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COMMENTARY: Lumber’s Place in Green Rating Systems

New environmental product declarations (EPDs) help translate the benefits of wood building products for green rating systems.


With the green building market estimated to reach $145 billion by 2015, architects, developers and construction pros are paying more attention to how their buildings impact the environment—including the choices of materials used in construction. Add to the mix that green building rating systems are increasingly recognizing wood’s environmental benefits, and it becomes clear that the industry has a big opportunity to translate the green building trend into sales. But, you may ask, how do we take advantage of this?

While it’s well known that wood products offer a wide variety of environmental benefits—typically less embodied energy, lower air and water pollution, and a lighter carbon footprint than other commonly used building materials—it can often be a challenge to translate this information in a tangible way for customers looking to build green or earn points in a green building evaluation. Fortunately, a recent shift by green rating systems to recognize environmental performance data based on Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) has encouraged the development of environmental product declarations (EPDs), a standardized reporting tool used to convey the environmental footprint of building materials in simple terms.

The American Wood Council (AWC) recently produced nine third-party verified EPDs that describe the environmental impacts and manufacturing energy consumption for generic wood products, including softwood lumber, softwood plywood, OSB, glulam, LVL, wood IJoists, redwood decking, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard. AWC and UL Environment (ULE), the program operator, also created transparency briefs to summarize the most critical data presented in the EPDs, with the intent of providing construction pros a quick way to identify environmental data details for key products. The transparency briefs are often all that is required by the green building rating system to demonstrate conformance with the requirement.

The EPDs and transparency briefs are compliant with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and are available as free downloads at www.awc. org. They take into account everything from composition and environmental impacts to water and energy usage, along with other product information. It’s all in a standardized format to make it easier for construction pros to digest and translate the environmental characteristics of the wood industry’s products and where they can earn points in green building codes and rating systems.