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Methodology for evaluating green advertising of forest products in the United States: a content analysis. (Management).

Environmental ("green") advertisements fall into one of three categories: they can express a positive relationship between a product or service and the environment, they can present a corporate image of environmental responsibility, or they can promote a green lifestyle. The forest products industry began publishing "green" ads several years ago. This study, which examined 323 issues of 6 magazines published between January 1995 and March 2000, used content analysis to measure the level of greenness of an individual advertisement and to help give suggestions for increasing it. Methodology was based on the MECCAS model, which describes an effective advertisement. Five levels of "greenness" were defined, ranging from more to less green: extra green, green, light green, green-brown, and brown. Fifty-seven percent of the collected advertisements fell into the extra green and green categories. Suggested improvements include making ads look "green" (using pictures of natural landscapes, animals, and green colors), referring to the production process or recycling stage of the product life cycle (rather than the more commonly mentioned raw material stage), and utilizing animal life or personal health as the basic value promoted by the ad (instead of the overused planet preservation). The authors note an interesting shift in the target audience for the forest products industry's environmental ads, with companies now focusing their advertising mainly on architects.


"Green advertising," or "environmental advertising," can include any advertisement that meets one or more of the following requirements: it expresses a positive relationship between a product and the environment; it presents a corporate image of environmental responsibility; or it promotes a green lifestyle, with or without a reference to a specific product or service of the company (2).

The forest products industry has published environmental ads in diverse media for about 10 years, according to our findings. This investigation focused on environmental advertisements in magazines, where such ads have been found with some regularity since the early 1990s. Although the forest products industry places environmental advertisements in several magazines, we chose to concentrate on only nine with steady environmental advertising during the last 5 years: American Forest, Architectural Record, Builder, Environmental Design & Construction, Journal of Forestry, National Hardwood Magazine, Southern Lumberman, The Merchant Magazine, and Wood and Wood Products. Examining the target audiences of those publications suggests that forest products companies are targeting mainly architects, contractors, landowners, foresters, and other industries further down the value chain.

The push for forest products companies to improve their environmental image among these customer groups has come not only from the growing environmental concern found in the public in general, but also from previously unexpected sources, like competing industries (such as the steel, plastic, and cement industries), which are using environmental appeals to emphasize the negative effects of using wood and to position their own products as environmentally friendly alternatives. For example, in 1997, the steel industry launched a 5-year, $100-million campaign to promote steel, setting a goal of achieving 25 percent of the residential housing market by the year 2002. This market-share growth is expected to be associated with a reduction in the use of wood products. It is important to note the $45-million, 3-year BE CONSTRUCTIVE campaign by 85 forests products companies that aims to promote wood in much the same way the milk-mustache ads boosted the dairy industry (10,13).

The format and content of the environmental advertisements of the forest products companies varies greatly, and finding a way to compare and improve these ads is important because some formats and designs are likely to be more effective than others. Interestingly, despite the diverse target audiences of the analyzed magazines, companies often place the same ads in different types of publications. Therefore, we examined ad designs without specifying which types of magazines they came from.

Content analysis was used for measuring the level of "greenness" of forest products industry environmental ads. Content analysis is a structured way of analyzing the content of a message, in this case, the environmental component of the advertising. Content analysis must be objective, quantitative, and systematic (8,12). The analysis is objective if different analysts obtain the same results from the same data. It is quantitative if the results are amenable to statistical methods, permitting interpretation and inference. Finally, it is systematic if content classes or categories are included or excluded according to consistently applied rules.

To summarize, the objectives of this investigation were to measure the level of greenness of a forest products environmental ad and to help give suggestions for making such ads more effective. Because of the novelty of environmental advertising, we also examined trends in publishing to determine preferred magazines, seasonality, or other publishing patterns. We wanted to find out which companies placed the most environmental ads and what journals they used, as well as whether there was any trend as the years progressed; we expected an increase in the overall number of green ads in more recent years.


The development of the analysis technique used in this project relies primarily on the qualitative data analysis methods developed by Miles and Huberman (11) and applied, among others, by Handfield et al. (5). These methods consist of anticipatory conceptual model development, followed by data collection, reduction, analysis, and conclusions. The conceptual development was based on an unpublished work from the University of Helsinki (4) that adapted the Means-End Chain Conceptualization of Advertising Strategy (MECCAS) model (15) to the analysis of environmental advertising (Fig. 1). MECCAS defines four elements of advertising strategy: the message elements, consumer benefits, leverage points, and driving force, along with a fifth component, the executional framework, which consists of the details of an actual ad. In general, an effective advertisement should communicate each element of MECCAS and the links between those elements.

