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Published on April 3rd, 2009 | by Alan Smith


Plant A Tree — Even Wall Street Agrees

April 3rd, 2009 by  

A new way to treat wood has trees back in the limelight: a hardwood’s reliability that even a rain forest mahogany tree can love.

The above picture is of the world’s first heavy traffic road bridge made from Accoya® wood. The bridge, located in Sneek in the Netherlands, is “the first wooden bridge in the world that can support the heaviest load class of 60 tons”.  At this week’s Wall Street Green Trading Summit, a panel on forestation introduced a new way of thinking about how to deal with destruction of the rain forest.

>> More from the recent Wall Street Green Trading Summit:   Opening, Carbon Markets, Weird Investments and Solar Panels for All.

I think we can all agree that planting trees is a good way to go environmentally green (they capture carbon like crazy), but lets take a look at that other green for a moment: the green of cash.  Forestation can turn a profit quickly, given that it is one of the few industries in the United States that we know for sure will be cross marketable as a carbon offset industry. 

Grow Up, Fast.

There is huge demand for lumber; the global industry is big business.  Big, big business.   Big, to the tune of 253.4 Billion board feet of wood produced every year.  Those are stimulus numbers!  Wood also has the lowest carbon footprint of any building material in common use.  The problem?  Hardwoods take a long time to grow and so much of the wood we can get quickly is soft, malleable and not fit for big high stress building.  Anyone who has ever worked with unfinished pine knows that it’s just this side of clay when it comes to malleability.  And to get to the hard stuff, you’ve got to chew up miles and miles of rain forest.

Traditionally, the wood industry has not been – ahem – stewards of the environment.  If it’s there, they’ve reasoned, it must be for us to chop it down.  However, one company at the recent Wall Street Green Trading Summit made me think that the lumber industry might be on the way toward getting their house in order.

Wood, New and Improved?

The company is called Accoya.  Their process, something called acetylation, is basically simple chemistry —  but it can give sustainable hardwoods the backbone to be something more then simple pulp.  By putting the wood through what amounts to a Vinegar Bath, their technique avoids the terrible chemicals that traditionally have been used to treat and weatherproof lumber.  Harder, mold and pest resistant, and still maintaining the natural beauty of raw wood, there doesn’t appear to be a downside!  Plus, from an environmental standpoint, low impact softwood forestry is barely even on the same spectrum as rain forest destruction.

This process presnts, for the first time, a viable alternative to chopping down the beautiful 150 year old mahogany and teak trees and clear cutting acres of rainforest.  The demand for those hardwoods isn’t going away, and if my two days on Wall Street have taught me anything, it’s that capitalism will stop at nothing until it gets what it wants.  Perhaps this new wood can take some of the load off the old wood, and provide even more demand for good forestry practices here in the U.S. in the mean time. 
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About the Author

Alan Smith is a Freelance Producer in Brooklyn New York who’s been fortunate enough in the past to work on a Peabody award winning radio show (the Brian Lehrer show, WNYC Radio) and an Emmy nominated TV program (Brian Lehrer Live on CUNY TV). Other highlights include PhilanthroMedia, a new media company which works for social change with non-profits and foundations across the globe. In my spare time, I’m interested in the science and politics of the current green movement, and write about those things in and around whatever else crosses my grill at www.livingtheamericangreen.org

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