Putting the Case for American Hardwoods - the Natural Choice

Hardwood FlooringFor architects, designers and contractors, the choice of materials for their projects is a far more complex process than it might have been 10 years ago. Now these choices must be made against a background of legislation and guidance designed to reduce the environmental impact of the building industry and encourage informed choice when it comes to selecting products and materials. As a result, industry groups are investing in the research that will provide the key data specifiers need - Life Cycle Assessments, Whole Life Costings and Service Life, creating a new competitive platform and some interesting facts and figures.

The American hardwood industry starts from a pretty strong position. For a start, wood is the most natural of materials and American hardwoods come from rural communities that have been managing forests for generations in a way that maintains their biodioversity, productivity and regenerative capacity. Harvesting is low intensity and small scale simply because most of the hardwood forests are owned by families and individuals rather than by large timber corporations. After harvesting, these forest owners rely on the natural regeneration brought about by the fertile soils of the United States and not on chemical fertilisers or genetically modified species.

It is this kind of responsible forest management that results in new tree growth and the continued sequestration of carbon. And the conversion of the wood into products such as flooring contributes to the long term removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to reduce greenhouses gases and global warming.

Our industry is under the regular scrutiny of the US federal government which carries out regular and thorough forest surveys. These show that American hardwoods are not only renewable, but are actually an expanding resource. The volume of hardwood standing in American forests has, in fact, doubled in the last 50 years as harvesting levels remain well below the level of growth. And the US Forest Service forecasts indicate further increases of 15 to 20% over the next 20 years.

And there have been a number of studies done in the US on the environmental impacts of hardwoods. In 2008, the National Wood Flooring Association Industry Research Foundation with the Consortium for Research on Renewable Materials (CORRIM) conducted a life cycle analysis study of wood flooring which evaluated solid strip hardwood flooring against other flooring alternatives such as vinyl, linoleum and carpet. The CORRIM Study concluded that wood flooring had the least environmental impact of all the other materials studied.

American hardwoods provide a huge choice - there over 20 species for a wide range of applications, including, of course, flooring. Recent projects include the Amsterdam School of Music with its stunning American red oak flooring and a new auditorium at Ghent University with a 1230m2 of American white oak.

Inevitably, I get asked the question about the CO2 emissions related to the transport of American hardwoods from the US to Europe. With the largest part of this transport chain done by sea, the CO2 emissions are minimal. But like many other industries, we are undertaking more detailed research to provide the facts and figures which confirm the case for American hardwoods as the natural choice in a world where sustainability has become the watchword for all our customers.

The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is the leading international trade association for the US hardwood industry, representing the committed exporters among US hardwood companies and all the major US hardwood product trade associations. AHEC concentrates its efforts on providing architects, specifiers, designers and end-users with technical information on the range of species, products and sources of supply.

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