American Hardwood Environmental Profiles raise the bar on sustainability
An American Hardwood Environmental Profile (AHEP) is a consignment-specific shipping document providing information on the risk of illegality as well as sustainability of the U.S. hardwood species contained in that consignment, together with quantitative data on the environmental impacts associated with delivering each specific consignment to an individual customer anywhere in the world. In the short term, these documents are designed to satisfy “due diligence” requirements arising from illegal logging legislation such as the Lacey Act in the US, the EU Timber Regulation, and Japanese “Green Procurement” laws. Longer term, they encourage market recognition of the wider environmental benefits of American hardwoods.
Individual U.S. hardwood companies are given on-line access to a software tool to allow preparation of profiles for their own wood export consignments. Data can be quickly adjusted according to key parameters such as hardwood species, kilning efficiency and transport routes and modes.
“The AHEP makes it possible to produce, at the push of a button, a two-page profile specific to every container of US hardwood exported.”
Ever since AHEC was established nearly 30 years ago, AHEC has been building up a portfolio of scientific data on American hardwoods. The technical performance data has been readily available in paper-based and on-line species guides for many years. AHEPs are designed to make the environmental data equally as accessible.
Certification to standards like FSC and PEFC has been limited in a sector dependent on wood harvested from forests owned by more than four million American families each harvesting only once in a generation. While such low intensity management is environmentally and socially benign, it is simply not cost-effective for individual owners to certify. At the same time, many of the strong environmental attributes linked to US hardwood are not covered within the scope of forest certification. Certification says nothing about carbon footprint, a particularly strong environmental attribute of US hardwoods. UN data shows that while the stock of carbon held in the world’s forest soils and trees has declined by around 17 billion tonnes since 1990, in the US it has increased by 2.23 billion tonnes. Much of this gain is concentrated in hardwood forest which has doubled in standing volume in the last 50 years.
AHEC has forged an innovative approach adapted to the particular demands of the sector and has been able to draw on comprehensive forest inventory data compiled regularly by the US Forest Service through their Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program. At the core of the program is a dense network of permanent sample plots across the entire US forest resource. Data on forest condition collected on the ground from these plots at least once a decade for nearly a century is now supplemented with more regular information from satellites and other remote sensing.
Responding to demand for specific data on the legality and sustainability of harvesting, AHEC has been working with sustainability consultants Thinkstep to acquire and compile data on the life-cycle environmental impact of American hardwood in line with international carbon footprint and LCA standards. Through this initiative, AHEC is now able to model the full environmental impact of delivering US hardwood lumber and veneer to any market in the world. Data can be individually tailored to any one of 19 U.S. hardwoods which together account for over 95% of all U.S. hardwood production.
AHEPs are designed to provide credible environmental information specific to individual consignments at point of delivery to the importer in all export markets. This data is delivered quickly and efficiently at near zero cost to either the exporter or importer.
The AHEP provides, for every consignment, access to information on the name of the U.S. supplier, product description, quantity of wood, commercial and scientific species name, place of harvest, and documents demonstrating negligible risk of illegal harvest. The AHEP also provides access to information on the sustainability of the U.S. 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 covers most of 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).
We can now be confident in the knowledge that US hardwood suppliers are able to deliver the data and can challenge their competitors to do the same.