Is this the future of America’s national forests, or will Congress wake up before it is too late?
“The claim that using wood somehow leads to forest loss is backwards and silly. Every time we use wood—every time we buy a two-by-four at a
lumberyard or a ream of paper at an office supply store—we are in fact ordering up new trees for planting in forests.”
Patrick Moore, Ph.D. forest ecologist and Greenpeace co-founder, from an Evergreen interview at the Boise Basin Experimental Forest near Idaho City, Idaho, September 2002
It may seem like heresy—this Patrick Moore notion that that the world should be consuming more wood, not less—but his latest dissent from conventional environmental wisdom is shared by many eminent forest scientists who see increasing wood use as a big step forward in the quest to reduce global atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution.
We’ll have more to say about carbon dioxide emissions in a few moments. But first meet the irrepressible Dr. Moore: Ph.D. forest ecologist, Greenpeace co-founder, legendary boat rocker and fearless promoter of really big ideas. Who would have ever thought to marry citizen unrest over the war in Vietnam to a growing uneasiness about the state of the planet? Well, Patrick did.
With the help of Greenpeace colleagues who shared his vision for a healthier more peaceful planet, he held a mirror up in front of the world. Millions of us peered into it and did not like what we saw. By the mid-eighties mainstream society had embraced many environmental ideas previously considered radical. Canada stopped hunting baby seals, dumping nuclear waste in the North Atlantic was outlawed, whaling in the North Pacific ended too, and moratoriums were declared on hydrogen bomb testing.
Now Patrick has moved on—some would say gone home—to defend his heritage [he is the son and grandson of British Columbia loggers] and his science against what he says are unwarranted attacks by leftists who highjacked the green movement after the Berlin Wall fell, exposing both socialism’s failures and capitalism’s global possibilities. And he is again
holding up his mirror in the hope that
we will see the error of our ways.
“I left Greenpeace believing we had accomplished what we set out to do,” he said in a recent Evergreen interview. “We had rung the ecological fire alarm awakening much of the developed world to our global predicament. But while Greenpeace could define problems it did not necessarily have the solutions, nor was it equipped to implement them. That requires the combined efforts of governments, corporations, public institutions and environmental groups. Today I work in all these arenas.”
Because Dr. Moore helped found the first global environmental organization the press has for years assumed he quite naturally opposed timber harvesting and forestry itself. He never has. In fact, since leaving Greenpeace in 1986 he has written a fine book, Pacific Spirit, penned an update [Green Spirit: Trees Are The Answer] and produced a beautiful video, Trees Are The Answer. In all three works he uses natural forest renewal to make the case for forestry’s contributions to the environment. More recently he has lent his considerable credibility and creativity to the Wood Promotion Network, a forest industry coalition formed two years ago to advance wood’s dominant position in North American building material—and to defend the industry against claims that wood consumption destroys forests.
“The claim that using wood somehow leads to forest loss is backwards and silly,” Dr. Moore says. “Every time we use wood—every time we buy a two-by-four at a lumberyard or a ream of paper at an office supply store —we are in fact ordering up new trees for planting in forests.”
How’s that again?
“Forget trees,” Patrick explains. “Let’s talk about tomatoes. If people didn’t buy them, growers would not plant them. Pretty soon there wouldn’t be any. On the other hand, if tomatoes sold out in two weeks, growers would plant more next year. It’s the same with trees. Eighty-five percent of the timber consumed in the United States grows on private land. Growers are planting more than ever before because wood is very popular. But if for some reason consumers stopped buying wood growers would stop planting trees and start planting what consumers wanted. Millions of acres of forestland would be converted to some other purpose to the considerable detriment of our environment. It is precisely because we use so much wood that we have so much forest.”
Dr. Moore’s commitment to forestry and his efforts to help the forest industry craft a story that will win over an often skeptical public have enraged several of his former colleagues. His name appears in the Greenpeace “Guide to Anti-Environmental Organizations” [so does Evergreen] and fellow cofounder, Bob Hunter, calls him the “eco-Judas.” But Patrick is nonplused.
“The forest industry has an incredibly positive story to tell,” he observes. “It produces our most renewable material resource, maintains habitat for thousands of species, removes carbon from the atmosphere and provides a wide range of consumer products without which life as we know it would be impossible. The Wood Promotion Network provides a counter to steel, plastic and concrete claims of environmental superiority, giving the public a more balanced view of the choices they make. Hopefully it will grow into programs that can effectively counter the ‘use less wood’ policy of the major environmental lobbies. Wood
is not only good, it is the best.”
