OOS 74-8
A landscape design approach for assessing trade-offs and sustainability of woody biomass production from forests in the southeastern United States

Thursday, August 13, 2015: 4:00 PM
317, Baltimore Convention Center
Keith L. Kline, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN
Virginia Dale, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Esther Parish, Environmental Science Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN
Background/Question/Methods:  The use of woody biomass for energy from forestry operations in the Southeastern United States (SE US) has grown rapidly over the past five years; wood pellet exports to Europe more than doubled. This presentation addresses the following research questions: What conditions support or hinder the environmental, social and economic sustainability of this sector? What assessment approaches provide useful results to both industry and civil society organizations concerned about sustainability? How can trade-offs between ecological impacts and other categories be assessed? How can current concerns and disputes be resolved? ORNL’s Center for Bioenergy Sustainability initiated a project (2014-2017) that is collaborating with private industry and other researchers in Europe and the US to address these questions. The team is considering recent trends in forest sector economics and land-cover change, applying landscape design principles, and analyzing data associated with a defined set of sustainability indicators to answer the research questions. 

Results/Conclusions: Our preliminary findings suggest that (a) controversies and potential market barriers are linked to biodiversity, carbon balance accounting, certification schemes acceptable to European nations, and terminology (e.g., waste, residue, thinning, whole tree, natural forest, wetlands); (b) several factors limit the ability of conventional life-cycle assessment (LCA) to provide the answers needed by decision makers; (c) an alternative approach applying landscape design principles may offer several advantages; (d) however, there are costs and barriers to applying a landscape design approach; and (e) the selection of sustainability indicators, definitions, and choice of a “reference system” are critical factors influencing assessment results. Our study considers forestry-based best management practices, forest certification and sustainability certification and how these programs might be adapted to address evolving social and regulatory demands. A landscape design approach offers an option to promote continual improvement and a platform capable of addressing concerns about social, environmental and economic sustainability of woody biomass for energy. We will discuss recent trends and how future scenarios could be influenced by the results of this and similar sustainability assessment work.