Expanding Export Markets for U.S. Softwood Products
Helping industry organizations establish and grow sales around the world
With the world’s attention now focused on making choices to reduce greenhouse emissions the forest products industry is positioned to become internationally recognized as the environmentally responsible material choice. Whether the ambitious commitments made at UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow come to fruition, the fact remains people in the public and private sector are making decisions about material choices based on carbon emissions and renewability.
Construction materials and buildings play a significant role in either creating or reducing greenhouse gases. Residential and commercial buildings generate nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions. Of those emissions, building operations are responsible for 28%, while building materials and construction (referred to as embodied carbon) are responsible for an 11%. Just three materials – concrete, steel, and aluminum – are responsible for 23% of total global emissions, most of which is used in the construction sector.
Forests not only absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, but after trees are harvested and processed into lumber and other wood products, approximately 50% of the dry weight of wood continues to be stored carbon. When forests are replanted, the cycle continues. U.S. Forest Service data show that U.S. forests reach their maximum capacity for sequestering carbon at about 80 years, after which the rate begins to decline. During the decades when trees are growing most rapidly, the carbon sequestration rate is fastest.
Wood – the Only Renewable Building Material
Wood is the only widely commercially used building material that comes from a renewable resource. Life cycle assessment studies show that wood is better for the environment than fossil fuel-intensive materials such as steel or concrete in terms of embodied energy, air and water pollution, and other environmental impacts.
Embodied energy is the sum of all the energy required to produce any goods or services, considered as if that energy was incorporated or 'embodied' in the product itself.
For example, one study compared the environmental impacts of wood-frame and steel-frame homes in the cold climate of Minneapolis, Minnesota (U.S), where the average winter temperature ranges from -20o C to -9 o C, and wood-frame and concrete-frame homes in the hot and humid climate of Atlanta, Georgia (U.S), where the average summer temperature regularly exceeds 32o C. Wood performed better than steel and concrete in terms of the energy required to produce the material, air emissions, and greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular:
• Embodied energy – The wood-frame homes had 17% and 16% less embodied energy, respectively, than the homes framed in steel and concrete.
• Air emissions – The wood-frame homes had 14% and 26% less emissions, respectively, than the homes framed in steel and concrete.
• Greenhouse gas emissions – The wood-frame homes performed 26% and 31% better, respectively, than the homes framed in steel and concrete.
Life cycle assessment studies also show that wood buildings require less energy during their entire life cycle - from resource extraction through manufacturing, distribution, use, and end-of-life disposal, and they are responsible for far less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel-intensive materials such as steel or concrete. As shown in Table 1:
• Building a wall with kiln-dried wood studs, oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing, and vinyl siding instead of concrete with an exterior stucco coating results in 6.8 kilograms (15 pounds) of avoided CO2 emissions for every square foot of wall area.
• Using engineered wood I-joists with an OSB sub-floor rather than steel joists and OSB sub-flooring results in 9.97 kilograms (22 pounds) of avoided CO2 emissions for every square foot of floor area.
A five-story wood building stores 3,970 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Combined, this is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions generated by 2,300 passenger cars.
These differences are significant and applying this analysis to an entire building makes a strong case in favor of using wood to reduce carbon emissions. A five-story wood frame condominium building was found to store 3,970 metric tons of CO2 e (carbon dioxide equivalent) in its lumber, panels and engineered wood products. Another 8,440 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 e) were avoided by using wood instead of steel or concrete. Combined, this is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions generated by 2,300 passenger cars or in the operation of 1,000 average-sized U.S. homes.
Wood Products also use Significantly Less Fossil Fuels to Produce than Concrete and Steel
Manufacturing wood into lumber and engineered wood products requires far less energy than other construction materials, and most of the energy used to fuel manufacturing comes from renewable biomass. While manufacturing typically accounts for the largest proportion of embodied energy and emissions associated with the life cycle of any building product, it is also an area where wood consistently outperforms steel and concrete.
