How Sustainability Can Become A Realistic Goal

I know what you are thinking: “blah, blah, blah, Global Warming, fossil fuels, clear cutting, etc.”  These are actually all real fears.  They will and actually ARE affecting all of us on a daily basis.  The definition of sustainable is the ability to use a resource with the ability to replace it in a meaningful period of time.  That being said, lumber is a sustainable resource, so we can all relax.  The real understanding, though, is that by the definition, there is a reasonable period of time from planting seeds to cultivation that needs to be realized.  For example, it takes about twenty years for Southern Yellow Pine to grow to a marketable size.  Let’s just think about that for a minute.  Two trees will grow in the amount of time (or better) than the average person would work in the building industry.  It is really a lot more than that.  There is certainly more land available than that to plant one tree at a time.  Thirty percent of the total land area on Earth is considered forest area.  But it is a bit of a reality check.

Now take into account the amount of energy it takes to harvest that tree.  By this I want you to take into account fossil fuels and the environmental impact.  There is the fuel it takes to get to the site where the tree is growing.  Then there is the amount required to cut the tree down.  Then we need to move it out of the area it was growing to the staging area.  Then we need to put it on a truck.  Then we need to ship it to a mill.  Then we need to run the mill to process it down to a consumer product.  Then we need to ship it to a local lumber yard.  Finally, still before utilizing it for the construction industry, we need to ship it to the truss plant, consumer lumber yard, or EWP plant.  If it hit a lumber yard then there is only one more levy before it is actually used.  If it is going to a truss plant or EWP facility, then there are a few more impacts on the environment before it is actually placed into service.  And this is considered a sustainable resource!!!

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If you really want to talk about a sustainable building product, then let me introduce you to bamboo.  Bamboo is actually a grass.  It grows to a marketable size in three to six years, depending on the species.  The fastest growing varieties can push 36 inches in 24 hours.  That is up to seven harvests in the same timeframe as SYP.  Another statistic is that a bamboo grove will grow more construction material than a grove of trees will produce in forty years.  Focusing on bamboo for a percentage of building practices for just a short period of time would allow for another generation of forestation.  I know what you might be thinking: bamboo, really?  Believe it or not bamboo is heartier than oak and stronger than steel.  It is light weight, flexible and water-resistant.  The only real setback for bamboo is that it has limited favorable habitats.  It flourishes in tropical climates.  There are several areas in the US that meet this designation.  There has never been a reason to start bamboo plantations before.  There are several environmental benefits to growing bamboo domestically.  The top seller is that it would eliminate importation costs.  Bamboo actually has 35% higher oxygen emission than trees.  It also absorbs 40% more CO2 than trees do.  For those less savvy, CO2 is the greenhouse gas scientists attribute to global warming.  There are no fertilizers or pesticides required to grow bamboo and the root system helps to prevent soil erosion.

Okay, maybe I caught your interest, but what would I use it for?  Most of us have heard of bamboo flooring, but it has many structural uses as well.  It can be used for purlins, rafters, joists, walls, studs, tie beams, girders, and more.  Have you heard of laminated veneer bamboo (LVB)?  Check out www.lamboo.us.  It is already a reality.  Could you be the first in your market to tout green building practices?  How much value is there in having that eco-friendly edge over the competition?  I feel like I should be marketing bamboo groves, but I am just trying to bring to light a real and necessary movement in the construction industry.

Jim Turner

Truss Design Manager

Gould Design, Inc.