Sunday, July 26, 2009

Timber body under fire over climate aid claims

Adam Morton

The Age, July 27, 2009

A TIMBER industry body is being investigated over claims it misled the public by asserting that buying wood products helps the fight against climate change.

The consumer watchdog has asked Forest & Wood Products Australia to respond to allegations it made two deceptive claims: that the carbon dioxide stored in trees is locked up when they are logged and converted into wood products, and that forestry is one of Australia's most greenhouse-friendly industries.

The "Wood. Naturally Better" print advertisement campaign was based on variations on the slogan "It's more than attractive furniture. It's a helping hand in climate change."

It prompted a complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission by the Wilderness Society, backed by advice from community legal service, the Environment Defenders Office.

Wilderness Society forest campaigner Luke Chamberlain said the advertisements were "clear green washing", and failed to reflect that logging old-growth forest resulted in larger greenhouse gas emissions than plantation harvesting. "It's like somebody bulldozing a house, making a fruit bowl and saying: 'Isn't this great, I've made a fruit bowl from the rubble'," he said.

"Eighty-five per cent of what comes out when native forests are logged ends up as woodchips, waste and sawdust and most of the carbon is lost during the forest burn and the creation of woodchips."

He said suggestions that forestry was a carbon-positive industry were "unsubstantiated and debatable".

Forest & Wood Products Australia managing director Ric Sinclair said the complaint was baseless, citing a Federal Government report in 2005 that found forestry was Australia's only carbon-positive industry.

He said the advertisements made no claims about emissions from forest waste. They aimed to improve the public's poor understanding of the role timber products could play in storing carbon.

The organisation last week published its own research that found timber in Australian houses stored about 100 million tonnes of carbon, adding about 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year as new houses are built. "We're not interested in making misleading claims. Our campaign is based on science," he said.

"It is a statement of fact that wood products store carbon — half the dry weight of wood is carbon. We're trying to get people to be conscious about their purchase choices."

In a reply to the complaint, the consumer commission said it had not yet formed a view about the claims. It said it had told the wood products body it needed to make sure its claims could be substantiated.

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