A worker checks the diameter of selectively harvested hardwood at the timberyard of Vicksburg, Miss.-based Anderson-Tully. The company's operation is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

A felled tree is moved to Anderson-Tully's loading area in advance of further processing. The company's forests are self-renewing. When a tree is chosen for harvest, another is not planted in its place. Rather, new trees germinate and mature naturally without artificial assistance from man.
During the past few years, a significant buzz about utilizing sustainable natural resources has been generated within the building and construction industry. Everywhere you turn these days, it seems we are inundated with talk of green building, environmental awareness and sustainable materials.

Just this past April during the National Wood Flooring Association's 2004 Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Dr. Patrick Moore spoke at length on this topic. If anyone knows a thing or two about environmental issues, it is Dr. Moore.

For more than 30 years, Moore has been a prominent leader in the international environmental movement. He was a founding member of Greenpeace, serving for nine years as the president of Greenpeace Canada, and for seven years as the director of Greenpeace International. Today, Moore serves as the chair of the Sustainable Forestry Committee of the Forest Alliance of British Columbia, and he leads the process of developing the Principles of Sustainable Forestry, which have been adopted by a majority of the industry.

Trees are the answer to many of the questions posed by today's environmental activists, Moore says. He indicates that, while there has been much media hype in recent years about the devastation caused by the deforestation of the land and the subsequent loss of animal habitat, wood is by far the most environmentally friendly and abundantly renewable flooring material available.

He further indicates that all other flooring options use more energy to reach end market than wood. This occurs through increased energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and waste production. Moore also concludes that these results have a far more devastating impact on the environment than harvesting trees, and that sustainable forest management makes it possible to harvest wood without any serious impact on the environment.

Why? Because trees are a renewable resource that can be replaced time and time again.

Dr. Moore provides some pretty compelling evidence to substantiate this point. He states that wood is, without a doubt, the most renewable material used to build and maintain our civilization. Yet ironically, wood is often targeted by environmental groups. In fact, the group he helped found, Greenpeace, has gone before the United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Forests calling on countries to reduce the amount of wood they use and to adopt "environmentally appropriate substitutes" instead.

However, Moore notes, no list of appropriate substitutes has yet been provided. Furthermore, the Sierra Club is calling for "zero cut" and an end to all commercial forestry on federal public lands in the United States. Likewise, the Rainforest Action Network wants a 75 percent reduction in wood use in North America by the year 2015.

The consensus among these environmental groups appears to be "cut fewer trees and use less wood." Ignoring the obvious impact forestry has on our economy, Dr. Moore contends that this is an anti-environmental policy as it is logically inconsistent with, and diametrically opposed to, policies that would bring about positive results for both climate change and biodiversity conservation.

How does he substantiate this claim?

First, it is important to recognize that, as a species, human beings do use a tremendous amount of wood. On an average daily basis, each of the 6 billion people on Earth use 3.5 lbs. of wood every day. That equates to 3.5 billion tons of wood used per year.

It might seem easy to conclude that cutting in half that consumption would save vast areas of forest from harvesting, but that is not the case. Understanding how this wood is used reveals the flawed reasoning that underpins such an argument.

More than half of the wood consumed every year - specifically, 60 percent - is used in developing countries where 2.5 billion people depend on wood as their primary source of energy, mainly for cooking and heating. A fourth of the total is used for building things such as housing and furniture. And 15 percent is used to manufacture pulp and paper, primarily for printing, packaging and sanitary purposes. Half of this wood is retrieved from sawmill waste arising from the manufacture of solid-wood construction products.

Therein lies the flaw in the environmentalists' argument: every other substitute for wood is nonrenewable and consumes a great deal more energy to produce. As Moore notes, wood is produced in a "factory" called a forest by a renewable source of energy - sunlight.

Nonrenewable building materials such as steel, cement and plastic must be produced in man-made steel mills, cement works and oil refineries. This usually requires large inputs of fossil fuels, which inevitably results in high carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, all other possible substitutes ultimately are more harmful to the environment.

The answer, then, is not to use less wood and switch to nonrenewable resources, but rather to grow more trees and to promote sustainable forests. Fortunately, this is happening already.

According to the Hardwood Information Center (Harwood Manufacturers Association), nearly twice as much hardwood is grown each year than is harvested. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service indicates that the volume of hardwood in American forests has increased 90 percent since 1953 to about 352 billion cubic feet. The report goes on to state that hardwood growth has exceeded removal every year since 1952, with harvests averaging about 6 billion cubic feet per year and new growth averaging about 10.2 billion cubic feet annually.

Photo courtesy of Georgia-Pacific Hardwood Lumber.
Obviously, forests are sustainable. Hence, wood is a sustainable resource - and an obvious choice for environmentally conscious consumers.

In his presentation, Dr. Moore talked at length about how forests continually regenerate themselves, even recovering from the devastation of clear-cutting, which was a popular means of logging at the turn of the century. Today, without exception, those areas are covered in lush new forests. Even at Mount St. Helens in Washington, where in 1980 Mother Nature's devastating force manifested itself in a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that destroyed more than 150,000 acres of forest overnight, the timber that is re-growing on that land will be ready to harvest by 2026.

The bottom line is that there are no easy answers to today's environmental woes. But through proper management, and the promotion of sustainable resources such as wood flooring, we'll be well on our way to ensuring that forests are available to be enjoyed by future generations.