Accounting for Forest Carbon Pool Dynamics in Product Carbon Footprints: Challenges and Opportunities

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Modification and loss of forests due to natural and anthropogenic disturbance contribute an estimated 20% of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. Although forestcarbonpool modeling rarely suggests a ‘carbon neutral’ flux profile, the life cycle assessment community and associated productcarbon footprint protocols have struggled to account for the GHG emissions associated with forestry, specifically, and land use generally. Principally, this is due to underdeveloped linkages between life cycle inventory (LCI) modeling for wood and forestcarbon modeling for a full range of forest types and harvest practices, as well as a lack of transparency in globalized forest supply chains. In this paper, through a comparative study of U.S. and Chinese coated freesheet paper, we develop the initial foundations for a methodology that rescales IPCC methods from the national to the product level, with reference to the approaches in three international productcarbon footprint protocols. Due to differences in geographic origin of the wood fiber, the results for two scenarios are highly divergent. This suggests that both wood LCI models and the protocols need further development to capture the range of spatial and temporal dimensions for supply chains (and the associated land use change and modification) for specific product systems. The paper concludes by outlining opportunities to measure and reduce uncertainty in accounting for net emissions of biogenic carbon from forestland, where timber is harvested for consumer products.

Forest Carbon
Land Use Change
Land Use Modification
Product Carbon Footprint Protocols
Biogenic Carbon
Wood Life Cycle Inventories
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Environmental Impact Assessment Review
Date Published: 
November 2012
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Full Citation: 
Newell, Joshua P. and Robert O. Vos. (2012) “Accounting for forest carbon pool dynamics in product carbon footprints: Challenges and opportunities.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 37: 23-36.
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