Global Warming Mitigating Role of Wood Products from Washington State’s Private Forests Co-Author

The forest sector plays an important role in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide by sequestering and storing carbon in trees and wood products. The sequestration potential of wood products, however, is dependent on the lifetime of the product and its end of life fate. This means that the true impact of wood products can be difficult to assess, as lifespans and disposal methods vary greatly across wood products and industries. 

Although Life Cycle Analysis is the internationally recognized method to calculate the effect of products over their lifetime, this methodology is limited in its ability to account for carbon emissions over various time periods. In this study, we aim to estimate the impact of wood products on global warming using the concept of temporal radiative forcing analysis. This more flexible approach considers the global warming mitigation potential of the avoided emissions on a temporal scale while factoring in the resultant product mix and their corresponding functional lifespans. 

In this study, radiative forcing methodology was used to examine the global warming mitigating role of Washington State forests. This process began by assessing the global warming potential of various wood products, such as lumber, plywood, and paper. The GWP numbers for individual products were then multiplied by the overall Washington wood products mix, to estimate the net environmental impact of the wood products industry. This method allowed for functional lifetimes to be applied to wood products and an evaluation of the total cradle to gate emissions, which is crucial in the assessment of wood products. 

The modeling results reveal that Washington State’s wood products industry has a net mitigating effect on global warming, even after factoring in the GHG emissions associated with harvest and manufacturing. By comparing these results with Washington State’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, we can affirm that, overall, the global warming mitigation potential of Washington State’s wood products industry from private forests is about 4.4% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.