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Net Carbon Accounting

Synergies: All other pathways

A comprehensive approach to calculating the net carbon profile of wood, taking into account the forestry practices, all production processes, transportation, and manufacturing (i.e. stages A1-A3). Importantly this must also include the land-use factors that may add carbon costs in terms of carbon opportunity cost of productive landscapes. A systems thinking lens is vital to this approach to capture unforeseen consequences and counterintuitive behaviours. For example, growing interest in mass timber buildings (see Box #2 in Background Document) calls for an in-depth analysis to determine their true climate impact.

Sustainability Benefits

A clear and accurate carbon footprint of a wood product, at different stages of its life, is a challenging but essential aspect of an Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that includes wood components. To make global progress on climate change we will need to continually invest in and orient these processes, their accuracy and systemic relevance. As LCA frameworks are also able to assess climate impacts beyond carbon, this pathway allows cities to factor in embodied pollution and embedded chemicals in the wood products they source.


  • Geographic differences, supply and demand fluctuations, and land use impacts make a true reading of carbon impacts very complex.

  • Limits on city staff time and expertise may require external support (conversely this may be a growth area for city agencies).


  • Various models are under development that will allow comprehensive accounting of the whole life cycle of wood products sourced from different areas and management. Some accounting models may be developed by the seller (1st party verification) or may be verified by a 3rd party certifying body using an existing standard. (See Verification Matrix)

How to Evaluate?

  • Level One: Require environmental product declarations (EPD) or health product declarations (HPD) in project tendering OR use available data to make an initial carbon calculation.

  • Level Two: Select a wood source that provides an LCA with the product or conduct an LCA for the project that includes biogenic carbon and covers all life-cycle stages.

  • Level Three: The use of LCAs and their social, ecological, and economic benefits in public and/or private projects is promoted in city/project communications where appropriate. Build capacity and awareness of sustainable and climate outcomes of large-scale LCA uptake.

Whole Forest Carbon.webp

Example: Whole Forest has created an embodied carbon calculation method that help customers understand the amount of carbon sequestered in the rainforest by using the square footage of wood specified for a project.

Actions to Include Pathway 

  1. Review the Systems Thinking Approach to Carbon Accounting of Wood Products.

  2. Create a Wood Needs Report that outlines the anticipated demands of the project.

  3. Create a matrix of potential wood choices including quantities, sizes, anticipated price, etc.  

  4. “Do the math” using an approved carbon accounting framework. Start with a basic assessment, then add details. Use the Net Carbon Accounting resources in the Background Document to start the process.

  5. Connect and collaborate with the city’s climate action planning team to understand relevant inputs.

  6. Work with consultants and/or contractors to conduct an LCA, using available online tools or a custom approach with professional consultants.

Use in Policy Making

  1. Require EPDs or HPD in city wood procurement policy.

  2. Establish priority for demonstrably low-carbon wood products and/or in wood procurement policy.

  3. Require full LCA for new public buildings covering all life-cycle stages.

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