Friday, May 27, 2011

Good wood. What makes wood good? Would you? Could you? Good.

The staple snowboard core material is constructed of wood, mostly hardwoods such as poplar, aspen, birch, and beech. Manufacturers often brag about  how much of the board is constructed of wood (tip-to-tail, boyz), the technology behind the flexibility of the wood (rocker and camber), and the kind of wood used. From a sustainable resource perspective, timber is deeper than just growth rate and carbon sequestration. Wood product and forests are a long-term commitment and how they are managed can determine the success of sustaining future growth and providing long-term economic stability.

So, what kinds wood are we talking and what makes it sustainable?

First the wild card, Paulownia. Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa) aka. Princess Tree is a fast-growing tree that can be harvested in 5 years. It grows up to 40-50 ft. and once harvested, new trees can regenerate from the existing root system (up to 4 or 5 harvests)1. It grows in a variety of soil types (even poor soils and reclaimed sites) in tropical to temperate climate. Paulownia is very attractive to manufacturers because it is rot-resistant and doesn't warp, is 30%  lighter than hardwoods2, and can be dried to 10-12% moisture content in 24 hrs (using less energy to process)3. As far as strength goes, less material is needed, but can meet the same strength as balsa core3. Another positive attribute of paulownia is that is has deep roots that can improve soil stability and water efficiency. It is also used in agroforestry and has shown to improve food production when interspersed with crops4. Several companies involved in global reforestation efforts have used this tree. One nag note-this tree is considered invasive in the southeastern U.S.

Poplar is another tree species used in core construction. There are many kinds of "poplar" of the Populus genus. These include: aspen, balsam, large-tooth, and white poplar. Yellow poplar (Liridendron tulipifera L.) is often lumped in as "poplar" even though is is a different genus.

Aspen (Populus tremaloides Mich.) can be found in Canada and parts of the western U.S. and in the northeastern U.S. to WV and grows in sandy, gravelly slopes. It's height ranges from 66-82 ft, depending on growing conditions. They are fast-growing and short-lived. In intensively managed, thinned stands it is grown in 50-year rotations4. Aspen is smaller in size than other commercial species, but it holds glue well and has a low density. Aspen can reproduce by root suckers5. Yellow poplar is an eastern U.S. hardwood that grows over wide geographic distribution in moderately moist, well-drained soils. At 5 years, trees may be 10-18 ft. (depending upon latitude) and reach pole size at 20-30 years6.

Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) trees are found across northeastern Canada, northeastern U.S. and throughout the Appalachian Mountain range to northern Georgia in the U.S. They grow in well-drained, fertile loams  and in cool areas with abundant precipitation. Birch are found in 3 forest types (Hemlock-Birch, Sugar Maple-Beech-Birch, Red Spruce-Birch). They have a slow growth rate and optimum seed bearing age is 70 years6.  Poplar, birch, and aspen are financially mature at 12-14 years5.

Overall the types of trees that produce the wood used in core construction can take up to 70 years to harvest. How you manage and reforest your forest can determine the sustainable return.

The amount of lumber used in product manufacturing (from a companies perspective) needs to provide enough material to meet the demand of sales. This depends on if you want to produce limited edition, customs or to compete in a mass market. So how much do you need and where do you get it?

A typical person might think, "I have a small forest near my factory, I could just cut a few trees down here and there." Sounds simple enough, but it isn't really responsible or sustaining a future source is it?
So what are your options? You could procure lumber from a standard dealer and ask yourself, "Did they take this from an old growth forest? Did they clear cut? Is this a trash tree that won't perform the way I need it to?" The other option is to procure lumber from a dealer you know thinks about managing their resources to provide social, economic, and environmentally sustaining products.

There are at least two ways to ensure forested products come from a well-managed, respected, and sustainable source: directly from producers that adhere to certifiably sustainable management or through proper chain-of-custody where the lumber seller or producer can trace the lifecycle of the product.

Make sure you check back for the next blog post on certified, sustainable forestry practices!

1. Wikipedia- Paulownia (accessed on May 27, 2011).
2. American Paulownia Association (
5. Aspen Management in Michigan.
6. (vol 2.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Four out of eight immortals use bamboo

I decided that I need to post an addendum to my first bamboo post, partly because one of my friends let me borrow this really cool book on bamboo published in 1984 by David Farrelly called "The Book of Bamboo". Much of the scientific information provided in my earlier text is similar, but this book has some jewels of eastern philosophy related to bamboo and how this plant is really interwoven into the eastern culture.

-If you peer deep enough into the misty peaks of China's past, you'll find Chang Kuo Lao, a mountain hermit who carried a bamboo drum (along with his magical white mule), Han
Hsiang Tzu with his magical bamboo flute, Chung Li-ch'uan whose bamboo fan was one of two remaining items after he decided to burn his house down to set off wandering (The other item was his copy of Tao Te Ching...go figure), and finally Lan Ts'ai-ho a bamboo basket-carrying gypsy and garden protector.

Upon reading this, let me know if your bamboo board grants you any magical jib powers or summons the pow Gods!

