The separation in the timber sourcing specs and associated impacts is motivated by two factors. Firstly, I have always wanted to diffuse the friction between timber certification organisations and the LCA community. In years gone by timber certification organisations have really taken aim at LCA because there wasn’t a distinction between sustainable vs old growth timber use. The simple solution was to create that distinction which we did in the most recent data update in eToolLCD.
The second motivation was to better align with RICS Whole Life Carbon Assessment which states:
3.4.1 Carbon sequestration Biogenic carbon CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere by trees during their growth through photosynthesis. The carbon element of the CO2 absorbed remains locked into the timber until its EoL. The sequestered carbon should though only be considered a benefit in the scope of whole life carbon assessment when the timber is sustainably sourced – certified by FSC, PEFC or equivalent. This is to ensure that any trees felled are being substituted with a minimum of the same number of trees planted and therefore not contributing to deforestation and not compromising the overall carbon absorbing capacity of woodlands.
The clearest distinction for me comes from one of the fundamental goals of LCA, and that is that we are trying to identify all transactions between the Economy and the Biosphere. This boundary is a bit rubbery but when you think about it a little is usually pretty easy to distinguish. A few examples:
- The methane emissions of livestock for the production of meat, wool etc occurs between an economic activity (rearing livestock for profit) and the atmosphere (where the methane is emitted to). So this should be accounted for in the LCA. The business pays for rearing the livestock and hence the impacts (and benefits) associated with that activity should be accounted for).
- In a managed forrest the trees are being reared for profit, and replaced at least at the rate they are removed as part of an economic activity. So the sequestration of carbon is occurring from the atmosphere (part of the biosphere) and the economic activity of the managed forrest, hence the benefit of the sequestration is accounted for. The business harvesting the trees pays for the (at least indirectly) the rearing of the trees so the benefits (and impacts) should be accounted for.
- The “sequestration” of carbon in coal or oil deposits clearly happened within the biosphere so shouldn’t be accounted for in the LCA. The business extracting fossil fuels didn’t’ pay for the pay for the carbon store X million years ago.
- In a situation when natural / old growth forests are logged the sequestration actually happened before the economic activity began so the sequestration shouldn’t be accounted for in the LCA. The business extracting this resource did not pay for the rearing of the trees.
I hope that helps clarify things?
I’m not familiar with the different FSC categorisations however it should be pretty easy to make a pragmatic determination based on this idea of the boundary between the biosphere and economy.