Every material thing we use begins with extraction of natural resources and ends with disposal. The only truly renewable and sustainable raw material is wood. The extraction, processing, manufacturing, and eventual disposal of raw materials and goods entails a complex web of economic activity and energy consumption. The full “life cycle” of a particular product describes the impacts of that product from its cradle to its grave. The impacts can have various measures, such as energy consumption, carbon balance, or water use.
Forests grow back after a harvest. Other natural resources such as metal ores, coal, petroleum, and natural gas do not grow back. We can reduce, reuse, and recycle, but only wood is also renewable. The extraction and processing of wood products takes far less energy, carbon, and water than other raw materials. A sustainable managed forest landscape captures solar energy, extracts carbon at no financial cost to us, and produces a wide range of goods and environmental services, including wood, water, and habitat.