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USDA’s Promotion of Wood as ‘Green’ Material Wins Fans

Thursday, March 31, 2011

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In an announcement getting widespread applause from the forest-products industry, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said wood building materials will be actively promoted as contributing to green-building practices endorsed by the Department of Agriculture and its U.S. Forest Service division.

“Wood has a vital role to play in meeting the growing demand for green building materials,” Vilsack said. “Forest Service studies show that wood compares favorably to competing materials.”

 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

USDA said a recent Forest Service lifecycle analysis found that harvesting, transporting, manufacturing, and using wood in lumber and panel products in buildings yields fewer air emissions—including greenhouse gases—than resource extraction, manufacturing and using other commonly-used building materials.

“In fact, wood-based wall systems can require significantly less total energy for manufacturing than thermally comparable houses using other common material systems,” the department said.

At an event launching the International Year of the Forest, Vilsack reviewed a three-part plan addressing the Forest Service’s and USDA’s current green building practices.

The strategy includes the following.

  • The Forest Service will preferentially select wood in new building construction while maintaining its commitment to certified green-building standards. USDA will also make a commitment to using wood and other agricultural products as it fulfills President Obama’s executive order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.
  • Vilsack has asked the Forest Service to examine ways to increase its already strong commitment to green building by reporting to him on ways to enhance the research and development being done on green building materials.
  • The Forest Service will actively look for opportunities to demonstrate the innovative use of wood as a green building material for all new structures of 10,000 square feet or more using recognized green-building standards such as LEED, Green Globes or the National Green Building Standard.

‘Preferred Green-Building Material’

The Agriculture Department said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell issued a directive to all units, calling for increased use of locally milled timber in all new agency buildings and facilities. Vilsack also directed the heads of all other USDA agencies to incorporate the Forest Service policy of using domestic sustainable wood products as the preferred green-building material for all USDA facilities and buildings.

“In keeping with the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors conservation agenda, USDA has made a strong commitment to conserving and restoring our forests to protect watersheds, recreation, and rural jobs,” Vilsack said.

Tidwell said the U.S. “has the resources, the work force and the innovative spirit to reintroduce wood products into all aspects of the next generation of buildings.” He added, “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.”

Industry, Conservation Groups Both on Board

Vilsack’s statements were met with ringing endorsements by representative of the forest- and wood-products industries, and conservation groups expressed support for the USDA’s pledge to pursue sustainable forestry practices.

Cees de Jager, executive director of the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, said Vilsack’s announcement was a “triple win” that “will create new jobs in rural communities, reduce energy use in buildings, and lower overall construction costs in buildings.”

Said Larry Selzer, president and CEO of the Conservation Fund: “We laud Secretary Vilsack, the administration, the Forest Service and the USDA for their leadership on the critical value of sustainably-produced wood as a green building material.”

Research Examines Innovation in Use of Materials

USDA said Forest Service researchers are also experimenting with new and innovative ways to use smaller-diameter timber and leftover branches and limbs for wood products. Approaches being studied include nanotechnology advancements and the use of laminate technologies.

The Forest Service is also encouraging the use of current renewable energy advances, such as wood-to-energy power systems, low-impact environmental site designs, green purchasing, and operation and maintenance practices.

USDA is highlighting its green-building policy in the Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, the Department’s blueprint for implementing President Obama’s sustainability executive order (E.O. 13514). USDA said it will complete an update to that plan this June.


Tagged categories: Wood; Wood coatings

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