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5.12.01 - Life cycle analysis of forest products


Erwin Schau, Slovenia


Thomas Buchholz, United States

Indroneil Ganguly, United States

Hongmei Gu, United States

Zhen Wang, China

About Unit

Concern about the environment and global warming is increasing and leading many to consider the environmental performance of wood and non-wood materials. Given this increased concern about the environmental performance of materials, it is important to be able to compare the performance of wood and non-wood materials. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method is an unbiased and holistic approach for quantifying and comparing the environmental performance of different materials across an important array of environmental performance indicators, including: global warming, ozone depletion, eutrophication, air quality indicators, and local health impact indicators. LCA can be used in conjunction with other methods such as forest ecosystem modelling, (forest) carbon accounting, and risk assessment to more fully assess products’ impact on the environment. LCA results are used for comparative purposes, acquiring credit under green building schemes, and developing credible and transparent product eco-labels.

State of Knowledge

The Working Party will be the research area of life cycle analysis of forest products. We will be conducting LCA studies along the whole supply chain to understand and quantify environmental impacts and to avoid possible negative effects of increasing wood use as an energy source instead of as a building product. More recently, LCA studies have focused on extending system boundaries to better capture the environmental impacts of wood leaving the forest for product production.

For comparative assertions between competing products, we will conduct LCA studies to compare commercial products to new bio-based products on their environmental impacts to support policy initiatives including renewable energy standards. In addition, outcomes from the structural wood product LCAs fit well into green building certificate efforts.

Topical uses from wood product LCA results are widely used including carbon footprints (CFs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs). Carbon footprinting of products is a common LCA application since global warming is currently one of the most debated and analyzed impact category in the life cycle impact assessment. Recently, CFs and EPDs of wood products have arisen throughout many different industries.

The key knowledge gaps include:

  1. temporal and spatial aspects including air quality indicators, fate and transport modeling (e.g., soil carbon), and circular economy (cascade use) to cover GHG emissions fluxes along the whole supply,
  2. merging LCA with other decision support tools,
  3. developing protocols for continuous inventorying product LCA data, and
  4. capturing land-use changes (direct and indirect) along other forest sustainability criteria metrics,
  5. working on developing forest product framework to create EPDs,
  6. landscape carbon integration including wildfire dynamics to wood products and bioenergy LCA,
  7. of building LCA into architecture practice, and 8) linking LCA outcomes with carbon cycle calculation.