For lumber, processing is straightforward – bark is removed, logs are sawn, edges are trimmed, lumber is cut to desired lengths, dried, and then planed. Manufacturing engineered wood products requires more processing to achieve structural performance requirements, which requires more energy. For example, glued laminated posts and beams are bonded with durable, moisture-resistant adhesives – however, embodied energy associated with engineered wood products are still significantly lower than steel or concrete. In the lumber industries’ quest to reduce waste and increase efficiency, state of the art processing equipment has helped create an industry where waste is an almost obsolete term. Remaining sawdust and bark are used to fuel the processing operations. According to Dovetail Partners Inc, which provides information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, the North American lumber industry is 50-60% energy self-sufficient.
Comparatively, the global steel sector has a massive carbon footprint, contributing more than 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Manufacturing virgin steel from iron ore is energy intensive. Basic oxygen furnaces (BOFs), the norm in most developing countries, require coke—a purified version of coal—to extract the iron from the ore and alloy it with carbon. The result, pig iron, is then refined into mild steel, which incorporates about 25% recycled iron and steel scrap. Manufacturers are experimenting with ways to replace coal and coke with non-fossil agents like hydrogen and electrolysis in BOF mills, yet the industry remains largely dependent upon greenhouse gas producing fuel in its manufacturing processes. The American Institute of Steel Construction does estimate that 98% of structural steel from demolished buildings is recovered and recycled into new steel products, which is a more resource efficient material than virgin steel.
Concrete, the world’s most widely used construction material, contributes 6-11% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Most of those emissions come from the production of its binder, Portland cement, which comprises about 10% of the concrete mix by weight, on average. Producing aggregate—sand and crushed rock, which may constitute 70% to 80% of the mix, on average—also requires energy, but much less so. Sand mining can damage river and coastal ecosystems.
When comparing the embodied effects of wood, steel, and recycled steel a second study compared two post and beam systems built of wood and steel. The study also modeled a recycled steel building. While recycled steel manufacturing requires approximately half the energy as it does to refine virgin steel from iron ore, recycling still uses considerably more energy than is required to manufacture wood products. As shown in Figure 1, wood is superior to virgin steel in all categories and to modeled recycled steel in all categories except air pollution and resource use.
The U.S. Forest Industry Addresses the Misconception that the U.S. is Running out of Trees
In addition to being the only commercially available renewable building material, when sustainably managed, forest area can increase and provide a steady supply of usable timber. In fact, the U.S. has more trees today than 100 years ago and over 1 billion seedlings are planted in the U.S. every year – the equivalent of 2.7 million trees every day of the year. U.S. forest management laws ensures not only that harvested trees are replaced, but that every year more wood is grown in U.S. forests than is harvested. According to The State of America’s Forests report, less than 2% of the standing tree inventory in the U.S. is harvested each year while net tree growth is close to 3%.
About one-third of America is covered by forest, and of that third, private landowners own 58%, state and local governments manage 9%, and the federal government manages 33%. All timberland managed by state and federal government entities follows strict forest management and harvest regulations that protect wetlands and wildlife and mandate replanting and active forest management. Private forest lands must also follow state and federal regulations such as the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air Act that protect wetlands and provide regulations for the removal and replanting forests that are identified to be located in environmentally sensitive areas.
At the end of their life, wood products can often be recycled. Recycled wood may be used as feedstock for other products or biofuel, or even landfilled, where gas from decomposition can be captured or flared to eliminate methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
As global leaders and end users look for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and select building materials that are good for the environment, forest products grown in sustainably managed forests offer a solution.
A. Introduction and Overview:
The Softwood Export Council functions as the marketing arm of the U.S. softwood industry to promote and encourage increased exports of U.S. value-added softwood products worldwide. The Softwood Export Council (SEC) carries out promotional, policy and research activities for its members and their associated member groups from offices throughout the world.
B. Proposal for Services: Softwood Export Council is seeking proposals for professional services to lead educational and promotional efforts related to US softwood promotion in the Mexico pallet industry.
