Wood -- all wood -- promoted as green by USDA

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, officially launching the International Year of the Forests on March 30, announced the USDA's strategy to promote the use of wood as a green building material.

"Wood has a vital role to play in meeting the growing demand for green building materials. Forest Service studies show that wood compares favorably with competing materials," said Vilsack, who laid out a three-part plan to address current green building practices. These strategies will include: 

1. The U.S. Forest Service will actively look for opportunities to demonstrate the innovative use of wood as a green building material for all new structures of 10,000 sq. ft. or more, using recognized green building standards such as LEED, Green Globes or the National Green Building Standard.

2. The U.S. Forest Service will preferentially select wood in new building construction, while maintaining its commitment to certified green building standards. The USDA will also make a commitment to using wood and other agricultural products as it fulfills President Obama's executive order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.

3. The Secretary has asked the U.S. Forest Service to examine ways to increase its already strong commitment to green building by reporting to him on ways to enhance the research and development being done around green building materials.  

In carrying out this initiative, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell issued a directive to all units this week, calling for increased use of locally milled timber in all new agency buildings and facilities. Secretary Vilsack also directed the heads of all other USDA agencies to incorporate the Forest Service policy of using domestic sustainable wood products as the preferred green building material for all USDA facilities and buildings.

"Our country has the resources, the work force and the innovative spirit to reintroduce wood products into all aspects of the next generation of buildings," Tidwell said. "As we move forward with restoring America's forests, we are getting smarter and more efficient in how we use wood products as both an energy and green building source, which will help maintain rural jobs."

A recent Forest Service lifecycle analysis found that harvesting, transporting, manufacturing and using wood in lumber and panel products in building yields fewer air emissions -- including greenhouse gases -- than resource extraction, manufacturing and using other commonly used building materials. In fact, wood-based wall systems can require significantly less total energy for manufacturing than thermally comparable houses using other common material systems.

Research arms of the U.S. Forest Service are also experimenting with new and innovative ways to use smaller diameter timber and leftover branches and limbs for wood products, which includes nanotechnology advancements and the use of laminate technologies, according to the announcement. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) applauded Secretary Vilsack’s announcement.

“SFI has invested an enormous amount of energy into constructively raising awareness of the need for green-building rating tools to recognize the contribution of wood as a natural and environmentally responsible renewable resource,” said SFI president and CEO Kathy Abusow. 

“We thank Secretary Vilsack for his leadership and for sending a message that the administration is serious about the role wood can play in supporting green-building initiatives, rural communities and the overall sustainability of the forest sector. The USDA strategy makes it clear that opportunities for wood and choice in green-building rating tools are part of the solution.”