Wood Pellet Industry Enables Forest Protection and GHG Mitigation
As someone who cares deeply about the planet and our role in climate change, I have dedicated my career to understanding and quantifying the relationship between forests and climate. There is no doubt that the growing wood pellet industry is a positive development for forests and for people. We at Enviva work hard every day to make sure that continues to be true.
Bioenergy provides significant and immediate GHG savings compared to coal. This effect is most appropriately calculated at the landscape scale, which is the scale at which forests are managed: every year 2 percent of the forest in the SE US is harvested while the remaining 98 percent of the forest continues to grow and store carbon.1 In fact, every year there is more wood stored in the forest than there was the year before,2 and so any emissions from harvest are more than compensated – immediately – by sequestration. When bioenergy is used to replace coal, we’re reducing GHG emissions even further by allowing that coal to stay underground.
These GHG benefits have been examined and proven, again and again, by scientists all over the world.3 In fact, in March 2017, 125 scientists from with global expertise in biomass production, sustainability, and carbon accounting signed a letter disputing the conclusion that biomass emissions are worse than coal, and stating that “The development of bioenergy and the bioeconomy as a whole are critical in order to realise a low-carbon economy.”4 The fact is that we’re facing a climate crisis, and as a society we need to use all the tools at our disposal – including bioenergy — to solve it.
Timber harvests are an important part of life in the SE US forest-based economy, and most of the trees harvested are used to make long-lived products such as housing construction and furniture. The SE US provides one-sixth of the timber that is used globally each year,5 and forests cover 245 million acres of land in the region. This means that more than 45 percent of the land area in the southeastern US is forested.6 The number of forested acres is increasing each year,7 and the forest industry contributes nearly $48 billion annually to the regional economy.8
For context, harvest for wood pellets made up 2.4 percent of the total harvest in the SE US in 2014.9 I should add that all of the companies in the wood pellet industry – including Enviva — use low-grade wood that is a byproduct of a traditional timber harvest. When Enviva agrees to purchase wood from a supplier, we purchase on average about 30 percent of the wood that is harvested from a particular piece of ground.10 The other 70 percent of the wood is higher-value timber that goes to other forest products industries, such as the sawtimber or pulp & paper industries.
The notion that the wood pellet industry is causing deforestation in the SE US just doesn’t hold up to the facts. There is a positive relationship between forest harvest and rates of forest regrowth:11 this makes sense, because landowners respond to strong markets for forest products by planting more trees. Since 1953, the land covered by SE US forests has increased slightly, and the standing stock on those forests has more than doubled.12 In the areas that supply our mills, forest acreage and forest inventory have increased, not decreased, since we established our first US mill.13
As businesspeople, the last thing we want to do is to reduce the long-term productivity of the forests in our sourcing regions, and as responsible forest stewards, we work hard to ensure that ecologically sensitive forests stay intact. We also believe in continuous improvement, so we take positive steps to work with partners in the environmental community to help us develop our procedures and policies. We strive to be leaders in environmental stewardship and we know we can always do better. In fact, because of our position as the world’s largest manufacturer of wood pellets, we’ve been able to make investments in sustainability assurances – such as our Track & Trace™ system14 – that allow us to make good on our commitment to transparency and data access.
We are also honoring our commitment to floodplain forests and flood mitigation in the face of climate change. I know this because we have dedicated millions of dollars to protecting sensitive floodplain forests through our Enviva Forest Conservation Fund, which will have contributed much-needed dollars to the protection of over 3000 acres of floodplain forest by the end of this year.