No wonder the highly touted Wood Promotion Network wanted to team up with Dr. Moore when it launched its “Be Constructive” campaign. “He has been a powerful advocate and a tremendous help,” says WPN president Kelly McCloskey, a long-time Canadian friend. “His message is heard and accepted in places where we would not be credible without him.”
In a decade where successes have been few and far between, WPN looks to be a victory for a forest products industry that has in recent years had great difficulty finding its public voice. Poor markets get most of the blame for under-funded forestry education programs, but the fact is distrust runs rampant among publicly traded companies and their smaller, privately held brethren. Turf battles between associations competing for membership amid the collapse of the federal timber sale program—a collapse made even more painful by consolidation in the debt laden pulp and paper industry—have only made matters worse. As a result, it has been more than 20 years since U.S. forest products manufacturers last put their shoulders to the same wheel. WPN is that wheel.
“It’s wonderful to see our industry working toward a commonly shared goal,” says Mr. McCloskey. “Ours is a fragmented industry but the birth of WPN and its early successes make it clear that we can still be very effective communicators when we work together rather than at cross purposes.”
What caused the industry to come together again after so many years of acrimony? The dumbfounding revelation that between 1997 and 2000 U.S. lumber manufacturers lost nearly $1 billion in market share to the steel framing and concrete industries. Adding insult to injury, television and print advertisements sponsored by the two industries hyped environmentalist claims that forests were not being sustainably managed. Worse yet, Ninja look-alikes were unfurling banners from Home Depot and Lowes rooftops accusing the nation’s two largest lumber retailers of profiting from the destruction of old growth forests.
“It was a real wakeup call,” recalls Mr. McCloskey. “Many had assumed the wood industry’s dominance of the homebuilder market was unassailable. The discovery that two competing industry had taken nearly $1 billion in just three years got everyone’s attention. In less than 12 months we put together a coalition of the largest wood producers in the U.S. and Canada, raised the startup capital we needed and went to work.”
The WPN strategy is both straightforward and unique: unique for its up front commitment to coalition building, a hard-to-quantify art form many cost conscious CEO’s have resisted for years; and straightforward in its quest to reverse market share losses by restoring builder and consumer confidence in both wood products and forestry.
Mr. McCloskey and his coalition partners face a daunting task. Many of the timber industry’s most experienced public relations people were let go during the late 1970s recession and never replaced. In fact, in the decade before the American Forest & Paper Association launched its Sustainable Forestry Initiative in 1994 the nation’s big timberland owners did little as a group to refute criticism of its forest management practices. From this perspective, WPN’s early successes are indeed stunning. In less than two years Mr. McCloskey has signed up an impressive array of partners: 320 companies, more than 120 customer groups and nearly 100 associations across the U.S. and Canada. The fete becomes even more remarkable in light of the fact that most of his members are —first and foremost—fierce competitors with no great love for one another.
“We found common ground in a clearly articulated message that everyone could rally around,” Mr. McCloskey explains. “The message is that wood is a superior product and forests are abundant and growing. We are not running out of forests or trees for harvest as some environmentalists allege. Wood producing forests in the U.S. and Canada are well regulated and well managed. The fact is that North American forests have about the same amount of forest cover today as they had 100 years ago.”
Apart from WPN’s coalition building success—or perhaps because of it—the organization has scored some laudable publicity successes since it unveiled its “Be Constructive” advertising and public relations campaign at the 2001 International Builders Show in Atlanta, Georgia. Most recently Bob Vila, the nation’s best-known handyman, spent a day with Patrick Moore touring a working forest in Maine. The tour was filmed for airing in early 2003 on Mr. Vila’s syndicated “Home Again” show.
WPN has also teamed with Lou “Mister-Fix-It” Manfredini, builder, author and “Today Show” correspondent to promote wood use. But it may be that the coalition’s greatest success to date has come in its relationship with the Ford Motor Company, which got itself into big trouble last year with the nation’s resource providers: loggers, farmers, ranchers and commercial fishermen who have been the company’s bread and butter customers for generations. At issue, in what became a public relations nightmare for Ford, was the disclosure that the company was contributing about $5 million a year to radical environmental groups. Then came a series of Ford-sponsored antiwood, anti-forestry advertisements in National Geographic and Family Handyman. Then came the eruption.
