Green, green, green. The green building message is everywhere, and it is an important message. Everyone should be building green. But how should “green” really be measured?
The emerging answer appears to be that building with sustainable, environmentally responsible materials is the one, true “green” way to build. And one of the best materials for deck or fence building happens to be redwood, which is not only beautiful and durable, but is a material that can actually reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The California Redwood Association recently commissioned a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to better understand and compare redwood to other materials, such as plastic composite decking. A Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific technique commonly used to quantify the environmental footprint of producing and consuming products we use in our everyday life.
The results of the LCA were conclusive, showing that considerable differences exist between redwood and alternative decking products such as plastics and plastic composites. In fact, in terms of global warming potential, plastic-based decking materials are contributors, while growing, harvesting and using redwood for decks do not contribute to global warming.
Indeed, using redwood is a great way to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While plastics and composites rely on chemical resins and fossil fuels that release carbon and increase emissions, redwood trees take carbon out of the air and store it in wood fiber.
As they grow, redwood trees will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, that carbon gets stored in wood fibers in the tree’s roots, trunk and branches and the oxygen is released back to the air. The faster a tree grows then, the more photosynthesis occurs and the more carbon is removed from the atmosphere. Since redwood is a fast-growing species, managed redwood forests excel at removing carbon from the atmosphere.
When such redwood trees are harvested, that carbon they captured continues to be stored in the decking, fencing and other wood products they become. In fact, wood is about half carbon by weight and so a redwood deck can actually store a half-ton of carbon. As the managed redwood forests regenerate, more carbon is removed from the air by the newly planted trees, which continues an ongoing cycle of carbon removal and storage.
Moreover, redwood is also recyclable and cleaner to produce than composites or plastics. The trees are grown and harvested in accordance with the highest environmental standards in the world as the they tap the sun for energy while soaking in California’s famed North Coast fog. In fact, roughly 90 percent of all product-producing redwood forests are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
The next time you wonder about what green building products to use in deck or fence building, remember that red is green-redwood, that is.