Redwood: The Natural Solution to a Man-Made Problem

Sustainably managed redwood forests pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store it throughout their life.

By Charlie Jourdain

Mankind is ingenious if nothing else; and such inventiveness has allowed us to make incredible advances in science, technology and other pursuits that have made life easier. At the same time, some of our leaps and breakthroughs have resulted in unintended consequences that haven’t been kind to the environment.

At the California Redwood Association, we embrace science and technology, but we also believe that in many cases using products grown by nature can be the best decision for the environment and for the end-user. Sometimes, man does not need to add to what is already wonderfully designed.

We’ve discovered this as we’ve analyzed building products – most notably lumber used in decking. Though likely with the best of intentions, there are companies that try to use recycled plastic to create lumber (a composite, synthetic mix), but in doing so, contribute to carbon emissions through the use of fossil fuels. And just as unfortunate, composite lumber often gets dumped in landfills, where it doesn’t go away.

In the end, through what we’ve experienced and through an extensive Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Product Declaration, we’re convinced that whenever possible we should responsibly use what the Earth has already provided. If so, we are much closer to being truly sustainable than cooking up products in the lab.

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Redwood is biodegradable; when it’s lived out its usefulness it goes back to the earth to help make more trees.

Over the last several decades, redwood lumber producers have turned the legendary wood species into what may be the most environmentally friendly building product in the world.

How? By truly embracing the attributes of redwood, which grows naturally only in a small region of the world, protecting redwood that is ancient, and then growing redwood on highly-regulated, private commercial lands zoned specifically for timber production. Redwood is so unique that it seems to have been made for building – fire resistant, insect resistant, durable, resists warping, strong and beautiful.

And how does it compare to man-made products?:

  • Renewable vs. Non-renewable: Redwood is grown using the soil, sun and water, and for every tree that is harvested in a privately-owned commercial forest, seven trees are planted. Developing man-made products requires using chemicals, fossil fuels, colorants, binding agents and fillers before being molded or extruded.
  • Carbon footprint: Redwood decks store carbon throughout their lives, and use significantly less energy and fresh water to be processed into lumber. A composite deck consumes 15 times more energy – 87 percent of that energy comes from non-renewable fossil fuels, a major source of carbon emissions.
  • Biodegradability: Redwood is biodegradable; when it’s lived out its usefulness it goes back to the earth to help make more trees. Composite decks, however, often go to a landfill.

We also believe that it’s important to remember that the huge redwood trees that come to mind for many – the towering and legendary trees – are protected in perpetuity on 100,000 acres of parks and protected lands.

All the members of the California Redwood Association (CRA) are committed to sound forest management practices to ensure that our forests will remain healthy, beautiful and productive for generations to come.  We take pride that 100 percent of CRA member owned timberlands are certified as well-managed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  This means responsible harvesting at sustainable levels and protection of the natural habit.  

At the California Redwood Association, we’ve seen the market come full-circle in terms of understanding the natural solution vs. man-made solutions. More and more homeowners and remodelers are realizing that to be truly green, it’s hard to improve on Mother Nature.

Charlie Jourdain is president of the California Redwood Association.

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