“If there is a single shining example of the power of coalitions the Ford story is it,” observes Mr. McCloskey. “We got involved several years after the first shots were fired, so the company was already well aware of industry concerns with their funding of environmental groups. They just hadn’t acted on it in any significant way. The anti-wood advertisement brought WPN to the table and added countless thousands of people and companies to those already bombarding Ford with the same message: stop what you’re doing or you will lose our business.”
The Ford story is indeed remarkable. Under pressure from the nation’s largely rural natural resource customer base, the company revised its corporate grant making guidelines, established a Ford Country Scholars scholarship program that targets juniors and seniors in rural high schools and formed a $1 million business-to-business partnership with WPN to promote wood and Ford to their common customer base: the builder community.
Perhaps most notably, Ford made a three-year $1.5 million funding commitment to Provider Pals™ [see pages 53-54], a cultural exchange program that targets junior high-age students interested in learning more about the nation’s resource culture: its loggers, farmers, ranchers, miners and commercial fishermen. The program, designed by Evergreen Foundation board member Bruce Vincent, is already up and running in eight schools across the nation. [Separately, Montana’s Ford dealers contributed a new 2001 Ford F-250 pickup to the Evergreen Foundation.]
Of course, WPN could not do what it does were it not for the presence of a significant and growing body of science that is being used to reverse consumer and builder attitudes concerning wood’s environmental advantages and structural integrity.
Among the earliest works: the landmark CORRIM Report, a 1976 study [now being updated] that analyzed the amounts of energy required to harvest, transport and convert wood, steel, brick and concrete into finished products.
The study, conducted under the auspices of the National Science Foundation by the Committee on Renewable Resources for Industrial Raw Materials [CORRIM], laid the groundwork for several subsequent studies—the latest a Canadian systems model that provides architects and builders with an objective and reliable method for comparing the environmental effects of steel, wood or concrete building systems. The model, developed by the non-profit ATHENA Sustainable Materials Institute builds on earlier work by Forintek Canada Corporation, a public/private research partnership that compared the environmental footprints of various building materials using a process called “life cycle assessment.” LCA, a now internationally recognized assessment tool, tracks energy and material usage, emissions to air and water and waste generated at each stage of a building product’s life cycle: extraction, manufacturing, transportation, installation and eventual disposal.
Although Forintek went to great lengths not to anoint a winner in what to some appeared to be a contest between competing building materials, the model did in fact produce a clear winner in tests comparing the raw material, air, water, and energy impacts associated with the construction of two ten-foot by 100-foot walls: one fabricated from wood studs, the other from steel studs. Canadian economist Jamie Meil, who was then a consultant to FORINTEK, laid out the group’s preliminary wall findings in a 1994 issue of Evergreen [“Wood and the Environ-ment: Environmental Considerations in Choosing Building Materials].
“Constructing our ten-foot by 100-foot wall from wood requires 25 percent less raw material than is required when the wall is constructed from steel,” Mr. Meil wrote. “In terms of embodied energy—energy consumed in the extraction, manufacturing and construction stages—the steel wall requires three times as much energy as the wood wall. And carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming, are three times as great for the steel wall as they are for the wood assembly.” The more sophisticated ATHENA model recorded similar results in recent tests that measured the environmental footprints of 50,000-square foot buildings constructed from steel, concrete and wood. The concrete building required 1.7 times more energy than the wood building, while the steel assembly consumed 2.4 times more energy.
There is, of course, a reason why so much energy is required to make steel and so little is needed to make lumber. Steel, made from iron ore, is forged in blast furnaces heated by fossil fuels that release enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and other air polluting gases as they burn. By contrast, tree growth is driven by the free non-polluting energy of the sun. Better still, as they grow trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere.
New Zealand botanist Dr. Wink Sutton called it “a miracle process” in a recent Evergreen interview. [see pages 48–49] “Here is a natural process powered by the sun that converts water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into glucose and oxygen. The result is wood, civilization’s most versatile raw material—a material with a very high strength to weight ratio that is environmentally benign, renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. I know of no other
earthly process that uses so little energy to create so many life-giving benefits.”
