AHEC teams with sustainability consultancy PE International to provide databases, computer modeling tools enabling US hardwood exporters to provide environmental profiles of lumber shipments

November 1, 2013 () – THE American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) has initiated a project with PE International, a global leader in sustainability performance solutions, to develop a system to allow US hardwood exporters to provide a comprehensive environmental profile with every individual hardwood consignment delivered to any market in the world.

The project, designed to provide an American Hardwood Environmental Profile (AHEP), aims to ensure that credible environmental data specific to individual consignments – adjusted according to key parameters such as kilning efficiency and transport routes and modes – can be delivered quickly and efficiently without significant cost.

Announcing the project, AHEC's executive director Mike Snow says: "Through this project, US hardwood suppliers will be the first wood suppliers – possibly the first suppliers of any mainstream commercial material – to provide comprehensive environmental impact data with every delivery. The provision of data tailored individually to each consignment would have been unheard of only a few years ago. However, considerable progress has been made in recent years by PE International and other LCA (life cycle assessment) experts, to develop the databases and computer modelling tools needed to make it possible."

Each AHEP will combine output from the AHEC/PE LCA project under way for the last three years, with information derived from other credible data sources to demonstrate the legality and sustainability of US hardwood lumber and veneer delivered into export markets.

These data sources include: the US Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA), a Federal Government programme which regularly monitors the condition of the nation's forests; the independent peer-reviewed 'Assessment of Lawful Harvesting and Sustainability of US Hardwood Exports' commissioned by AHEC from Seneca Creek Associates, which demonstrates a negligible risk of any US hardwood being derived from illegal logging or other controversial forest sources; and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) risk register, a free source of information on the risk of sourcing controversial timber throughout the world covering more than 150 countries.

The structure and content of the AHEPs will align to the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation and closely follow the European Commission's informal 'Guidance Document for the EU Timber Regulation' issued in February. The AHEP will provide, for every consignment, access to information on the name of the US supplier, product description, quantity of wood, commercial and scientific species name, place of harvest, and documents demonstrating negligible risk of illegal harvest.

In addition, the AHEP will provide access to information on the sustainability of the US hardwood species contained in the consignment, together with quantitative data on the environmental impacts associated with delivering each specific consignment to an individual customer.

The data will cover all the environmental impact categories required by manufacturers to prepare formal environmental product declarations (EPDs) in line with the EN 15804 standard for environmental assessment of construction materials in the EU (such as global warming potential, acidification potential, and eutrophication potential).

According to AHEC, a sample AHEP is divided into three pages. The first page will provide species-specific information required for the EU Timber Regulation and other data on sustainability. The second page will summarise in graphic form the LCA data required for formal EPDs whilst the third page will contain notes.

AHEC has combined its expertise with the US hardwood industry's knowledge of sustainable forestry, wood processing and distribution, together with the work carried out over many years by US agencies to monitor the forest resource. The resulting AHEP will be a unique tool, which AHEC believes has great potential to assist EU customers to conform to new regulations and to improve environmental performance in product design and construction.

In achieving this aim, the AHEP concept builds on PE's 'GaBi Envision' software tool developed to easily communicate environmental impacts and integrate LCA into the product design process. Individual US hardwood companies will be provided access to the 'Gabi-Envision' software tool to allow preparation of the profiles necessary to cover wood export consignments. The software may be made accessible on-line or as a desktop version, says Snow.

The user has the option of adjusting various other key parameters – such as lumber thickness, kiln efficiency, kiln energy mix, and transport distance and mode from point of extraction through to final delivery in the export market. This will allow environmental profiles to be generated, which accurately describe individual consignments. "However, in order to ensure that preparation of profiles is not overly burdensome, users will also be given the option to select default values for key parameters. These parameters will be averages calculated for the whole US hardwood industry and for typical supply routes into major export markets," he says.

"Each environmental profile for US sawn hardwood will be specific to an individual species and users will be able to select from any one of 19 US hardwoods which together account for over 95 per cent of all US hardwood production and for which comprehensive LCA data has been compiled during the AHEC/PE project," says Roderick Wiles, AHEC director for Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Oceania.

"The development of EPDs is a response from the confusion that arises from the wide variety of environmental claims made by material suppliers – some may be genuine while some may just be downright false. The true environmental impacts of materials cannot be summed up by one single attribute, and it is time that consumers and policy makers had the ability to truly compare the environmental footprint of the different products and materials they source," he adds.

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 production trade associations. It runs a worldwide programme to promote American hardwoods in more than 50 export markets.

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