By Esme Purdie, WIR Contributor
One of the things we love most about Southern Yellow Pine is that it has a negative carbon footprint and is completely sustainable. So if you want to plan an environmentally friendly building project, then look no further.
Everything we do in life leaves a carbon footprint behind us. Carbon is energy.
Natural stores of carbon (like trees, oil, gas and coal) are burnt as fuel, with the waste products (still full of carbon) being pumped out into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.
The environmental impact of building materials can be measured by the amount of energy used in its life cycle. This is calculated by balancing its carbon footprint (all the energy used to make that product, including getting the raw materials, transporting, processing, manufacturing and use), against any other effects such as a reduction in the use of fossil fuels or other building materials.
Various life cycle assessments for different materials1,2,3, have found that soft woods like Southern Yellow Pine actually remove more carbon from the atmosphere than their production creates. This results in a negative carbon footprint.
In fact, the production of soft wood lumber uses significantly less energy than making the same amount of other materials such as wood-composite, steel or cement, which use a lot of fossil fuel resources to be produced. Making cement involves massive CO2 emissions, for example. At the end of its life, wood wins out again: it can be recycled, burned as a biofuel, or land filled, extending the carbon storage for decades until it decomposes naturally.
Can Southern Yellow Pine really have a negative carbon footprint?
If it is being used locally, then yes. By using this wood you are actually reducing carbon in the atmosphere, reducing fossil fuel use, and positively effecting the environment around you. Not to mention, you’re also supporting local industry. Exportation increases its footprint a little5, but the carbon-cost of shipping Southern Yellow Pine to Europe, for example, is still around a thousand times lower than it would be to ship Ipê wood from Brazil, (a non-sustainable wood responsible for deforestation2).
But hang on, surely cutting down trees is never good for the environment? Wrong.
Growing more trees pulls more carbon out of the atmosphere, storing it in the forest. When the wood is harvested, it keeps this carbon locked away in the timber. Even if it’s burnt as a biofuel, this still has a benefit as it reduces the dependency on fossil fuels. Supporting sustainably managed forests is more important than ever.
The wood drying process needs a lot of heat and is responsible for most of the energy used, and here is where good saw mill management comes in. A study found that 70% of the energy used in Southern softwood production comes from renewable biomass, where waste wood chips and scrapings are collected and used as a biofuel to power the drying process5.
This is why even compared to other woods, Southern Yellow Pine comes out on top. SYP grows fast, a mature tree can be grown in approximately two decades. With sustainable forestry, timber can be harvested in a traditional way, with no negative impact on the eco-system around them. This makes SYP a great sustainable biofuel, compared to fossil fuels which take millions of years for carbon to turn into coal, oil or gas.
So, make that eco-build dream a reality.
For Southern Yellow Pine, its benefits as a sustainable biofuel or building material, massively out-weigh the carbon emissions caused by its production. Using it not only helps reduce carbon emissions and climate damage, but it guarantees an important future for our lumber industry as well as our life-giving forests.