-Bamboo Satori. " Wrapped in this emptiness of memory and desire, steeped deep in mountain silences, ears scrubbed with secret scriptures of the dew, one morning clearing his path with his bamboo broom, Kyogen swept a piece of broken tile against a bamboo culm-konk! In that magical moment, the membrane popped between the total texture of reality and his imagined "me". The one hollow klunk echoed...centuries down a sudden amplitude in Kyogen's skull, hollow of its last illusion. As a Buddhist gracefully scribbled once of that same moment when
a mad mind halts:
Time after time
I patched the old bucket.
Tonight, the bottom fell out.
No water. No moon."

So yea, this isn't really related to the topic of sustainability. However, if you decide to shred with a bamboo board you can rest assured that you have zen covered in a few angles :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mervin Snowboards Factory Trip with Tactics

Check out this super cool video of the Mervin Manufacturing factory. Thanks to Tactics!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bamboo snowboards- a sustainable grass?

Bamboo is one of the more popular “sustainable” options used in constructing snowboards, beginning in construction of the snowboard core and often used in topsheets and sidewalls. Out of 46 snowboard manufacturers featured in the Transworld Gear Guide (2010),  nine offered “green” boards constructed or enhanced with bamboo. So, why bamboo? 

Bamboo is actually not wood, but is from the true grass family with over 1,400 species (Nijhuis, 2009). Bamboo grows in diverse climates ranging from eastern Asia, northern Australia, India, and in parts of North and South America (Wikipedia, accessed 2011). It requires moderately moist, well-drained soil and a generally temperate climate. Bamboo is considered sustainable because it is extremely fast-growing, therefore has increased biomass or yield over its wood counterparts over a shorter time period. Depending upon soil and climate conditions, some species are capable of growing 39 inches or more per day and up to 75 feet tall (Nijhuis, 2009). Bamboo grows in clumps and spreads via rhizomes (the underground plant stem that produces shoot and root systems of a new plant, Britannica Online, accessed 2011). It is generally harvested  from 2-7 years vs. approximately three or more times that for a commercial hardwood forest. 

Studies conducted on river terrace soil and upland soil in the southeastern U.S. (Auburn, AL, compared the growth of bamboo vs. loblolly pine in 216 X 216 ft plots. Bamboo yielded 14 tons/acre, while the pine yield was 8 tons/acre. The average bamboo yield varied from 17-54 tons/acre over 15-20 years (Sturkie et al., 1968). The aboveground biomass of a six-year bamboo stand from a separate study ranged from 131-138 tons/ha (over-dried) ~8.8 tons/ha/yr (Scurlock et al., 2000). Geographically, eastern Asia produces higher yields. In one study, the aboveground biomass from Japan was 15.5 tons/ha/yr compared to 7.4 tons/ha/yr in Alabama, US, 9.1 tons/ha/yr in Georgia, US, and 2.2 tons/ha/yr in northern India (Scurlock et al., 2000). In a nutshell, bamboo grows fast and can produce more material for manufacturing. As far as water requirements go, it varies by species; however, in studies the maximum transpiration rate (12 hr/day) was 13 liters/ square meters of soil surface/day (Scurlock et al., 2000). 

Bamboo has recently been praised for its carbon sequestration potential, or the ability to storage carbon via biological processess and storage in the soil. Trees and plants use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis and have the ability to offset carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to some degree. The rate of carbon sequestration of bamboo can equal or surpass that of fast-growing trees over a short time period when actively managed (Yiping et al., 2010). The annual net carbon storage for a newly afforested bamboo plantation (Phyllostachys pubescens) was estimated (via biomass models) at 5.5 tons carbon/ha over five years and sequestered more carbon than Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata) during the first 30 years assuming a managed, harvest stand. If the bamboo was not harvested, the rate of storage potential would have been significantly less (Yiping et al., 2010). The same study determined that the average bamboo forest had a storage capacity ranging from 102 tons carbon/ha/yr- 289 tons carbon/ha/yr (including soil). Most of the carbon was stored in the soil (67-81%) compared to 19-33% in the culms and vegetation. So...bamboo can store carbon at a high rate as well!

Bamboo sounds pretty sustainable, but there are other considerations. 

Most bamboo is grown outside of the US (in order to meet the supply demand for construction), so you still have to ship the bamboo to the place of manufacturing, thereby increasing the use of transportation fuel and carbon emitting sources. While there is some small commercial growth of bamboo in the southeastern U.S., I am unsure of how much of a demand there is to sustain an marketable industry. 

Since bamboo is a grass, it has to be processed which also increases the energy required to process the material before it is ready to be used in manufacturing. The bamboo is harvested  in strips when the sugar levels are low; however, is still needs to be boiled to remove the starch content, and then it is planed, dried, and glued into strips that are pressed and finished (Wikipedia, accessed 2010). 

In addition, bamboo plantations are monocultural, thus biologically less diverse and provide less suitable habitat compared to hardwood forests.

So is bamboo more sustainable? Next post will compare bamboo to the use of wood in snowboard core material and FSC certified and managed stands. 

Stay tuned!!

Nijhuis, M. 2009. Bamboo Boom. Scientific America (7/20/2009).

Sturkie, D.G., et al. 1968.

Scurlock, J.M.O, et al., 2000. Biomass and Bioenergy 19:229-244.

Yiping, L. et al. 2010. Bamboo and Climate Change Mitigation: A Comparative Analysis of Carbon Sequestration. INBAR (International Network for Bamboo and Rattan).