New Position Statement from SAF: "Carbon in the Built Environment"

February 7, 2024

During their October meeting at the SAF National Convention, SAF’s Board of Directors approved a new position statement titled “Carbon in the Built Environment.” Led by Committee on Forest Policy member Dr. Edie Sonne Hall, this position statement focused on the capacity for harvested wood products (HWPs) to mitigate climate change through science-based, sustainable forest management. 

The position statement provides important technical information and research trends to support its case for the benefits of sustainably produced HWPs. It also emphasizes the need to look outside of the forest itself to understand the full potential of its role in mitigating climate change. For instance, with a growing global population and the anticipation of increased construction and development, we need to examine how substituting high-emission nonrenewable materials with HWPs can lower total emissions across an economy. With increasing threats from natural disturbances like insects, pests, disease, drought, and wildfire, active management can be compatible with fostering resilience and mitigating carbon emissions from tree mortality. 

In addition to this technical information, the position statement provides context for the ongoing national policy debates on the role of forests in a changing climate. The position statement’s Issue section summarizes this context succinctly: 

“There is growing interest in how to best manage US forests for climate mitigation. Though the substitution benefits of HWPs, especially in construction, are widely accepted (The Forests Dialogue 2021), there is concern about how an increasing demand for HWPs would impact forest supply and forest quality. At the same time, others are advocating for less harvesting to let carbon accrue on the forest landscape. Without understanding carbon fluxes across the entire forest supply chain, including the influence of increasing tree mortality on terrestrial carbon stores, it is difficult to discuss tradeoffs and identify strategies that optimize carbon across diverse forests, products, and consumer uses.” 

The science, practice, and markets surrounding forest carbon are rapidly evolving, and this position statement sheds light on the complexity of managing forests in a changing climate. Forests have an important role to play in mitigating climate change, and understanding how to optimize that role requires knowing the factors contributing to carbon flux and how to balance them. This position statement provides an important resource for anyone interested in understanding this work. 

In addition to our lead authors, we’d like to thank the entire Committee on Forest Policy, the Forest Science & Technology Board, the House of Society Delegate members, SAF Working Group members, and SAF’s Board of Directors for their contributions. 

SAF has also developed a shareable briefer that summarizes the key points of the position statement and social media graphics to educate decision makers and the public. Members are welcome to share these resources with their networks.  

Download the briefer and the graphics here: 
Visit the policy webpage to explore all of SAF’s National Position Statements.