“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
These words by Franklin D. Roosevelt mark the importance of our forests and the connection forests afford us mentally,
physically, spiritually, and economically…
The use of forest products in the United States now supports well over 1 million direct jobs and contributes more than $100 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Wood products including small diameter trees and dead trees, obtained through sustainable forestry practices and used in green building applications promote a healthy environment and strong economy. This process returns revenue to land managers to treat ecosystems devastated by fire, insects, pathogens or invasive species and provides sustainable homes for us all. So, what’s happening at the USDA in this regard?
To take advantage of this win-win opportunity, in 2011, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA’s strategy to promote the use of wood as a green building material and directed the Forest Service to take the lead in implementing the strategy by favoring wood in new building construction, enhancing research and development projects to expand opportunities as green building materials, and identifying innovative uses of wood in nonresidential construction projects.
Before we dive down deeper, let’s clear some misconceptions, and understand why the use of wood is “good” in construction. Wood is more sustainable to use than alternative construction materials, requires much less energy to process than other materials, and produces less air pollution, solid wastes and greenhouse gases than steel and concrete. As for the CO2 emissions that would otherwise come from burning dead and dying forests, wood avoids them by keeping the carbon in a useful state for a century or more.
To advance wood as a green building material, the Forest Service is encouraging existing and new facilities to use domestically harvested
wood products ideally locally sourced and from National Forest System lands, and making it mandatory for all buildings 10,000 gross square feet or greater in size to be registered and certified by third party systems such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, Green Globes or others.
We estimate that wood makes up approximately two thirds of all building materials used in our new facilities and large scale renovation projects. A recent example of our commitment to green building design is the dedication of the new Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory (Alaska), constructed with locally harvested yellow cedar and regionally produced wood products. The facility was designed with energy efficient elements such as high efficiency ground source heat pumps and a heat recovery ventilation
Our Research & Development teams are experimenting with new and innovative ways to use smaller diameter timber and leftover branches and limbs for wood products, and developing wood product standards and code acceptance for use in residential and non-residential construction.
As part of the strategy, the Forest Service is demonstrating innovative uses of wood compatible with green building standards through projects such as the Forest Products Laboratory demonstration house in Madison, Wisconsin, which is a two story wood structure demonstrating energy efficiency, sustainability and water efficiency elements. Other collaborative initiatives include the Jackson Community Design Center at Mississippi State University which showcases wood frame and siding elements in building design and a partnership with the Haywood Community College in Clyde, North Carolina, that allowed the college to construct the area’s first Habitat for Humanity green home. The Forest Service is also an active sponsor of green building competitions, Carbon Challenge Baltimore and Carbon Challenge Providence, that challenge designers to create sustainable cost effective homes using wood for lower carbon footprints.
Lastly, we are developing partnerships in the federal government and with private and NGO sectors to advance the use of wood through USDA’s position on the White House Steering Committee on Federal Sustainability, educational partnerships with U.S. WoodWorks, and others.
It’s time we embrace the words of FDR and pursue sustainable management practices such as using wood in construction as it
can produce stronger, healthier forests that can store greenhouse gases and purify drinking water for wildlife and our municipal water systems. Let’s continue leading the way on green building through the wise use of wood.
“As we move forward with restoring America’s forests, we are getting smarter and more efficient in how we use wood products
as both an energy and green building source, which will help maintain rural jobs” – Chief Tidwell
Photo: House framing, carpentry shop, Seattle Central Community College Wood Construction Facility. Courtesy of Joe Mabel.