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Industry Tweaks Promotional Efforts: Focus on ‘Green’ Benefits of Wood Construction, Potential in Non-Residential Building Market
Marketing Wood: Forest products industry tweaks its approach to promoting wood products; focus shifts to ‘green’ benefits in wood construction and potential in non-residential building market.

By Matthew Harrison
Date Posted: 11/1/2006

   Europe traditionally has been a global leader in everything from cuisine to philosophy. Today, its leaders in the forest products industry are hoping to lead a different kind of green revolution. Their message is simple – Tackle Climate Change: Use Wood.

   Europeans have a reputation for being more environmentally conscious than Americans, yet the construction industry in Europe has tended to favor materials other than wood. Industry leaders are hoping to change that by promoting the environmental benefits of using wood products to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

   The primary leader in this movement is the European Confederation of Woodworking Industries (CEI-Bois). Along with the Confederation of European Forest Owners and the Confederation of European Paper Industries, CEI-Bois has initiated industry-driven research and developed marketing programs aimed at both businesses and elected officials. The primary objective of these efforts is to secure more contracts in the construction industry.

   CEI-Bois Secretary General Filip De Jaeger explained that the organization is working to help builders and architects understand what wood can do for them as well as how it can benefit the environment. One of the largest and most attractive markets for CEI-Bois has been residential construction. CEI-Bois has amalgamated research data on a variety of residential construction variables including framework, roofing, flooring, and even wood windows.

   Particularly, CEI-Bois has concentrated its attention on living with wood, which focuses more on home issues. For example, according to the CEI-Bois, using wood flooring, compared to vinyl or linoleum, greatly reduces global warming potential, acidification potential, and photochemical ozone production potential. CEI-Bois makes similar claims favoring wood over PVC or aluminum for window frames. Furthermore, wood beams actually help absorb carbon emissions, whereas the manufacture of aluminum, concrete, or steel beams produces between one and three times as much carbon emissions as wood beams absorb. The same is true of houses constructed primarily with wooden exterior walls compared to brick veneer or some other type of masonry material.

   Going beyond just home construction, CEI-Bois also promotes the use of wood materials for transport packaging, including pallets and crates.

   The organization has broadcast its message to a variety of audiences with the hope of ensuring growing demand within the European Union for wood products.

   Ironically, CEI-Bois’ green building campaign is based on research from the U.S. Research led by John Perez-Garcia and Bruce Lippke presented a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) of wood compared to other building materials. The study included one house in Minnesota made primarily of steel and another in Atlanta made of concrete. In both cases, wood outperformed steel and concrete in a number of environmental categories, including: embodied energy, global warming potential, air pollution, water pollution and solid waste. (See chart on page 70.)

   Europeans are not the only ones promoting environmental benefits of wood. Although the very successful Wood Promotions Network (WPN) has ceased operations, the industry has merely shifted its focus to green building promotions.

   “The Wood Promotions Network has shut down all of its promotional activities,” said Kelly McCloskey, president and CEO of the WPN. “The decision was made last year to shift our focus to green building, which of course is related and has a wood promotion component to it.”

   Kelly explained that the WPN’s original goal was to target economic threats of competition from steel and concrete as opposed to specific consumer-oriented marketing. After the steel and concrete industries cooled their campaigns, “the pressure was off. The work the WPN had been doing for the last six or seven years was viewed as having had a positive impact.”

   An apparent marketing vacuum existed in the forest products industry, according to Stephen Shook, professional certified marketer and associate professor of forest products at University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources.

   “About 15 years ago (universities) were developing a lot of products and product research, but it wasn’t really getting out there to the industry,” Stephen explained. “From the industry perspective, it was more of a product-oriented approach to getting the product to the market rather than being more market-oriented and defining customer needs and developing and manufacturing products that meet those needs.”

   In response, the forest products industry began conducting a comprehensive market-oriented approach to publicize the benefits of wood and forest products, especially when competing against steel and concrete building products.

   The WPN conducted a campaign from 2000-03 promoting the use of wood in homebuilding. Tactics ranged from print advertising and event sponsorships to direct mail and television. Another tactic, a cooperative effort, was the construction of a ranch-style house in downtown Denver in one day; the event was broadcast to more than 20 television stations, reaching an estimated 30 million viewers.

   The efforts of the WPN produced tangible, positive results. Homebuilders who thought wood was an all-around better building material than steel or concrete increased 13% to 75%. Consumer acceptance of wood as a better building material rose 7% to 81%, according to the WPN. Over the three year campaign, the WPN says it generated more than 530 million impressions of the wood and forest products industry.

   With such success, why stop? At present, it would seem that the overall U.S. forest products industry is content. “Luckily, our domestic markets have been very strong, so we haven’t had to endure a shakeout in the industry,” said Stephen.

   According to the U.S. Forest Service, estimates for total domestic wood products production reached about 234 billion board feet in 2005 while the U.S. consumed nearly 260 billion board feet. The U.S. maintains its status as a global leader in wood production and wood products manufacturing.

   Some analysts, Stephen included, believe the U.S. needs to focus more on exports. According to the Global Trade Atlas, the U.S. was the largest global importer of wood products in 2004, spending nearly $23 billion. The European Union was a distant second with approximately $13 billion. In terms of exports, Canada led the way with over $17 billion. It was followed by the European Union at just over $10 billion and the U.S. at a mere $6 billion. China and Russia are not far behind, either.

   One of the problems right now is that the U.S. exports very little into the overseas market relative to the amount of wood products it produces,” noted Stephen. “So the economic downturn is that if we were to go through a mild recession, U.S. manufacturers would suffer greatly because they have no overseas market to turn to.”

   That is not a major concern for the WPN or CEI-Bois, though. “Of course the international aspect is always there. The trade is international, development is international, so they do have an impact,” conceded Filip. “But for the moment we’re focusing on the European situation.”

   “The WPN was created to reduce business risks and to grow the market longer term,” said Kelly. “Well, we never got to grow the market longer term because there was too much focus on reducing business risk.” The next move for the WPN is centered on green building and the non-residential market. “That’s really where I think the focus is going to move,” he said.

   According to report prepared earlier this year for the Wood Products Council (WPC), “the non-residential market is large, the opportunity to gain share is high, the challenges are not overbearing, and positive results can be achieved in a reasonable length of time.”

   The report notes that only 3.8 billion board feet of lumber and structural panels are used annually in the non-residential market, and the potential gain for lumber and panel usage in this market is estimated at up to 15.9 billion board feet.

   Also outlined in the report are step-by-step initiatives to “saturate the market” by addressing concerns about the environmental aspects of wood, education and training of building codes specifications, solving technical concerns, and providing builders with on-site assistance. Furthermore, the WPC realizes the need for legislation to provide incentives for builders to use wood and improving producer and research involvement in the construction process.

   Stephen noted that a number of smaller wood products organizations are targeting global markets, leaving the domestic market under the greater purview of the WPN.

   “The major associations do have a marketing program, like the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA), the Composite Panel Association, the Engineered Wood Association, the Softwood Export Council,” said Stephen. “They’re very directed.” Some organizations, he noted, can conduct a more focused marketing program, such as the WWPA’s efforts to target the Japanese market and the growing Chinese market.

   The forest products industry, as fragmented as it may be, does appear to be targeting many fronts.

    “Wood has such a good story to tell in terms of life cycle analysis in comparison to the competitive products,” said Kelly with a touch of pride. “We’re in good position, but we still have to work very hard to get the message out.”

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