Sustainability of Shou Sugi Ban Siding at Nakamoto Forestry

Sustainably harvested sugi logs being prepared for milling and burning at our Hiroshima mill facility.

Shou sugi ban and sustainability go hand-in-hand when done right. It sounds paradoxical to state that our wood shipped from Japan has a lower lifetime carbon footprint than locally harvested wood from the West Coast. But it’s true. Our wood’s journey starts in the mountains of Hiroshima, Japan before making its way across the Pacific to Portland, Oregon. Despite the distance our wood travels, we’re still able to keep our overall environmental impact lower than domestic timber.

Hiroshima Cypress Forest Bathing
Nakamoto Family’s Sugi forest in Hiroshima, Japan

Sustainability of Shou Sugi Ban Shipping vs. Trucking

Now don’t get us wrong; we’re all for local, sustainable and craft-made goods and services. But when it comes to lumber, (or more specifically, cladding options) shipping is simply more sustainable than trucking. Take it from MIT:

The best way to reduce freight’s carbon footprint is to focus on what is called the last mile. This is the final part of the journey of goods from regional distribution hubs to local stores or homes. Even though most of the world’s cargo travels by sea, these land vehicles have an outsized impact on carbon emissions. Road freight emits more than 100 times as much CO2 as a cargo ship to carry the same amount of stuff the same distance.

Josué C. Velázquez Martínez, Director of the MIT Sustainable Supply Chains Lab

Despite the distance, the environmental cost of sourcing wood from Canada may actually be greater than from forests in Japan. A large container of our wood from Japan comes across the ocean among thousands of other containers. After they reach Portland, we use trucking services to deliver containers to all different locations across the US and Canada. Often, that same container from Canada would be the only item on the truck, generating much more overall CO2 while traveling to its destination. 

Sustainable planting of Sugi trees on Nakamoto Forestry land in Japan
Nakamoto Forestry’s Sugi Nursery: Late 1960s – Early 1970s

Forest Management

It’s not only our shipping practices that aid in our sustainability as a company. The entire cycle of our product has been carefully developed to mitigate our footprint and care for generations to come. Our work on your project begins decades before we receive your request for samples or a quote. Instead of clear-cutting forests for sugi, we focus on cutting only mature trees, aged 80 years on average, with a diameter substantial enough to produce revenue while still keeping the forest intact. Our mills and overseas facilities are strategically placed near ports for minimal trucking. Our direct control over the entire process gives us the unique authority to make positive changes for the environment. Along every step of the way, we make decisions based on improving the health of our customers and our planet.

If we look end-to-end at the entire cycle of our product, Nakamoto Forestry’s shou sugi ban is more sustainable than most options on the market. Since 2006, Nakamoto Forestry has maintained certification by SGEC (Sustainable Green Ecosystem Council). This is a group whose aim is to improve the level of forest management in Japan. It also supports the development of healthy forests that achieve a rich and natural environment. This then contributes to long-term, sustainable timber production.

Historically, many timber companies in North America have made major contributions to deforestation. Meanwhile, Nakamoto Forestry has been a proponent of afforestation (the increase of forested area) since its beginning. Nakamoto Forestry has converted approximately 2,000 hectares (8 square miles) into forestland inside and outside of the Hiroshima Prefecture.

The afforestation land where Nakamoto Toshio started growing Hachiro Sugi with cuttings for the first time in 1948.
The afforestation land where Nakamoto Toshio started growing Hachiro Sugi with cuttings for the first time in 1948.

Harvesting Method

A critical component of sustainable forestry is using alternative methods of harvesting in lieu of clearcutting. Clear cut harvesting degrades forest health through fragmentation of wildlife habitat, and by severely reducing carbon sequestration. Nakamoto Forestry uses a selective harvest method- better known as a thinning harvest. This means that rather than cutting every tree in the stand, we only remove certain trees. The result is that the logs selected for use for our product are of the highest quality while the remaining trees in the forest have more space and less competition to grow. This reduces disease and mortality, leading to a healthier forest, healthier environment, and a more sustainable future.

Finally, we need to take a look at the life-cycle of a product. Investing in a siding product that will last decades is a much more sustainable option than something that will need replacing in a matter of years. Shou sugi ban is meant to last a lifetime. With proper regular maintenance, it’s entirely likely that our siding will outlive you!

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