The New AHEC Logo

In Washington DC in October the Board of the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) took the decision to adopt a new logo after more than 25 years.

Here’s the background: When, in the late 1980s, the Hardwood Export Trade Council (HETC) was renamed and its light brown circle with tree logo was abandoned, a brief was drawn up for an altogether new logo. It must use the word ‘American’ and perhaps reflect the American flag and certainly contain a reference to forest, trees or wood. That was the simple brief. The logo then adopted has been used millions of times on brochures, at shows and in every conceivable form of promotion to become the most well-recognised hardwood logo in the world. That’s the essence of branding, which in this case represents huge and consistent investment as the American hardwood industry has grown its global exports.
Come the digital world, there were practical problems in integrating the old logo and there was a perceived need to modernise. The newly approved logo, now launched, ticks a lot of boxes. Most important, it is still completely recognisable. Secondly it works for the digital age, having adopted two squares rather than two rectangles. Finally the slightly changed colours look more modern. Let’s hope the new logo will last another 25 years.

AHEC logo_standard_CMYK

We can learn a lot from Japan about wood

I have always admired the Japanese for their use of wood and a recent visit to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Hakone served to remind me of the relevance today. Just when professionals globally are coming round to appreciate both the environmental credentials and the performance potential of wood, one is reminded that the Japanese have long been ahead of the game.

The craftsmanship and appreciation of the beauty of wood knows no bounds in Japan. Whether looking inside out or outside in, wood is always a focus. For centuries the largest buildings constructed of wood in Japan have demonstrated its durability when well designed – and design is what it is all about. The Todai-ji Temple in Nara – the largest wooden structure in the world – first completed in 752 AD and rebuilt in 1709 only 2/3rds of its original size with fascinating bracketing, still stands as evidence. Perhaps only now will it be overtaken by the multi-story timber-frame buildings appearing in Australia, Canada, France and the UK.

The use of cedar, cypress and pine in structures, maple and oak in interiors and a multitude of species in other uses, is not the end of Japan’s love for wood. Its forests too are impressive in a country where only one third of the land is habitable. Its city streets are planted with Gingko trees that shimmer golden in the fall and now planted with Tulipwood saplings maturing to grow tall and shady. In almost every aspect of Japanese life, from chopsticks to fans, screens and sushi bars, not forgetting flooring and furniture, wood plays a central role in a country that can teach us all more about the importance of wood.

American Cherry – no exception to fashion cycles

The hardwood business is like the fashion business. We consume hardwoods for two reasons – performance and personality.

We choose hardwoods first because they are fit for many purposes. They perform in strength, durability and machinability; like clothes perform for warmth or coolness or resistance to bad weather. Second we use hardwoods simply because we like them.  We like the look of them, for their grain or colour like Cherry; just like we choose clothes for visual effect or camouflage or contrast.  As with clothes so it is with hardwoods. They follow fashion, in cycles and trends according to traditional or contemporary design, which means individual species can be ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fashion.   Cherry is no exception. Not long ago Cherry (American forest Cherry, Prunus serotina) was the ‘in-thing’, highly fashionable with designers and consumers all over the world for its warm colour and high finish. That coincided with a trend for red-coloured hardwoods, somewhere between the cycles of unstained ‘blonde’ hardwoods, like Maple and Ash, and the more recent fashion for dark stained Oaks, or dark woods like Walnut.  Recently we have not seen Cherry in fashion and the price of Cherry reduced from its peak.

There has been the usual volatility in many American hardwood prices, as always caused by changes in supply and demand, weather patterns and by the ups and downs of fashion. The price of Cherry in recent years has been less volatile because the supply and demand has been quite stable; and many forest owners knowing its real value have been prepared to just let it grow. Incidentally, Cherry is relatively short-lived with a rotation of about 50-60 years, so forest owners have to wait less time to harvest Cherry than many other hardwood species such as Oaks. Most markets in Asia are now showing signs of a real fashion back to Cherry, and meanwhile plenty of it has been growing in the forests of the eastern United States since its last high fashion cycle.

There is no shortage of American Cherry (Prunus serotina) growing in the forests of the eastern United States.  The total standing inventory of all U.S. hardwood species was measured by the U.S. Forest Service at over 11,000 million cubic metres in 2007, of which approximately 2% was estimated to be Cherry.  So an approximate estimate of the available standing trees of Cherry was at least 220 million cubic metres.


The Price of Rubberwood

This material vital for the furniture industry in Malaysia, and to a lesser extent in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, is not grown for wood. Latex is the main reason for growing these trees and the demand and price for Rubber has taken a hit in the current global economy. Rubber trees become productive at 7 years and tail off from 25 to 30 years. Trees are cut depending on the current price of rubber, and then the choice is re-plant with rubber or palm oil, which both can grow on similar soils. Cutting trees may now increase to take advantage of strong demand for palm oil and that will have a short term improvement in supplies of Rubberwood. Logic would suggest that thereafter, within a few years, supplies will diminish and prices may increase. Meanwhile China is seeing increasing demand for Rubberwood and Asia is using more American Tulipwood with its higher yield and lower processing costs for furniture.