The First Comprehensive Environmental Profiling System for Hardwood

Industry-Leading Launch at the 18th Southeast Asia and Greater China Convention

The underlying environmental issues surrounding the use of wood are highly complex. The wood products trade and industry has a responsibility to work with policy makers, scientists and non-governmental organisations to provide appropriate tools for construction and design professionals
Photo Credit: American White Oak Chair by KODA

During its annual convention held this year in Harbin, China, American Hardw ood Export Council (AHEC ), the leading international trade association for US hardwood announced the launch of the most comprehensive environmental profiling system for U.S. Hardwood with wide-ranging implications for the international hardwood processing industry, manufacturers, green building designers, and all materials sectors

A project that has been worked on for some time, the new American Hardwood Environmental Profile (AHEPs) aims to give clear guidance on American hardwood, demonstrating the legality and sustainability of every consignment of lumber and veneer delivered to export markets worldwide.

The AHEPs will combine output from credible data sources such as AHEC’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) launched last year and carried out by PE International, a global leader in the sustainability research field. Other data sources include the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program, the independent peer-reviewed “Assessment of Lawful Harvesting and Sustainability of U.S. Hardwood Exports” commissioned by AHEC from Seneca Creek Associates LLC, and data from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Risk Register, covering more than 150 countries worldwide.

AHEPs will provide access to information on the name of the U.S. supplier, product description, quantity of wood, commercial and scientific species name, place of harvest, and documents demonstrating negligible risk of illegal harvest.

Hosts and Speakers at the Press Conference From Left to Right: Mr. John Chan, Regional Director, AHEC Southeast Asia & Greater China, Mr. Dean Alanko, Chairman, AHEC, Mr. Michael Snow, Executive Director, AHEC and Mr. Rupert Oliver, Director, Forest Industries Intelligence Limited

According to Michael Snow, Executive Director of AHEC, “Through this project, U.S. hardwood suppliers will be the world’s first wood suppliers, possibly the first suppliers of any mainstream commercial material, to provide comprehensive environmental impact data with every delivery. This will have wider implications for manufacturers and the green building industries in China and across Southeast Asia. I am extremely proud that AHEC has taken a leadership role. The launch of AHEPs for materials specification will provide a transparent and universal system for understanding the environmental credentials of U.S. Hardwood.”

AHEC’s Southeast Asia and Greater China Director John Chan added: “Over the next few years, we will see a transformation in hardwood manufacturing in China from low cost to medium and high-end products using higher grades of wood, as well as a rise in manufacturing centers in Vietnam.

AHEC LCA Study Deliverables: Compile Life Cycle Inventory data
  • Compile data in line with internationally recognised protocols for use in regional databases such as:
    - European Reference Life Cycle Data System (ELCD)
    - The US Department of Energy Life-Cycle Inventory (LCI) Database
    - LCA-National Project in Japan
  • To cover major exported US hardwood species
  • From point of extraction through to point of delivery in the EU and Asia

A scientific study to measure impact of use of wood on the environment

Dean Alanko, Chairman, AHEC “With today’s more environmentally conscious consumer, we not only talk about the beauty and versatility of US hardwoods, we also highlight renewability, sustainability, legality and positive environment impact”

These shifts will welcome a more comprehensive profiling system. The resulting American Hardwood Environmental Profile will be a unique tool which we believe has great potential to assist customers in Greater China and Southeast Asia to conform to new regulations and improve environmental performance in product design and construction.”

US Exports of Hardwood Continue to Rise: The United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of hardwood lumber, representing approximately 20% of all global shipments. Despite continuing uncertainties with many Western economies, the growth of American hardwood usage and applications across Greater China and Southeast Asia has continued unabated over the past few years. In 2012 Greater China and Southeast Asia remains the largest export market for U.S. hardwood lumber accounting for 52% of all exports, with China alone making up 38% of these exports. Sawn lumber shipments to China rose by 19% in value for 2012 over 2011 and achieved its highest value ever at US$602 million. The total value of all US hardwood material (logs, lumber, veneer, plywood, mouldings, flooring and siding) shipped in 2012 to China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia combined is worth US$ 1.2 billion.

