Wood’s sustainable footprint: poised between design and durability
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Wood’s sustainable footprint: poised between design and durability

Wood’s sustainable footprint: poised between design and durability
By Editorial Staff -
Ahec has participated in the project

According to David Venables, European director of the American Hardwood Export Council, wood is a key element in the fight against climate change.

The AHEC has always worked to ensure that media coverage of this issue goes beyond industry professionals to reach the general public, through national TV and radio, for example. Another example that showed the success of this approach was the carbon-neutral MultiPly project (also featured on our Magazine), constructed using CLT, which was presented at this year’s Madrid Design Festival. The aim was to focus visitors’ attention on the enormous opportunities offered by wood to build healthy, sustainable multi-story buildings in urban settings and with low carbon emissions.

Another important issue related to wood production is the safeguarding of forests, along with their ability to absorb CO2. Besides exporting American hardwood, the AHEC provides tools and data to support the material’s renewability. A good example is the council’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tool, which shows the environmental impact of delivering one cubic meter of selected American hardwood species.

See more https://www.americanhardwood.org

The tool proved particularly useful for participants in Toca Madera, a competition for young professional designers in Spain. The over 40 designers who took part were challenged to create “infinite objects” using American red oak. Using the LCA tool, it was possible to demonstrate the sustainability of the designs and map the life cycle of the material from harvest to the finished product. This in turn made it possible to identify the factors that determined the overall environmental footprint of each of the eight finalists’ projects.

The red oak used to produce the Toca Madera designs is an abundant resource whose harvesting isn’t detrimental to the biodiversity or carbon-absorbing capacity of forests. American red oak grows at a rate of 55.2 million m3 annually, while total annual harvest is 33.9 million m3. It takes less than a second for the approximately one cubic meter of the hardwood used to make all eight entries to be replaced by new growth.

The carbon footprint of the red oak timber used for the Toca Madera designs is better than carbon neutral: that is, the carbon stored in the wood during growth (459 kg CO2 eq.) is greater than the total carbon emissions from all phases of extraction, processing, and transport of the material from the US (294 kg CO2 eq.). Based on these data, the total carbon footprint of all eight Toca Madera designs was 427 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is about the same as the carbon footprint of a return economy class flight from Madrid to London or driving 3,700 kilometers by car. To put it another way, it’s roughly equivalent to the CO2 emissions created by the average Spaniard over 26 days. (Based on emissions of 5.94 tons of CO2 per capita in Spain in 2016 – source www.next10.org.)

The aim of the competition – that is, to design “infinite objects” – got the designers looking for the right balance between beauty and durability. Achieving the longest lifespan possible of finished projects, and therefore reducing the frequency they need to be replaced, is a fundamental element in maximizing the long-term environmental benefits. The eight finalist designs were exhibited at the Fernán Gómez Cultural Center in Madrid, as part of the 2020 Madrid Design Festival. From Cradle to Cradle won both the popular and jury votes, the jury comprising respected Spanish designers, representatives from national design institutions, specialized communicators, and representatives from the organizers. The runners up were Dew and Tuberete Barlovento.

Find more about Toca Madera 

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