John Sandford, Director of Sustainability comments on the launch of Wood First Plus, a database of comprehensive lifecycle assessment information for all main timber products which was launched on 7th April 2014.
On 7 April, Wood for Good officially launched Wood First Plus, a database of comprehensive lifecycle assessment information for all main timber products used in the UK. The database includes details of embodied and sequestered carbon as well as water footprint and other lifecycle impacts, on cradle to gate and cradle to grave analysis. Firstly, it is interesting to note that the database gives the information in the format of an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) but does not purport to be a fully fledged EPD, due presumably to the complexity of the number of data sources and the number of broad assumptions which have been made in calculating the data.
The headline numbers look fantastic, as the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of all the timber products studied is negative at the build level, meaning that the carbon sequestered in the timber is deemed to be greater than the GWP of getting the timber from the forest to the site. However, these benefits are to some extent lost at End of Life (EOL) depending on what happens to the demolished timber e.g. recycling, energy recovery or landfill. Furthermore, it could be argued that the GWP is understated due to any aspect of ‘soil carbon’ not being taken into account. This is why many manufacturers of heavy materials would like ‘land use’ to be included as one of the parameters measured as part of the life cycle assessment.
I would conclude that in contrast the main benefit of the EPD for clay products such as Wienerberger’s lies in their transparency, and the fact that there are no other considerations or need for interpretation. The entire production process, including extraction of the main raw materials, is fully covered by the manufacturer and the aspects of End of Life are clear in that disposal to landfill must be avoided. By contrast, the new life cycle assessment for timber could be described as EPD-Lite and requires assumptions to be made about issues outside the control of the supplier such as the eventual fate of the material.
On first glance, the headline figures for clay products may not be as impressive, but right now, we have a better understanding of the impact of clay products with less need for interpretation than we do of timber, even with this new database.