Two copies of the proposal must arrive by December 31, 2021 and include the following sections:
C. Scope of Work
Engagement work will be carried out to expand upon SEC’s network of pallet producers and lumber importers in Mexico, strengthen existing relationships, and develop new partnerships with other like-minded institutions in Mexico. All communications will be directed toward increasing brand awareness and will include:
The primary focus in 2022 will be to continue building personal relationships via in-person and digital communications.
Social Media (Microsite & LinkedIn) Strategy
The social media goal for 2022 is to become a widely recognized online resource for the wooden pallet and packaging, innovation and design, and sustainability in Mexico and the greater Spanish-speaking region. To accomplish this goal, it is paramount that our engagement and social media strategy are complementary and overlapping. Social media activities will include:
The contractor will also be tasked with other pallet related activities in Mexico during 2022.
D. Selection Criteria
Candidates will be evaluated based on how well they demonstrate that they satisfy the general criteria listed below and their ability to provide the services listed. Please provide specific references and examples.
Selection will be made by January 5, 2022. Only those firms meeting the criteria will be considered. All proposals must be received by December 30, 2021 and addressed to:
Softwood Export Council
10350 N. Vancouver Way #163
Portland, Oregon 97217
Questions regarding this RFP or your proposal submission may be addressed to Ms. Braden at the above email address.
E. Equal Opportunity Employment
The Softwood Export Council does not discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity (including gender expression), sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, family/parental status, income derived from a public assistance program, political beliefs, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity, in any program or activity. To file a complaint, please contact the USDA (866) 632-9992: firstname.lastname@example.org. Persons who require reasonable accommodations or alternative means of communication should contact AMSO.
The Subcontractor/Consultant agrees that, during the performance of this Agreement, it shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital or family status, political beliefs, parental status, or protected genetic information. (Not all bases apply to all programs.) The Subcontractor/Consultant agrees that it will fully comply with any and all applicable Federal, State, and local equal employment opportunity statutes, ordinances, and regulations, including, but not limited to, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967; the Equal Pay act of 1963, Executive Order 11246, as amended, etc. Nothing in this section shall require the Consultant to comply with or become liable under any law, ordinances, regulation, or rule that does not otherwise apply to the Subcontractor/Consultant
The U.S. softwood industry has worked consistently for over two decades to introduce U.S. species to Chinese construction professionals and the efforts continue to pay off. Millions of dollars of U.S. softwoods are showcased in world-class architectural projects across the country – many of which were completed during trade tensions between the U.S. and China.
The Softwood Export Council, the Southern Forest Products Association, and APA-The Engineered Wood Association (known internationally as “American Softwoods”) have worked extensively with China’s Ministry of Construction to develop wood frame construction codes and technical manuals for architects and engineers. Trade missions and seminars introduced construction professionals to U.S. species and wood frame and hybrid construction design. As a result, China’s design community is increasingly turning to wood as a preferred building material.
Notable examples include:
Douglas-fir imported from the western U.S. is used extensively in a massive hotel and exhibition facility under construction in Nanjing. Slated for completion in 2022, the project uses thousands of cubic meters of U.S. Douglas-fir in glue-laminated beams for the building’s roof structure. The project is being touted by the local government as a prime example of green construction.
Douglas fir is also prominently featured in the main exhibit hall of the “Horticulture Exhibition of Jiangsu Province”, a 129,000 square foot concrete/wood hybrid structure that was completed in November 2019 (pictured to the right). The three-story building features soaring ceilings with exposed Douglas fir glulam posts and beams. The steeply pitched, angular roof was designed to evoke the shape of a resting bird.
The architect’s motivation for using Douglas fir for the project underscored the effectiveness of American Softwoods’ work in China. According to Wang Jianguo, Chief Designer for the project, "Modern wood frame construction is used in the exhibition hall, giving the hall an ambient light but with good thermal insulation.” The project, and the benefits of wood frame construction, received national press coverage.
Another design that utilizes the strength and beauty of Douglas fir to achieve a dramatic design with is the Chongqing Yunshan Art Gallery Resort, located at the base of the mountains of western China. The resort includes an exhibition hall, wedding chapel, and guest rooms and includes an A-frame roof, constructed of Douglas fir glulam beams and supported by glulam posts and to achieve a blend of traditional Chinese architecture and modern design.
