Sustainability and Advancements in the Wood Manufacturing Industry

Sustainability and Advancements in the Wood Manufacturing Industry

Akhilesh Chitlangia, Executive Director & COO, Duroply Industries Limited, 0

Akhilesh Chitlangia, a seasoned expert with 12+ years of professional experience in the plywood industry, oversees operations, distribution, and innovative ventures. A sustainability advocate, he specializes in wood products, notably decorative veneers, backed by dual degrees from Boston University in Business Administration and Economics.

What are the key trends and challenges currently shaping the wood manufacturing industry?
I believe, due to the global rise in demand for stable infrastructure, people are finally understanding the importance of eco-friendly building materials such as wood. Additionally, the pandemic induced a boom in renovations. Supply constraints and production delays further skyrocketed the demand for lumber getting used in the construction industry at a faster pace. Due to this phenomenal rise, there is significant inflationary pressure, leaving us with eye-wateringly high wood prices in the market. It's a mix of a favorable opportunity and a challenge at hand too, for entrepreneurs in the industry.

How does the wood manufacturing industry contribute to sustainable practices and environmental conservation?
Many people mistakenly think that wood is less sustainable than materials like cement, concrete, and steel, but in fact, all materials have their own specialties. Are we not cutting trees to get construction-grade wood? Yes, we are, but these are tree species that comparatively grow at a faster rate, and are sourced in a responsible manner. Also, no harmful chemicals or heavy machinery are used when the wood is grown for commercial purpose. While every building material requires some energy to produce, wood requires less energy than any other building material. Sunlight, soil nutrients, and water are all it takes for a tree to grow, and a growing tree stores carbon dioxide in its wood making ‘carbon sinks’. This leads to a much lower carbon footprint of wood-based products for many construction applications as compared to other alternatives.

In what ways has technology transformed wood manufacturing processes, and what are the most significant advancements in recent years?
Over the past 10-15 years, there have been massive innovations and technological breakthroughs in the wood industry. For example, in London, an entire 10-story building by Waugh Thistleton Architects has been built without using steel and cement. They have used an engineered wood product called cross-laminated timber (CLT). Cross Laminated Timber and Laminated Veneer Lumber have done away with a large part of the limitations that were associated with wood-based products concerning their long-term durability.

In fact, since 2015, when CLT was first incorporated into the International Building Code, the material was used as a sustainable alternative to form walls, roofs, floors, and even ceilings.

Another great example is Aalt Stadhaus at Luxembourg where five-layer cross-laminated timber panels are used to obtain fire protection that allows the structure to retain its integrity for at least 90 minutes. This is significantly longer than steel, which fails and buckles at high temperatures.

Surprisingly enough, there is even news of glass made of wood which will nearly outperform traditional glass for facade and window construction. Transparent wood is five times more thermally efficient than glass, cutting electricity costs and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s made from a renewable, sustainable resource, which further lowers its carbon footprint.

In addition to these widely recognized technological advancements, it is also crucial to identify good quality wood for your woodwork. This is possible if we check the ingenuity of the organization we are buying it from. All these measures will only enable you to make use of wood as a long-lasting solution for a better future.
What role does the wood manufacturing industry play in promoting eco-friendly and renewable construction materials?
When it comes to using wood (even in the form of Plywood), we are naturally concerned about the depleting forest cover. On the contrary, every time a wood-based product is used, we bring a piece of nature into our homes.

There are ways you can use Plywood and at the same time put less strain on the forests. You can make sure that you obtain your Plywood from FSC-certified suppliers. The FSC standard is designed to be climate-smart. It requires that more and older trees be left standing, which tends to increase carbon sequestration. It helps combat illegal logging and deforestation in key ‘high-conservation value’ areas around the world that must remain as forests for the good of the planet's health.

It's also important to look for E1 & E0 grade wood products. These norms are set by the European Union to supervise how much formaldehyde is used in wood products. Both E1 & E0 are safe for human exposure.

Advanced technologies like precision forestry which involves variable-rate fertilization and automated harvesting, have also improved forest management significantly.

Most plywood and veneer industries these days focus more on sustainable practices, and their commitment to the environment has become an integral part of every wood business's core values.

What challenges do wood manufacturers face in terms of international trade and how are they overcoming these obstacles?
The biggest challenge is government norms. People all over the world are naturally concerned about the depleting forest cover. There has been excessive logging in many parts of the world. Many governments have imposed restrictions against excessive tree cutting, like in northeast India restrictions were imposed in 1996. Burma, a major source of private material, imposed restrictions in 2014 to protect its forests.

While wood was looked at as an environmental challenge, more awareness of the resourcefulness of wood and how it is much lower in carbon footprint as compared to other materials has started changing the perception.

Deforestation remains a challenge but short-cycle agro-based practices are now being promoted across the globe, citing it as a very positive development. These practices take advantage of the interactive benefits of growing trees and shrubs together with crops and/or livestock. Advanced technologies like precision forestry which involves variable-rate fertilization and automated harvesting, have also improved forest management significantly. The resulting ecological benefits of increased productivity have slowly started relieving pressure on natural forests.

As the industry evolves, what are the long-term visions and goals of wood manufacturing companies for a sustainable and innovative future?
With the increasing demand for wood products, it is important to ensure that the production process is carried out safely and sustainably. Now, with increasing awareness of innovative technological advancements in the wood industry, it's easier to source wood products that are ecologically sustainable while also being aesthetically pleasing. By initiating agro-based practices to valuing guidelines and regulations that promote safe and sustainable wood production practices, we are able to finally balance the ever-increasing demand for wood products in the architecture and design fraternity.

Wood-sourcing companies should strive to improve their energy efficiency, reduce harmful in-situ emissions, and incorporate sustainable practices throughout their operations. Collaboration and partnerships between stakeholders, local suppliers, customers, and regulatory agencies that ensure sharing of knowledge, resources, and expertise are also key to strategizing consumer-friendly production processes. This way companies can enhance their brand reputation, attract socially conscious consumers, and contribute to a more sustainable future for all.