Sustainability – Food for Thought

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Sierra Pacific Industries mill site.

We’ve all heard several different terms when it comes to sustainability in construction. LEED Certification, Net-Zero buildings, Green Star Certification, sustainably-sourced building materials and so on. All of which are considered Green Building Practices. So really, what is the Definition of Green Building? It’s simply “the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s lifecycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction.”

Years ago, when I was designing and building custom homes in Big Sky, Montana, Sierra Pacific Industries invited me and a handful of other local builders to tour their facilities in California and explained to us how they manage their forests, how they harvest their timber, and replant new trees to ensure there will be healthy forests for them to harvest in the future. How they then mill their lumber and produce windows and doors and other building materials in the most efficient way possible.

 That was almost 20 years ago, but for some reason that always stuck with me. Maybe it was the immense scale of their operation and the inability to comprehend just how vastly impactful their operations could be- in either a positive or negative way.  Imagine that, the forward thinking of a company that fully recognizes the moral of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax”.  If timber companies just cut down trees without taking the necessary approach to replant what is harvested, we would be the living example of “The Lorax.”

Understanding the global impact humans have on the Earth and the impact the building industry alone has on the environmental quality of our planet is virtually beyond comprehension for me. According to Home Preservation Manual, “it takes on average 22 mature trees for every 1,000 square feet of home to build.” That means that a 3,000 square foot home would require 66 mature trees that took anywhere from 60-100 years to grow. This is just the framing and does not include cabinets, flooring, trim, doors, windows etc.

So I think back to my tour of Sierra Pacific Industries, and the sheer volume of trees necessary to produce the number of homes just in the US is staggering. According to NAHB, in 2021, there were 1.6 million new home starts with the average home size, according to Statista, is 2,491 square feet.  That means the building industry alone in the US required the harvesting of 158,083,200 trees just for the framing alone!

1,600,000 new starts x 2.491 (thousands of square feet)  x 22 trees per 1,000 sq ft =  158,083,200 trees.

Sunset in SW Colorado on a motorcycle trip

That’s a lot for me to try to visualize. But here is the kicker. “On average, one [mature] tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year. Two mature trees can provide enough oxygen for a family of four.” That means that 158,083,200 mature trees can produce enough oxygen for 316,166,400 people. Almost the entire population of the United States.

Here’s one more concept to chew on. According to PennState extension, “at maturity, a typical stand may have 80 to 120 trees per acre.” In order to harvest 1.58M trees a year, lets just take the average here, and assume there are 100 trees per acre.  That means we need 1,580,083,200/100 trees or 1,580,083 acres of forest to harvest. An area bigger than Florida’s everglades, or 71% of Yellowstone National Park LAST YEAR ALONE. Just for the framing…

Wild fires burned 7.1 Million acres in 2021

Now, think about wildfire, and how many acres are burned every year.  Yes, we are able to harvest some burnt areas, but in 2021, 7.1 million acres burned.  4.5 times the required forest area for timber harvesting.  Over 3 Yellowstones-worth of forest lost. Very little of that 7.1 million acres can now be harvested for building materials, and on top of that, that much more forest is no longer converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.   In 2021, that means we lost mature, harvestable forests that equate to the size of Hawaii, Connecticut and Delaware together. Just in one year. Can you see it now? We have a very limited supply of forest and we are losing it faster than we are regaining it. Forests our industry relies on.

Yellowstone National Park is 2,221,766 acres.

So why does my brain go here? Because these are mature trees. They took 60-100 years to grow. I love the woods, hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and just wandering around mature forests is where I feel most at home. It’s grounding for me. I can feel the life force. Hear the birds, actually smell the fresh air. Its healing, nurturing. Pristine.

Harvesting that many trees or losing them to fire is not immediately replaceable. Replanting new trees does not immediately replace the same amount of oxygen at the same rate that the matures trees produced daily. As a father, I owe it to my kids to make sure I leave this world in a better place than I found it. That’s stewardship. In the form of conservation or sustainability. It just makes good common sense.  I don’t “own” any part of this Earth, even though a piece of paper, a deed, may say so, I am temporary. I have an impact, and I can choose just like Sierra Pacific Industries does whether that impact is going to be a positive or negative one.

Sustainability matters to me.  There is sustainability both in building practices as well as in business practices. I am fortunate enough to have a daughter whose degree is in business sustainability, so she was able to calculate for me the energy requirements of PowerTool SafeTM, how many employees we have, how many computers and servers we use, how much electricity is consumed running said electronics and how much energy it takes to maintain our business. 

Every business is different, but her calculations determined that if I plant 33.1 trees per team member we have, that will zero out any carbon emissions produced to run our business.  Since we have 9 team members, I chose to work with One Earth to plant 300 trees.  For me, this is a small price to pay, a chance to give back. Will it have a difference, not much if I am the only one. But if other companies like yours chooses to do the same, then we can certainly have a larger impact together. If I continue this practice for 10 years, at this same rate, I will have planted 3,000 trees that in 60-90 years would be the required amount for 54 homes.  All of a sudden, I can see why Sierra Pacific understands why sustainability is so important. $3,000 over ten years to produce enough lumber to frame 54 houses. What an investment in the future!

PowerTool SafeTM is a small business dedicated to supporting builders and contractors by protecting your tools.  By planting trees, I believe we can take our commitment to builders and our environment even further. By ensuring clean air for future generations, we can protect our ourselves, our future family members, and our environment while still helping support and protect the future of construction by ensuring the raw materials that are the foundation of the building industry are still abundant and available. For today and tomorrow.

Our full sustainability report can be found here:

I chose to work with because I can select different regions that I would like to see  trees planted in the US. Currently Oregon is an option whose pacific rainforest climates produce vast amounts of timber that have incurred losses both to timber harvesting and wildfire.

Nothing would inspire me more than to hear that you have chosen to join me today in making a difference for all of us tomorrow.

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