U.S. Southern Pine is on display in the Luhu Resort Hotel and the Shanghai Poly Grand Theatre. Southern Yellow Pine was selected for outdoor walkways at Luhu Resort because it was well suited to withstand the humid, insect prone environment. The material also contributed to the nature-inspired design that was influenced by the region’s semi-tropical setting.
The selection of Southern Pine plywood as interior cladding for the Shanghai Poly Grand Theatre was a decision based on a desire for beauty and function. Designed by architect Tadao Ando and completed in 2014, the Shanghai Poly Grand Theatre hosts operas, concerts, and plays and was one of the first cultural buildings of this scale in the area. Together, the design and the woodwork create a hall that is acoustically tuned to provide the audience with an optimal concert experience.
Although these impressive projects are major steps in the right direction, work towards greater use of U.S. wood in China continues. The U.S. industry is surveying architects and engineers in China to better meet the needs of the local design community and adapt its communication and promotional strategy accordingly. Learn more about these activities at www.softwood.org and www.americansoftwoods.org
On January 21, the Softwood Export Council and Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso (PUCV) will co-host a a webinar to share information with Chilean engineers, architects, and government officials about the use of Douglas fir in structural applications. The webinar will include presentations about historic use of Douglas fir, which includes buildings that date to the 19th century, and an introduction to the physical properties of Douglas fir and modern applications. Speakers will include SEC's consultant in Chile and Dr. Arijit Sinh from Oregon State University, which is an SEC member.
The webinar will also officially mark the formal announcement of a the Chile-US Wood Technology Transfer Council, to promote the use of wooden construction and infrastructure projects in Chile. Led by the engineering department at PUCV, the voluntary committee is made up of representativesfrom academia, government, and industry, including SEC's Chile consultant.
To see the agenda and register for the event (presentations will be held in English and Spanish) visit:
By Rose Braden
This article appeared in Softwood Buyer and the Wood Products Import/Export News
Countries that are open to international trade grow faster, are more productive, and provide higher income and greater opportunities for their citizens. Being part of the global economy through two-way trade has been proven to drive economic growth and reduce poverty – locally and globally. Likewise, companies who export know that having international and domestic customers can help them survive market downturns. In the U.S., these downturns are not uncommon, particularly in the building products industry. Over the past several decades the U.S. has experienced a recession nearly every eight years while housing starts have plunged every six and a half years.
When the 2007 global recession hit, bringing with it a collapse in the U.S. housing market, U.S. forest products exports reached $5.2 billion - $698 million of which was softwood lumber. U.S. softwood lumber exports continued to increase in subsequent years while domestic lumber consumption declined 33%.
While exports account for a small share of U.S. lumber production, for the hundreds of small, often family-owned lumber mills and wholesalers across the country, exports meant they could continue to operate in the black, retain employees, and outlast the downturn.
Exports are also important for large corporate lumber producers. As corporate forest products companies expand to the U.S. South to capitalize on Southern Yellow Pine resources, these companies must look beyond the U.S. to maintain their massive new mills. This means creating new international markets – both geographically, and in terms of developing new innovative ways to expand consumption. For example, the U.S. industry is teaching builders overseas how to incorporate less frequently used U.S. species in certain framing applications to improve performance and lower costs. The U.S. industry is also training builders in areas prone to high winds how to build safe and durable wood structures in lieu of concrete and steel.
Skyrocketing structural lumber prices have made it much more challenging to compete in the export market, however opportunities do exist. Specifically, in higher grade clears, which have not seen price increases to the degree that structural grades have. From North Africa to the U.K., demand is buoyant for clear Douglas fir and cedar, thanks to demand from high-end builders and an increase in detached home offices.
Exports to Canada, while down slightly this year, reached $127 million and continue to be stable as Canada’s housing market has defied COVID. Canada is a great market for U.S. suppliers as shipping is relatively inexpensive and Canadian buyers are accustomed to standard U.S. lumber dimensions and grades. However, analysts predict a possible bubble as immigration – the top driver of growth, has stalled and the short-term rental market has vanished.
