The Environmental Advantages of Wood

Sustainable

Very few of the materials that we use in our daily lives are sustainably produced. For example, there is only a certain amount of oil in the earth, and once it is all used, it is gone forever and cannot be replaced. The same is true for the metals we commonly use.

Wood is one of these rare sustainable materials. Because trees grow back after they are harvested, we need never run out of wood, and by proper management we can ensure that the forests and plantations which produce our wood are sustained in perpetuity.

How we can be sure that WA's forests are sustainably managed.

Solar Powered and Greenhouse Friendly

Trees grow and sustain themselves by the power of the sun's rays on their leaves. The chemical reactions which result from this produce oxygen and absorb the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Young growing trees in forests and plantations are sometimes called "carbon sinks" because they use the carbon from carbon dioxide to form the wood they need to grow. Older trees, which have stopped growing, are much less effective in using up greenhouse gases.

When trees are harvested for timber, the carbon stays locked up in their wood as it is used to make houses, furniture and other products. If trees are left to die and rot on the ground, the carbon changes back to carbon dioxide and goes back into the atmosphere as greenhouse gas.

Reducing Energy Use

Wood does not use much energy for processing. Since most of our energy is produced in a way which creates greenhouse gases (by burning coal or gas), the less energy used in processing, the less greenhouse gases produced.

The following table compares the amount of atmospheric carbon released per cubic metre in the production of wood and some other common construction materials.

Table 1: Carbon released in the manufacture of building materials

Material Carbon Released (kg/m3)
Rough Sawn Timber 15
Steel 5 320
Concrete 120
Aluminium 22 000

Source: Presented in Ferguson, I., La Fontaine, B., Vinden, P., Bren, L., Hateley, R. and Hernesec, B., 1996, 'Environmental Properties of Timber', Research Paper commissioned by the Forest & Wood Products Research & Development Commission.

Did you know? A steel-framed house is responsible for releasing 3.5 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, whereas the same house framed in timber stores 3.1 tonnes of carbon.

This table compares the amounts of energy used to process a cubic metre of wood and some other common construction materials.

Table 2: Fossil fuel energy use per unit volume for building materials

Material Fossil Fuel Energy (MJ/m3)
Rough Sawn Timber 750
Steel 266 000
Concrete 4800
Aluminium 1 100 000

Source: Presented in Ferguson, I., La Fontaine, B., Vinden, P., Bren, L., Hateley, R. and Hernesec, B., 1996, 'Environmental Properties of Timber', Research Paper commissioned by the Forest & Wood Products Research & Development Commission.