Much of the increase in forest growing stock is in the USA
Volume of wood standing in US forests increased by 610 million m3 per year between 2000 and 2010 according to FAO Forest Resource Assessment

Average annual increase in forest growing stock in temperate and boreal forests 2000-2010 Million m3 (over
bark). Source: UN FAO

Wood is no doubt a precious resource but contrary to common belief, global forest volume has actually been growing in the last 2 decades

Team of American Hardwood Export Council

About American Hard wood Export Council (AHEC)
The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), headquartered in Washington DC, USA, is the leading international trade association for the US hardwood industry. AHEC represents the committed exporters among US hardwood companies and all major US hardwood production trade associations. Concentrating on providing architects, designers and endusers with technical information on the range of species, products and sources supply.



Mike Snow, Executive Director of AHEC has worked for the organisation for 14 years. In that time he has driven many initiatives and with the help of the US Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, he has steered the Seneca Creek study on the legality of US hardwoods, initiated the current LCA research, given dozens of presentations and attends AHEC events all of the world, almost monthly. Below is a brief interview done with Snow.

Q. Mike, we hear a lot at the moment about hardwood material supplies as the US construction demand improves. What is your take on this issue?
A. If the market is there, domestic or export, then I am confident the supply will also be there. The market has always found its equilibrium. The weather this year has not helped with log supply but that may be temporary. One issue for industry has always been prices which are sticky on the way down because the industry does not control forest lands; and when prices rise the supply and demand balance implications are well known!

Q. We also hear a lot about grading issues for export. Does AHEC have guidance on this?
A. One of the major advantages of importing American hardwoods is the fact that the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) has verifiable grading rules that allow buyers to know the exact yield they will receive on any given shipment. However, it is very important that both buyer and seller understand what is and isn’t allowed under each grade and to communicate clearly with either other. The rules are a “starting point” from which details such as colour sorting can then be worked out between buyer and seller. At the end of the day, however, AHEC is a promotional agency and does not oversee grading issues, so I guess my main guidance for anyone with a grading concern is to talk to your supplier and NHLA--don’t call my office!

Q. You have been Executive Director for more than a decade and there have been some major changes in the geographical profile of US exports in that time. What do you see next?
A. There are certainly new emerging markets for existing products. The biggest change has been the reduction in re-exports to the USA from third party processing countries. Now we see consumption in China growing much faster than re-exports from China, for example. This points to new real consumption of products made with American hardwoods, not just a shifting of manufacturing from one location to another. We see this continuing, especially as demand develops in the 200 inner cities. I think Mexico is another major market to keep your eyes on. The country is coming on fast as a manufacturing and consumption market as the economy there improves and its fiscal house is in order. Wages are competitive (by some measures even lower than coastal China) and there are signs of a reversal in immigration to the USA, and geography gives Mexican exporters a clear shipping advantage to the US markets for finished goods. Mexico is increasingly becoming a major international player. In fact, Mexico has more international Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) than any other country. Finally, I don’t think we can underestimate the potential that new technologies such as modified US hardwoods and cross-lamination can have on the consumption of American hardwoods around the globe. European architects and engineers are now using increasing volumes of American hardwoods in structural and exterior applications that require technical performance as well as aesthetic beauty.

I believe that these trends, as well as increased concerns over legality and sustainability bode well for the continued growth of American hardwood exports. Interestingly, of the top ten hardwood exporting countries, recently only the U.S. has grown its exports.

Q. Over the years AHEC has invested heavily in promotion in India. How do you see that working out in the future?
A. India will never be the new China for us. India lacks timber trade infrastructure and it is difficult to convince Indians to buy lumber, not logs, despite the yield implications and uncertainties. We do, however see India as a market for products made elsewhere, of American hardwood, such as furniture made in Malaysia or Vietnam.

Q. How about your feeling on markets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?
A. That is rather a mixed bag, but in general a success story for us. We have seen significant growth in many markets there is still a lot of potential. Political uncertainty in the region has taken its toll, however. It would be very good to see Egypt come back as a market.

Q. What else do you have on your mind these days?
A. Apart from uncertainties on promotion funding? We need to convince the US Congress on the importance of promoting exports from small family businesses in rural States. On a global level we need a fair ‘playing field’. Currently there are separate rules for wood compared to other extractive industries where environmental costs are huge – but they are not held to the same standards. LEED is a primary example as wood has to go beyond other materials. Not only does wood have to be certified, but only by one scheme (FSC). One monopoly scheme is indefensible. However ENGOs could be important allies in this respect, and working with them on Lacey Amendment Act for wood was a good example of cooperation that gives me hope.