Why Specifying American Hardwoods is the Eco ChoiceAuthor:Lindsey Shook
Sustainability in architecture and design isn’t just a trend, it should be the mandate of the A&D community to create carbon neutral buildings and reduce the overall carbon footprint. The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) definition of sustainable design is “the concept of meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
With so many demands and desires of clients, many designers ask, how do we achieve this balance? We can all start by adhering to the AIA 2030 Commitment which asks the global architecture and building community to adopt annually sustaining practices that will slow the growth rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and then eventually reverse it altogether, so that by 2030, all buildings are carbon-neutral, using no fossil fuel GHG-emitting energy to operate.
As the world continues to build more carbon neutral buildings, material selection will play an even important role in the process. This is equally important when choosing furniture selections. Specifying North American hardwoods – such as those used by Thos. Moser handcrafted furniture from Maine – are a great way to make a big impact in achieving carbon neutrality.
For over 40 years Thos. Moser has been using American Black Cherry and other hardwoods for its contract and residential furniture. America’s forests grow hundreds of varieties of hardwood trees that thrive in our country’s temperate climates. Few building materials possess hardwood’s overall environmental attributes. Hardwoods such as cherry and walnut sequester carbon; disburse minimal emissions for carbon dioxide; require minimal energy to process; can be repurposed at the conclusion of their long life span; and even in a landfill can revert back to nature.
So why exactly are hardwoods a great alternative? The fact is that they require significantly less energy to convert to products than other common building materials. When comparing the amount of energy required to produce one ton of cement, glass, steel or aluminum to the production of one ton of wood, it requires:
- 5 times more energy for one ton of cement;
- 14 times more energy for one ton of glass;
- 24 times more energy for one ton of steel; and
- 126 times more energy for one ton of aluminum
Perhaps the most important misconception to know is that the harvesting method of hardwoods is single tree selection, notclear-cutting. Foresters choose individual hardwood trees for harvest, mark them for removal, and a crew follows later to take down the marked trees. Logs are removed with the least disruption possible to the forest floor. This harvesting method, in practice for decades, improves growing conditions while enhancing the habitat for wildlife.
Once trees are harvested and taken to the sawmill for primary processing, advanced manufacturing technology assures the least wood waste and greatest yield of lumber. Thos. Moser believes that all wood processing by-products have a use:
- Tree bark is processed into mulch and soil conditioners;
- Sawdust fuels the boilers that operate dry kilns or can be sold for animal bedding;
- Trimmings are chipped and processed into paper and other products; and
- Small pieces are recovered and processed into wood components.
We urge architects and designers to become ambassadors of sustainability by specifying more American hardwoods. No other building material can help us shape a more powerful environmental story. If a hardwood table or chair or sideboard is cherished and passed down from generation to generation – lasting longer than the time it took the tree itself to grow in the first place – that is the very essence of sustainability.
About the Author
Tim McIntyre is Materials Manager for Thos. Moser handcrafted American furniture in Auburn, Maine. While he has been with Thos. Moser since 2001, Tim has more than 30 years of experience in the wood products industry.
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