U.S. softwood lumber exports to Mexico declined 18% this year, yet the U.S. remains Mexico’s leading softwood lumber supplier accounting for 38% of its total imports. Mexico buys massive volumes of low-grade lumber, which is in tight supply this year. However, Mexico is well positioned to consume large volumes of U.S. lumber when prices return to normal levels. Tariffs on goods from China have contributed to more nearshoring to Mexico and U.S. demand has boosted imports of goods and agriculture products. In August, U.S. imports of goods from Mexico returned to March 2020 levels after a precipitous drop in April and May. U.S. phytosanitary requirements, which require that all incoming pallets be heat treated, helps support demand for U.S. species, particularly by pallet producers and customers in northern Mexico, who report that they value the quality of U.S. softwood lumber.
The 2020 housing market has been incredibly strong and, thanks to low mortgage rates, an increase in repair and remodeling work, and housing shortages, lumber demand is projected to remain strong through the coming year. However, if COVID tells us anything it is that interrupting events can come out of nowhere. Companies who are well diversified are best equipped to survive market uncertainties.
Charles Trevor - AMSO Europe Representative
2019 saw global export markets for American softwood species decline from $949 million in 2018 to $770 million in 2019. By far the largest reduction came from China where US softwood exports fell from $150 million in 2018 to $74 million in 2019, owing to the imposition of an import tariff on imports from the U.S. Other factors affecting U.S. softwood exports include lower priced timber being available from Europe, where winter storms brought large volumes of timber onto the global market, a strong U.S. dollar and sustained heavy timber demand in the domestic market. China’s newly introduced Tariff Exclusion Process, which allows Chinese importers to apply for the removal of tariffs on specific products, is already having a positive impact. Some U.S. timber suppliers have reported large orders for logs and timber from China. U.S. exports to Japan remain steady at $97 million owing to the Japanese preference for building with Douglas fir.
Exports to the European Union including the U.K. were $24 million in 2019, with Italy the leading importer with $5.9 million, followed by the UK with $5.1 million and Germany with $3.9 million. Sales are predominantly higher grades of both rough and planed Southern Yellow Pine. An interesting trend has been an increase in sales of lodgepole pine from $0.5 million in 2015 to $5.3 million in 2019. In terms of other substantial markets, India has been a considerable success story and hit a record $25.3 million in 2019.
In common with most countries in the world, the U.S. expects to see a significant decline in GDP in the second quarter of 2020. Unemployment claims in the U.S. amount to 22 million. However, it is hoped that the recently announced gradual return to work will mitigate the decline in GDP and the rise in unemployment to some extent. Housing starts are forecast to decline from 1.3 million in 2019 to 1.21 million in 2020, rebounding to 1.52 million in 2021. A gradual improvement in the third quarter followed by more rapid growth in the fourth quarter will accelerate into 2021. Prior to the Covid 19 pandemic, the fundamentals underlying US softwood’s main end use markets remained strong. There is pent-up demand for new housing and U.S. housing stock is relatively old which should encourage RMI activity. So demand for softwood timber will fall in April and May 2020 before beginning to recover in June and into the third and fourth quarters. Consumption will surge by 8.3% in 2021. Demand for domestically produced timber will reduce by 5% in 2020 and grow by 13% in 2021.
In terms of exports, sharp declines have already been seen and exports are expected to reduce by 30% in 2020, before rebounding sharply in 2021 as global trade gradually returns to normal.
Cross Laminated Timber (or ‘Mass Timber’ as it’s called in the U.S.) has enjoyed considerable growth thanks to recent changes in building codes throughout the country, especially for its use in medium to high rise buildings. Between 2016 and 2019, CLT use quadrupled in terms of square metres produced. Eight companies entered the market, construction started on three new plants and plans for a further three plants were announced in 2019. 78 CLT buildings were constructed in the US in 2019, representing 372,000 square metres of space.
