Carbon footprint study

A comparative study by Bergfald: carbon footprint of Ipê versus Kebony

A comparative study: carbon footprint of Ipê versus Kebony 

Summary

The results of this study show that the carbon footprint for average Brazilian Ipê is in the range of 7500-15000 kilograms per cubic meter, whilst the carbon footprint of Kebony is approximately 232 kilograms per cubic meter. Both figures include treatment and transportation to Northern Europe.

The carbon footprint from selective cutting of Ipê from the Brazilian rainforest the carbon footprint is in the order of 300 kg CO2/ m3 Ipê, including transportation and cutting into saleable product. However, when the Ipê harvesting takes place through clear cutting of rainforest the carbon footprint rockets to approx 15,000 kg CO2/m3 Ipê. This is caused by selective cutting being sustainable in the sense that within a few years of cutting an almost equal amount of biomass grows to take its place. Clear cutting on the other hand entails a large loss of living biomass which is not replaced by new growth. Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) is grown in managed forests in the US southeast.

These forests have a net gain in biomass and from a carbon footprint point of view are sustainable, i.e. no emissions of greenhouse gases. However, the subsequent transportation and modification of the wood has a carbon footprint which has been found to be 232 kgs CO2/m3 of SYP. Examination of sales records and known occurrences of Ipê indicates that the majority of Ipê for sale has clear cutting as its source.

Results and discussion

The results of this study show that the harvesting method used for Ipê and SYP is all important for the carbon footprint of the finished product. Harvesting methods that result in the permanent loss of forest biomass also result in very high carbon footprints. Harvesting methods that allow regrowth of biomass have small carbon footprints. The carbon footprints associated with treatment and transportation is small compared to the effects from harvesting methods. 

  • The carbon footprint from production of Kebony Clear (SYP) has been calculated to 232 kg CO2/m3.
  • The carbon footprint from selective cutting of Brazilian Ipê has been calculated to 300 kg CO2/m3.
  • The carbon footprint from clear cutting of Brazilian Ipê has been calculated to 15,000 kg CO2/m3.

The production of SYP in the south-eastern part of the US is based on managed forests. Some of the production is certified by PEFC or SFI. All forestry statistics document that there is a net increase in forest biomass in the region. The carbon footprint from harvesting of SYP is therefore set at zero. The emissions from the subsequent transportation and modification of the wood result in a small carbon footprint for Kebony Clear (SYP).

The production of Ipê from selective harvesting in Brazil also has a small carbon footprint. The main carbon contribution is due to regrowth having a lower carbon content than the original forest. Ipê is a wood that requires no modification or other treatment in order to become durable for outdoor use. The carbon footprint associated with treatment and transportation is relatively small. Selective cutting of valuable timber such as mahogany has traditionally been regarded as damaging to the forest because the necessary roads open the forest to subsequent exploitation. Harvesting techniques in Brazil have improved over the past years and this is no longer a major concern 

The production of Ipê from clear cutting of forest is associated with a large carbon footprint. The dominant source of the footprint is the loss of the large standing live biomass in the forest. The loss of carbon from dead biomass and from inorganic carbon bound in the soil is small. The method used in this report to apportion the share of biomass loss to be attributed to Ipê harvesting is based on a calculation of the economic value of different aspects of deforestation and attributes 5,75 % of the biomass loss to Ipê harvesting. This attribution is necessarily somewhat rough and will fluctuate depending on changing world market prices for Ipê, beef, soymeal, construction timber and so on. 

However it is clear that with the current low market prices for beef and with the removal of Brazilian economic inducements for forest clearing the beef industry itself cannot finance the current 7000 km2 /year deforestation. The largest economic value of the forest is represented by construction timber including Ipê. Deforestation for creation of grazing for cattle would be uneconomical without the value of the standing timber.

Therefore, attributing a share of the biomass loss to Ipê harvesting is valid. Deforestation in Brazil is now concentrated in three states along the Transamazonica highway, these states producing 99% of all Ipê. Clearly selective logging from other parts of the Amazon contribute little to the total Ipê production, and conversely the clear cutting still being practiced in these three states contribute massively to the total Ipê volume.

The carbon footprint share attributed to Ipê production depends on the actual volume of trees in the forest being clear cut. Since this forest is located in the “ring of fire” it is reasonable to assume that it is degraded and some Ipê has already been removed. Assuming that half the marketable trees have already been harvested the climate footprint from clear cut Ipê will also be halved to 7,500 kg CO2/m3, which still is very high.

It is not reasonable to assume that the carbon footprint is significantly higher than 15,000 kg CO2/m3. The reasons for this are that biomass density data for the region are reasonably accurate and that Ipê volumes and values from the three states are very unlikely to be higher than the Brazilian average. The proximity to the Transamazonia highway makes it much more likely that the forest in question has been degraded to some extent. 

Conclusion

  • The production of Kebony Clear (SYP) and Ipê from selective logging both carry very small carbon footprints in the region of 200-300 kg CO2/m3. However, the volume of Ipê harvested in this manner is very small.
  • The production of Ipê from clear cutting carries a very large carbon footprint. The size of the footprint is in the range of 7,500-15,000 kg CO2/m3.  
  • From the point of view of carbon footprint Brazilian Ipê carries a large burden unless it can be documented that the Ipê originates in the small volumes produced from selective cutting or from certified forestry. 

Download the full study here.