Measuring Progress WG Update

Hi everyone, here is a brief update about some of the conversations happening in the Measuring Progress Working Group.

To date our conversation has been focusing specifically on how Life Cycle Assessment (and other forms of carbon accounting) is used to evaluate the environmental impacts of wood products, and how this practice might (and if it even should) incorporate forest mgmt and strategies that would fall under a bucket of “climate-smart forestry,” that facilitate increased biogenic carbon storage in the landscape over long periods of time.

Our central challenge is this:

  • It is possible to measure and report the directional change of carbon stored in forests and to understand where a specific forest’s management plan falls in relation to a BAU mgmt regime. (the net balance of forest carbon relative to the production quantity of wood extracted over a given spatial extent and timeframe) However, it is very difficult to connect this data all the way to a wood product, such as a piece of engineered wood or mass timber. HOW would you attribute the carbon change (or storage) on land to the wood product (the “divide by what?” and “divide by when?” question).

Central to the conversation has been translating between the foresters in the group and their understanding of forest processes and the LCA practitioners and designers in the room who understand what they are trying to do with LCA models and the effort to connect and understanding of forestry to forest products.

So far we’ve gotten very into the weeds about:

  • Current limitations in LCA practice and standards to support this goal broadly (i.e. what is LCA good at, what is it not so good at?)
  • The differences between modeling approaches (attributional vs. consequential LCA)
  • Sequestration vs. Storage
  • Difference between EPDs (for static disclosure and comparing between wood products, i.e. an LVL from this facility vs that one, from this forest vs that one) and WBLCAs (which can be used to compare between materials or construction types … i.e. mass timber vs. concrete/steel) – both have considerable challenges, but they are really different challenges.
  • Articulating what data different actors (designers, policy-makers, owners/buyers, forest scientists) are actually asking for and what they want to do with it (likely some overlap with other groups here)
  • Gaps in method and data availability to support modeling of variability of forest carbon (at what scale? at what time frame? for what purpose? compared to what???)
  • Searching for the Goldilocks zone of goldilocks zone/scale for reporting in-forest impacts and the challenges associated with attributing carbon stock change to harvest output.
  • Maybe we don’t need to shoehorn all our questions into a EPD? What would compatible/parallel reporting at a sensible scale/resolution/time period look like?

We’ve also wandered into a more policy-oriented and strategic territory with questions such as:

(The discussions have been interesting, but we obviously can’t solve or even answer any of these questions. Many different opinions here. We assume there is lots of overlap with other working groups)

  • Sure, but is this scope expansion for LCA actually a good idea?
  • What kinds of policies are we hoping that it supports?
  • Does this actually lead to positive directional change in the forestry or building sectors?
  • Is it equitable? Does it benefit some actors over others? Is it fair?
  • Does it encourage double-counting?
  • Is there an easier way to achieve the goal of increasing forests’ climate contribution? Does it hinder other efforts?

Hope this update is helpful. There are a lot of loose threads and thoughts in formation over here. I realize we’ve been a little quiet on the forum, but I think we’re making a lot of progress listening to each other and representing a variety of expertise and perspective in our own little wonky carbon accounting group. We’re excited to share the results with you all.

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