Wood’s versatility—and worries about global consumption—drew more than a thousand scientists and observers to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1992 for a high level conference called to consider options for meeting the raw material needs of a planet expected to have eight billion inhabitants by the year 2020.
“In the next century, there will be unprecedented demand for earth’s natural resources,” predicted conference chairman, Dr. Jim Bowyer, a frequent Evergreen contributor [see “What’s Your Environmental IQ?” pages 50-52] “The resources will come from somewhere, and no matter where they come from, there will be environmental impacts. This is why we need to replace the kind of single issue environmental thinking occurring in America with a more systematic, global approach based on realistic assumptions.”
Since chairing the Vancouver conference, Dr. Bowyer, who now heads the University of Minnesota’s Forest Products Management Development Institute, has championed wood independence for the industrialized world with a message quite similar to Patrick Moore’s.
“Nations that consume more than they produce are exporting their environmental impacts to other countries that provide what is consumed,” he explained in a 1993 Evergreen interview. “It is like shipping your garbage to another town that needs the money and is willing to put up with the stench.”
At the core of Dr. Bowyer’s argument for self-sufficiency is this: the United States annually consumes far more of earth’s natural resources than do all of the world’s lesser developed countries. We also possess the wealth and technological know-how needed to minimize the environmental impacts associated with raw material extraction.
Yet we insist on limiting resource development on U.S. soil, importing more and more of what we consume from poor nations with none of the environmental regulations—or pollution abatement and monitoring systems—that exist here. Out of sight out of mind.
“U.S. consumption of wood fiber is by weight roughly equal to the by weight consumption of all metals, plastics and cements combined,” Dr. Bowyer says. “Replacing this volume of wood with non-renewable substitutes would unleash unintended global environmental impacts on a scale not seen before. Given this, why would anyone concerned about energy consumption, fossil fuel emissions, or global warming want consumers and builders to switch from renewable wood to non-renewable substitutes? We need to start thinking globally and acting locally, just as environmentalists wisely suggested decades ago. We should be using more wood, not less, and we need to add to our scientific understanding of what constitutes sustainable forestry.”
For Patrick Moore, Kelly McCloskey and WPN’s growing list of partners, the task ahead involves stringing together as many coalition partners as possible, building on public/private funding alliances that have been at the forefront in wood technology research for more than 50 years. Though WPN has produced some impressive television commercials, airtime is expensive. So a series of less expensive print advertisements has been introduced, but even these have not appeared as often as Mr. McCloskey had hoped they would. But down in the trenches where the real work gets done—at home shows, builder expositions and symposiums where scientists and other big picture thinkers gather—the “wood is good” message is resonating. And there is clear evidence the public is tired of environmentalism’s Armageddon’s drumbeat and is searching for more hopeful real world solutions to earth’s environmental problems.
“Forging new coalitions—public and private-sector alliances that work from a common understanding of the role sustainable forestry and wood use play in our lives and in the environment—is where the action is now,” Dr. Moore observes. “The work is rewarding, though I have to tell you I think our industry needs to wise up and put some serious money behind this program. Home Depot isn’t going to do it for us. We aren’t doing anything to convince the average person on the street that loggers aren’t villains. Where’s Steven Spielberg when we need him? Where is the rap music and where are the outof-this-world special effects? Ours is a fabulous good news environmental story but until the MTV generation is convinced wood is good the next cycle of voters will always vote against us.”
Editor’s note: to learn more about Wood Promotion Network log on to their website at www.beconstructive.com or www.forestinformation.com. For “Green By Design” information log on to www.cwc.ca/sitemap.php and go to their environmental section; for Patrick Moore, www.greenspirit.com and ww.treesaretheanswer.com; for the Evergreen Foundation, www.evergreenmagazine.com; for Provider Pals, www.providerpals.com.
This home under construction in Bigfork, Montana features a wide variety of engineered
wood products: floor joists, rafters and roof, flooring and wall panels. Engineered wood is
rapidly replacing traditional dimension lumber in many building applications because of
its higher performance standards, structural superiority and ease of assembly. There are
four families of engineered wood: structural wood panels including oriented strand board,
structural composite panels and plywood; glued laminated timbers, often called glulam;
structural composite lumber, including laminated veneer lumber, parallel strand lumber
and oriented strand lumber; and prefabricated wood I-joists or I-beams.