2.27.2020 Message from the President – Wood Awakening

Ever drink espresso too late in the day and wind up awake in the middle of the night pondering positive change through the power of specifying wood? Yesterday the Lunch and Learn program of the AIA Redwood Empire had a guest speaker from the Humboldt Redwood Company. Charles Jourdain walked the group of nearly 25 design professionals through the benefits of Redwood as a building product explaining that Humboldt’s 440,000 acres of forestry and logging practices are FSC Certified. I think I heard him suggest that the purpose of photosynthesis is to make wood. From my research, photosynthesis converts radiant energy into chemical energy that can be used for food. Photosynthesis is essential to all life taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replacing it with oxygen. (Dammit Jim, I’m an architect not a scientist)!

So when Jordain said, “This might sound cold, but I view forests as wood farms,” I felt sad hearing that even the best practices view forests for financial gain. Yes, I have used wood in projects over the last 30 years, but to quote myself quoting Maya Angelou again, “When you know better, do better.”

Jordain stated that California State logging practices are more stringent that FSC Certified requirements in some ways, but under the California laws clear-cutting is allowed on private lands. Sierra Pacific Lumber company owns 1.7 million acres of forest that are being clear cut this very moment in the Sierra Nevada. Clear-cutting is shown to increase widespread forest fires, degrade rivers and creeks due to sediment runoff, destroy wildlife habitat, promote monoculture and remove large concentrated areas of C02 removing/ oxygen producing trees and plants. FSC Certification does not allow clear-cutting.

Here is where the architect comes into the equation. Much like the organic food industry that grew in response to consumer demand to become mainstream, architects can specify FSC Certified lumber to influence private land owners like Sierra Pacific to adopt FSC Certified practices. Architects can be mindful to help save forests from clear-cutting with practices such as:

1) Start at the beginning determining if wood as the most appropriate material for a project.

2) Talk with your client at the outset about sustainable design as a principle element in your work and coopt them into the movement.

3) Budget early on to prepare for cost differentials with FSC Certified products.

4) Use less wood than conventional framing spacing and work with smaller lumber sizes.

5) Specify FSC Certified wood for all wood products like Redwood and Douglas Fir from Humboldt Redwood Company.

When we recall that the AIA has formally adopted to prioritize and support urgent climate action as a health safety and welfare issue, we know there is national support for specifying FSC Certified, for example. Material specifications that mitigate the climate situation can become mainstream and initiate change in an industry that needs it. It’s good to ponder and it’s good to talk amongst yourselves. I’ll go back to sleep now.

Mary Dooley, MAD architecture