It is important to define the concepts outlined in Figure 1:

* Message elements: A green consumer is likely to consider all the attributes of a product when making purchase decisions, including aspects related to each part of the product life cycle. The product life cycle includes the following categories, which may be affected by various concerns: raw material (allowed species, forbidden species, sustainable forest, no virgin forest cut, no clearcuts, certified wood); production process (nonpolluting, low emissions, low energy consumption); product packaging, transportation and distribution, consumption, and disposal (reusable, recyclable, decomposable).

* Consumer benefits: The consumer benefits can be divided into three content classes: functional benefits, psychological benefits, and social benefits of the product. Perceived risks are also considered under this category.

* Leverage points: Leverage points link the abstract driving force with more concrete message elements. There are four types of leverage points: rational, moral, emotional, and zeitgeist. Rational points aim at rational issues related to the promoted products of the company. Moral points communicate what is wrong or right. Emotional points use emotions such as fear, love, joy, or pleasure. An ad with zeitgeist points invites readers to join the bandwagon, the trend (zeitgeist in German).

* Driving force: The driving force is the basic value an environmental ad promotes. A well-constructed ad clearly communicates one or more of the three types of driving forces related to environmental concerns: planet preservation, animal life, and personal health (4).

* Executional framework: The executional framework helps communicate the objectives of the advertisement. The components of the executional framework are the structure or layout of the ad, the visuals, and the logos.

One assumption of this research is that because these environmental advertisements target environmentally conscious customers, the more green the ad is, the more effective it is among these customers. Therefore, if a company decides to publish an environmental advertisement, it should be as green (environmental) as possible. The measurement model developed in this study evaluates the greenness of an advertisement based on how well it fits the conditions of an effective environmental advertisement.

The measurement model shown in Table 1 is based on the four key characteristics suggested by the MECCAS model. These characteristics involve different priorities; that is, they lead to four different levels of greenness. The more levels (requirements) that an ad meets, the greener it is. The first level, level A, defines whether an ad has any greenness or not. Levels B through D determine the increasing greenness of the ad. All advertisements begin their evaluation as brown. Steps A through D explain how the advertisements were evaluated.

A) The first general consideration for a potential environmental ad is that the environmental claim should be an important feature of the ad. Normal commercial ads with an environmental claim hidden within a paragraph or in one corner show no environmental conviction and can hardly be considered environmental ads; such ads are defined as brown advertisements. Ads with a prominent environmental claim are at least green-brown ads.

B) With respect to the executional framework, an advertisement must "look green" in order to be effective; that is, it should have at least one of the following characteristics (4):

* It should include pictures of plants or animals, natural landscapes, or children.

* It should include intensive use of green.

* The headline should be environmentally related, referring to an environmental fact or promise.

Ads that meet requirements A and B are at least light green.

C) The third issue is that the life cycle of the company's product should be mentioned in the advertisement. Ads that meet requirements A, B, and C are green advertisements.

D) The final consideration is that the ad should address an environmental driving force through clear leverage point(s). Advertisements that meet this requirement along with A and B (but not C) are still green ads. To be extra green, an advertisement must meet all four requirements.


The forest products industry publishes environmental advertising in diverse media, but this study was limited to magazine advertisements. A time frame of 5 years was considered appropriate because it allowed us to evaluate changes or tendencies over time. The final analysis included a somewhat longer period, from January 1995 until March 2000. Although the forest products industry places environmental advertisements in several magazines, we found only nine with steady environmental advertising during the last 5 years. Ultimately, the research focused on six magazines: Architectural Record, Builder, Environmental Design & Construction, Journal of Forestry, Southern Lumberman, and Wood and Wood Products; complete sets of the other three magazines --American Forest, National Hardwood Magazine, and The Merchant Magazine -- were not available. The six remaining magazines still form a good sample because they cover the principal audiences: architects, contractors, landowners, foresters, and so on. During the analysis period, the 6 magazines published 332 issues. Of these, we checked 323 issues; only 9 could not be reviewed (2.7%). Environmental Design & Construction, which began publishing in January 1998, was the only magazine without issues dating back to January 1995.

The review consisted of a page-by-page check of each magazine. Only advertisements of at least half a page were considered; smaller sizes restricted information quantity too severely, making comparisons inadequate. We kept track of several characteristics of green ads, including the company and the publishing magazine and the date of publication, as well as characteristics of the ad that would permit the green assessment. Although it was not required for application of the proposed methodology, we also kept track of the types of message elements, leverage points, and driving forces used in the ads; we expected this to be important information for suggesting improvements in ad design.

