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What’s the environmental impact of wood pallets?

They are about as sustainable as anything can be and have a positive impact on the environment. Better yet, that’s provable with a new tool from the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association

The life cycle of the wooden pallet is a sustainability success story with a positive impact on the environment, emissions, the economy, and landfill avoidance.

When sustainability is the topic, it’s easy to get in the weeds. And sometimes, as the conversation continues, you can get lost all together.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case recently with Brad Gething and Jason Ortega of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA). Gething, vice president of science and technology, and Ortega, vice president of public affairs, were explaining the NWPCA’s Environmental Product Declaration (EPD).

Hunting for an emoji with a raised eyebrow might be your first reaction to that new acronym. But Gething and Ortega nicely unraveled what the EPD is and why it’s important to pallet producers and users.

The NWPCA’s EPD is an engineered benchmark to quantify the environmental impact of wooden pallets, explains Gething. So far so good.

Ortega continues to say “the EPD is a tool to help companies communicate to others that wooden pallets are the right choice for their efforts to minimize the supply chain’s impact on the environment.” Who can’t get behind that?

They explain that the EPD shows that wooden pallets “potentially have a climate positive effect on the environment. That means wooden pallets may go beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions and actually create an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

No holding back on that claim. So, how exactly is the NWPCA so sure any of this is true?

Gething spent four years working with a range of organizations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service Forest Products Lab, which also worked with ISO. He also worked with NWPCA member companies to collect life cycle data on about 85 million pallets.

“The survey was so extensive that it required the better part of a day of each company to collect all of the information needed,” he notes. Then, scientists from the Forest Products Lab used that data to develop the EPD, which was certified by Underwriters Laboratories.

That’s a lot of work. So why bother? Ortega explains the one key reason.

Plenty of non-verifiable life cycle assessments are out there for many products and processes that companies want to present as sustainable. Different companies measure variables in different ways, killing any comparability between life cycle assessments. So, what’s the point?

“We wanted something rigorous, verifiable and comparable, and that’s what such an involved process delivered,” says Gething. The UL certification doesn’t hurt either.

He goes on to describe the EPD as the equivalent of a nutrition label on food packaging. Or, as another comparison, the EPD is comparable to the LEED certification for buildings. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a green building certification program in more than 100,000 buildings worldwide. You’re likely to have heard of it.

If, however, you have not heard of the NWPCA’s EPD, you are not alone. Unfortunately, it was introduced during Covid lockdowns in 2020, and efforts to make it more visible are only now moving to full throttle, says Ortega.

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