Promotional activity by American Softwoods globally in 2019 included seminars on wood use in central America, south America and Egypt, as well as a market assessment visit to Morocco, participation at numerous trade shows and inward missions to the US for importers from key international markets. These missions introduce importers and manufacturers to U.S. lumber species, grades, applications, and quality control measures through tours of lumber mills, lumber grading workshops, and discussions with lumber grading associations.
While travel is on hold for the time being American Softwoods are also working to open new markets for U.S softwoods through our work to provide information to international government and building code officials. Work in Chile is progressing to support the use of U.S. Douglas fir in heavy timber bridges. Work in China and Thailand is ongoing to educate architects about the correct use of U.S. softwoods in hybrid and wood frame structures. Work in Thailand to conduct in-country testing of preservative treated U.S. softwood species will result in new opportunities once business resumes.
In summary, although the short term outlook for the American softwood industry is difficult, the fundamentals both of the industry and of the U.S. economy remain robust and positive, pointing to a strong rebound in demand both for domestic consumption and for exports in 2021.
[The author would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by Forest Economic Advisors in preparing this article]
SEC quickly shifted to virtual webinars and supplier-buyer exchanges. While face to face interactions are preferred, virtual events have been an effective way to increase contact with international buyers. When travel resumes SEC plans to continue virtual discussions and webinars to supplement trade shows and in-person seminars.
On April 21, over 55 importers and pallet manufacturers in Mexico and U.S. lumber suppliers participated in an SEC webinar to learn more about pallet design software, the State of Idaho Mexico pallet market study, and the state of the U.S. softwood market in light of COVID-19. Building on the success of the February SEC softwood lumber grading and pallet design seminar in Guadalajara, the webinar helped SEC reach more importers and manufacturers. It also helped advance the relationship with Centro Abre, a pallet and packaging design institute at the University of Monterrey. SEC and the State of Idaho’s Mexico office have been exploring ways to collaborate with Centro Abre to educate importers and manufactures about the benefits of using U.S. softwood species in pallet manufacturing. The meeting was recorded and shared with SEC members.
On July 1, SEC’s U.S. and China offices hosted a virtual meeting for U.S. suppliers and Chinese importers. The meeting included presentations from speakers in China and the U.S. about the impact of COVID-19 on China’s lumber imports and manufacturing and the impact of tariffs and the tariff exclusion act on U.S. softwood lumber imports. SEC also provided an update on the U.S, softwood lumber market.
SEC is planning a webinar in August with importers in Pakistan, FAS-Islamabad, and two Pakistani lumber trade associations. A group of ten importers from Pakistan had planned to visit Maine, Wisconsin, and Georgia in June 2020. The webinar will help prepare the visiting group for a 2021 visit by providing information about U.S. grades, end uses, and U.S. suppliers. U.S. participants will also improve their understanding about the Pakistan market and develop business contacts and prepare for the March 2021 DubaiWood show, which attracts buyers from Pakistan.
To help maintain progress made during the November 2019 SEC Emerging Markets Program (EMP) research trip to Morocco, SEC is also organizing a webinar and match-making sessions in August for U.S. Douglas fir suppliers and importers in Morocco. SEC met several importers in Casablanca who were interested in meeting U.S. suppliers to discuss purchasing clear Douglas fir lumber. SEC had planned to hold an in-person lumber grading seminar and business to business meetings in October 2020. The virtual meeting is expected to help establish business connections now that can lead to in person meetings at DubaiWood in March 2021 and a lumber grading workshop in later in 2021.
SEC is reaching international buyers and end users through its new YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaA_XXfjf4PfZvW--6w8rrg. The channel features SEC and member videos including lumber grading tutorials and other educational and promotional videos.
U.S. softwood species were showcased in an article about the new Oregon Zoo Education Center in the May issue of Wood in Architecture magazine. Designed by Opsis Architects of Portland, Oregon, the center features Douglas fir posts, beams, and decking and pine exterior sheathing. The article also discussed the motivation for the products selected and highlighted the sustainability of U.S. wood products.
The project profiles supplement SEC’s ad series in Wood in Architecture and they help provide more information than ad can on its own. The magazine has a circulation of 7,000 readers in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Singapore. The full article can be seen here.