What Can Medicine Teach Us about the Environment?
Updated: Jan 11
Summary: “First do no harm” is the basis of making a better timber mat. The use of Eucalyptus mats provides eight further environmental advantages relative to the use of USA natural hardwoods.
Physicians from the earliest days of Greek medicine to modern day medical school graduates have been taught, “First, do no harm.”
That’s the beginning of our approach to the environment and to making A Better Timber Mat.
We don’t want to harm anything to make a better timber mat. And, we prefer to make things better while making a superior product.
Timber mats in general have a positive impact on the environment; they reduce impacts on the soils of construction projects. The use of Eucalyptus mats provides eight further environmental advantages relative to the use of USA natural hardwoods.
Reducing harm – Advantages of Eucalyptus Plantations over USA Hardwoods
It all starts in the forest.
The first Eucalyptus advantage is adding tree cover to land areas that don’t have it. We source our mat timbers from Eucalyptus plantations. These plantations are typically grown on soils that had little to no tree cover before planting. In our region, no native forests are cleared for Eucalyptus plantations. Government regulations are stringent and meticulously enforced.
In comparison, most USA hardwoods are already in forest cover and, with the exception of cutting near riparian habitat, most hardwood forests are not protected from a regulatory standpoint.
The second Eucalyptus advantage is that an acre of Eucalyptus plantation provides more tree biomass than a USA hardwood forest can. A Eucalyptus plantation grows approximately five times more tree biomass per acre than a USA natural hardwood forest produces.
The third Eucalyptus advantage is that Eucalyptus has lower harvesting carbon emissions per boardfoot. Eucalyptus trees are typically grown about 10 – 12 feet apart. Compare that with harvestable trees in a SE USA hardwood forest, which may be as far as 30-60 feet apart. That means that the carbon emissions per tree generated in harvesting activities in the USA are approximately three to five times that of a Eucalyptus plantation. Furthermore, Eucalyptus plantations tend to use machines that can do three operations at once – cut logs, remove branches and load onto a truck – very rapidly and efficiently. With USA hardwood operations there will often be three different operators and machines doing the same job as one machine at a plantation.
The fourth Eucalyptus advantage is that carbon footprint per mat delivered for Eucalyptus mats are about 20% less than a corresponding USA hardwood mat.
The fifth Eucalyptus advantage is that Eucalyptus has much lower environmental impact on soils. Our Eucalyptus plantations are grown on well-drained, relatively flat soils. Run off and soil erosion is minimal. SE USA hardwood forests tend to be on bottom soils and soil compaction during harvesting is a real issue. And, because we can get into our Eucalyptus plantations 12 months out of the year negative impact on soils and water quality is spread over a longer period than when entering USA forests during a much shorter logging season.
The sixth Eucalyptus advantage is much lower collateral environmental damage. Plantations tend to be owned by well-financed companies who can afford to build excellent infrastructure. In comparison, most landowners in SE USA hardwood stands tend to be small, private landowners, who find infrastructure costs prohibitive.
The seventh Eucalyptus advantage is better environmental standards and/or internal standards. Plantation owning companies tend to have very high standards and entire departments related to Health, Safety, and Environment. In contrast, most SE USA hardwood owners rely on independent logging contractors to do everything for them.
The eighth Eucalyptus advantage is using our mats doesn’t add to the threat to SE USA hardwood forests and the biodiversity which they contain. SE USA hardwoods are also poorly regulated. Of the eight southern states, only about 10% of the forest is protected. Using a species like Eucalyptus that is grown in plantations, and which can take the pressure off of SE hardwood forests makes sense.
Trying to Make Things Better Throughout the Supply Chain
More stringent environmental standards go hand-in-hand with other improved standards such as safety.
Eucalyptus plantations are safer to work in for many reasons including:
1. Higher internal Health and Safety standards imposed on employees and contractors.
2. Safer harvesting techniques. Eucalyptus harvesting typically is done with feller-bunchers and forwarders, which are much safer than traditional chainsaw and skidder operations employed in USA hardwood forests.
We actively work with our contractors, vendors and employees to leverage positive environmental impacts and reduce potentially negative environmental impacts throughout our entire supply chain.
For example, we are moving towards non-toxic and low-carbon phytosanitary treatment of all of our mats.
We use water-based end sealant and logo paint on our mats instead of oil-based products.
Like all mat manufacturers, our mats provide a significant environmental advantage to users. Where our Eucalyptus mats are different is that we try to reduce the harm created in making mats throughout the entire supply chain. Eucalyptus mats provide nine significant environmental advantages over USA hardwood mats and may also reduce pressures on SE USA hardwood forests.
Notes to One Minute Read
Environmental analysis can be a challenging exercise. Please see resources and sources below for more information.
Total carbon storage in USA forests: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/gtr/gtr_wo059.pdf
Carbon storage in Eucalyptus plantations in Brazil: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/3294cunha_presentation.pdf
Stocking levels USA hardwoods: https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/gtr/gtr_nrs132.pdf
Stocking levels Eucalyptus plantations: http://www.scielo.br/pdf/aabc/2018nahead/0001-3765-aabc-201720150453.pdf
Spacing regimes Eucalyptus plantations: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0001-37652018000100255&lng=en&tlng=en
SE USA forests under threat: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/southeast-biomass-exports-report.pdf
Carbon emissions by freight type: http://business.edf.org/files/2014/07/EDF-Green-Freight-Handbook.pdf
Carbon emissions by freight type in USA from US Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/smartway/smartway-carrier-performance-ranking and the excellent spreadsheet with all freight types and carriers at: app4.erg.com/smartwayweb/portal/carrierdata/carrierPerfDataEPA.xlsx
Specific calculations available from World Forest Group LLC upon request