program to address their sustainability initiatives.

Both companies are customers of the pallet industry and we exist in their value chains. Additionally, there are many other companies in a multitude of industries that need and use pallets to move their goods through the supply chain. The Pallet Foundation provides numerous resources like the Environmental Product Declaration and the Landfill Avoidance Study as excellent reference documents that help inform customers how well the wooden container and pallet industry aligns with the sustainability efforts of these organizations.

It is critical that companies in the wooden pallet and container industry continue to fund, promote, and align themselves with these corporate sustainability efforts. As an industry, we must have a solid grasp of the various GHG protocols, carbon accounting, and sustainability initiatives because it exponentially multiplies the value of your company in the value chain of the customer companies we service. We must connect and understand what’s important to them now.

 

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.

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.

How Wood Fiber Could Resolve the Global Plastic Problem

How Wood Fiber Could Resolve the Global Plastic Problem

If you weren’t aware that our planet has a problem with plastic, consider the fact that every piece of plastic ever made could take hundreds of years to decompose. According to CBS News, if you were to put all that plastic end-to-end, it could go to the moon and back 30 times. Plastics are also derived from fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource, which increases mankind’s carbon footprint. For these reasons, a more environmentally-friendly replacement for plastic must be found and one solution lies in our forests.

Is there already a replacement for plastic?

Yes, at least to a certain extent. Plastic coffee cups, for instance, have been replaced in many locations by wood-based products without losing any of the container’s effectiveness. While it’s true that the lids of those containers are still plastic, researchers are enthusiastically experimenting with ways that these too can be replaced by something which is a wood-based product.

Injection molding with wood? 

This may sound strange, but plastic materials which have been used to make toys, toothbrushes, dish scrubbers, and toilet bowl cleaners might soon all be made with a wood-based product rather than with plastic. Already a process has been devised and tested which combines wood fibers with polymers, and is then reduced to tiny particles, to create a material which has the look and feel of wood, but which also has the flexibility and high performance of plastic. In addition to the smaller household items mentioned above, decking and furniture can also be produced with this composite, and even though it is still half-plastic, it represents a significant reduction of the amount of plastic used to create the products.

When will wood-based products become commonplace?

For the time being, some of the exciting processes described above may be only a little more advanced than the proof-of-concept stage, but there is little doubt that more and more wood-based products will begin to replace plastic and other fossil-fuel-based materials.

To produce wood-based materials on a larger scale some hurdles must be overcome, namely that production costs are comparable to that of plastics, so that the wood-based products will compete in the market. Every part of a tree is recyclable, even the residue left behind on machinery.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to the increased use of wood products, especially wood packaging, from sustainably managed forests.

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Benefits of Community-based Natural Resource Management

Benefits of Community-based Natural Resource Management

It was in 1997 that the Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) project was established in Mozambique Africa, for the purpose of empowering local communities to assume some level of control over how their environments would be managed. This literally constituted a shift in power away from the central government, and into the hands of local authorities who are best equipped to maintain healthy natural resources and to make those resources sustainable indefinitely.

That first CBNRM conference brought together representatives from high levels of government, community members, and engineer types, who were all interested in preserving local environments. The discussions at that conference and in the four additional conferences since then, centered around how to deal with natural resources such as forests and wildlife, as well as developing or strengthening community-based organizations, and about how to add value to resources such as forest products.

Image Attribute: Image supplied by Flickr; Distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License

The most recent CBNRM conference

At the 2018 version of the CBNRM conference, it was recognized that even though the resolution was 20 years into its implementation, there was still a great deal of work to be done, and that there were still significant obstacles to achieving hoped-for results. For one thing, there are still disputes over the jurisdiction of communities, and that makes it extremely difficult to manage resources from those disputed areas. However, since most of these individual communities rely heavily on natural resources such as timber and wildlife, it is essential that all obstacles be overcome, so that communities can realize the benefits of CBNRM.

There are also conflicts over land rights, with various communities squabbling over ownership and spheres of interest. This is an extremely important point, since government agencies and donors have difficulty supporting community groups which compete for the same properties. This of course, creates a great deal of confusion about community rights to natural resources, and it causes a great deal of difficulty in sustaining those natural resources so they can be used to benefit local economies.

In an effort to help resolve some of the community conflicts, and to break up the logjam which has developed over land rights, the World Bank has stepped in to support local stakeholders and their governments. Through the Integrated Landscape and Forest Management Portfolio, a number of initiatives have been undertaken so that land rights can be resolved, land usage can be planned out into the future, reforestation can take place, land restoration can be initiated, and specific areas can be protected, while tourism is concurrently being promoted.

The future of CBNRM

There’s no question that Mozambique has yet to realize the full potential of CBNRM, but at the most recent conference, government leadership was at least made aware of the fact that local economies can be improved by transforming community development, and by protecting the natural resources associated with each community. While progress has been slow over the last 20 years, a new element of enthusiasm was very much in evidence at the most recent CBNRM conference, and it seems likely that participants will now be working together much more closely to achieve the maximum benefits under CBNRM.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to worldwide sustainable forest management practices. Forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere and when they’re sustainably managed, they’ll continue to provide valuable resources to local economies and help fight climate change.

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