How a Local Firewood Cooperative Can Lower a Nation’s Carbon Footprint

burning-wood.jpgIt’s one of the biggest issues currently being addressed in Poznan: How can we stop the burning of forests as poor people burn firewood to make a living? Wood is also increasingly popular as a biomass fuel. So what’s the deal? Can we burn wood and not impact the environment?
The quick answer is that so long as the wood comes from a well managed forest, you’re more or less in the clear. And in case you are worried about the ecological impact of the smoke and the carbon dioxide emissions, this recent article in The Telegraph newspaper points out that because wood is a biomass fuel, burning is is carbon neutral – when you burn wood, it releases the exact amount of carbon dioxide that it absorbed when growing. It may actually be better to burn wood in some cases because when wood decomposes, it slowly lets go of the carbon it soaked up, a process which in many cases goes by unaccounted for (also read my article Clearing Forests Of Dead Wood Prevents Massive CO2 Emissions). So long as replanting matches harvesting your burning it will not lead to an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Far more serious is what happens in the rainforests in Asia. The impact of people’s burning of firewood is dramatic because it leads to the loss of natural forests.

In Great Britain, many traditional woodlands could be used to create firewood and charcoal. So the production of charcoal and firewood -an economic incentive- actually could help to sustain the forests. The UK currently imports 90% of its charcoal from Asia. This means that the product has to come from a long distance, impacting on the UK’s national carbon footprint. What’s worse, in many cases the charcoal and firewood comes from uncertified sources, i.e. rainforests. Plus, the products tend to have been treated with harsh chemical solutions.
An organization called the BioRegional Charcoal Company Ltd (BRCC) tries to step in here. It was created in 1995 by the environmentalist organization the BioRegional Development Group, and the British Charcoal Group. Plan is to make Britain self reliant for its charcoal, firewood and kindling requirements. The concept by which the BRCC operates on a daily basis has been tipped as a model that could be used for replication in many other local-to-wholesale projects. The BRCC comprises a kind of ‚Äòcooperative’ of 25 producers who work together as a single supplier of high quality charcoal, kindling and firewood to retailers throughout the country. Needless to say; each retailer that is supplied is matched with the most local producer in the network. Local to wholesale is the concept from start to finish.
The cooperative has calculated that retailers buying its produce reduce carbon emissions generated from the transport of charcoal from producer to store by 85%. An added attraction is that the local charcoal and firewood is invariably of superior quality than any imported charcoal. The reason is that BRCC’s network of charcoal burners and woodland workers use wood feedstock from local coppice woodland and thinnings, according to the network’s spokespeople. They point out that this wood used is independently certified by The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is the most important guarantee you might find in the world.
“Our producers make UK charcoal, firewood and kindling, using wood from sustainably managed, traditional UK woodlands before delivering them to major retailers as locally as possible,” according to the opening lines of the organization’s website. The network is supported by the World Wildlife Fund and its biggest client is B&Q, a do-it-yourself retailer.
BRCC’s turnover reaches 300 tonnes of charcoal annually and firewood sales average 900 tonnes. Kindling 135 tonnes per annum. “The company has proved that it is technically possible to coordinate a successful supplier network of local producers and develop a domestic income stream that supports woodland communities”, according to a report.
It’s one of those initiatives of which there are so many around in the UK and which people in the US should definitely begin to share in.

One response

  1. Personal health is an important part of green living….to process your firewood, you need to be your own, human, power source for your splitting needs…..
    With ingenuity and planning we can increase both health and environment buy when we process our firewood….

    There are way to many home wood burners that use a small engine powered hydraulic wood splitter for a few hrs a day and then stress away to the gym for a work out…..

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