We found 186 environmental ads placed by the forest products industry, roughly one ad for every 2 issues. These 186 ads included 91 original designs; that is, each design was used twice, on average. Given the high repetition rate for other commercial ads, the rate for environmental ads was unexpectedly low.

One important characteristic of the data became apparent only after the information was collected. In March 1998, a new type of ad appeared: the certification advertisement. Because this type of advertising was new, these ads split the data set in two: ads before and ads after this advertising appeared. A more important problem involves the purpose of these ads: they communicate the advantages landowners or forest companies would gain from certification. Our methodology evaluates advertisements promoting environmentally friendly forest products or an image of corporate environmental responsibility. Advertisements from certification agencies do not meet this definition, and we thus omitted them from the analysis. The total number of analyzed ads therefore decreased to 158.


Because including multiple ads as examples was not considered feasible, we provide a brief description of the ads based on the various criteria in the measurement model.

* Headline: The headline greatly influences the effectiveness of an ad because it is often the only part read (6). Headlines of sampled advertisements varied greatly, but they generally contained environmental elements. Humor was common; one example was the headline of an ad for the "Western Wood Works" campaign -- "They don't grow on trees, you know" -- with a picture of several steel bobbins, emphasizing the renewable characteristics of wood.

* Executional framework/Format: The format of the environmental advertisements was also diverse. Although the "Western Wood Works" example showed no natural landscape, the executional framework requirement was met through the environmentally related headline. In other ads, natural landscapes, evergreen forests, and running water were common pictures or backgrounds. Others used pictures of endangered animals, such as the spotted owl. Finally, some companies used pictures of small children in their advertising.

* Product life cycle: Most of the advertisements that mentioned product life cycle referred to the product's raw material stage. In that respect, "sustainability" and "renewable" were common expressions. Recent advertisements may emphasize the third-party certification characteristics of their company's practices.

* Leverage points: Most of the advertisements use a rational argument as a leverage point to support the driving force the company advocates. For example, Palco's environmental advertisements explain the actions Palco takes to protect the environment, specifically wildlife; these actions have included donating private land for public enjoyment as a park. Other advertisements use other leverage points; the pictures of small children in the Jim C. Hammer ads involve an emotional leverage point, where the reason for supporting the driving force -- planet preservation -- is the children.

* Driving forces: Planet preservation, the most common driving force used, is expressed in forms such as "responsibility to the future" or "sustaining our forest, sustaining our future." The last is the headline of one advertisement of International Paper.


The use of judgment-based data is common in several areas of marketing research, e.g., survey research, content analysis, consumer behavior research, and meta-analysis (14). Because results need to be objective -- that is, different judges should obtain the same results from the same data -- interjudge reliability, or "the percentage of agreement among several judges processing the same communications material" (8), becomes an important issue. There are several ways to measure this reliability. One common measure (2,8) is the ratio of agreements to the total number of decisions. Kassarjian (8) recommends that interjudge reliability values be greater than 80 percent.

We tested our methodology using a team of four judges, including E.R. Wagner, the first author of this paper. All four judges were graduate students, but only two had a marketing background. The procedure began with Wagner handing each of the other judges a written explanation of the methodology and implementation and explaining the methodology using an actual ad. The other judges then had the opportunity to ask questions and suggest improvements in the written explanation of the technique. Another three ads were used as a pilot study (following the procedure applied by Banerjee et al. [2]). Each of the judges evaluated each of the three ads; afterwards, reasons for dissent were discussed. Although large disagreements between judges were uncommon, an ad often received, for example, three green evaluations and one light green. Judges perceived the ads differently even though they were trying to apply the rules as accurately as possible. The following reliability decision was therefore used: The evaluation of an individual advertisement would be considered reliable if the measurements fell in no more than two adjacent categories, for example, extra green and green. The final evaluation of the ad would be the category with the more frequent answer. Ties would be resolved by common agreement. It is important to note that other quality assessment techniques involving teamwork accept a certain level of disagreement between judges. A good example is Quality Function Deployment (QFD) (3). In this technique, judges estimate the degree of relationship between many pairs of concepts. The final decision on the degree of relationship for a pair of concepts is reached through realistic consensus; most team members agree and the rest can live with the decision.

Each researcher evaluated the remaining ads independently (73 original designs; 151 published and previously unseen advertisements). Although the literature recommends an interjudge reliability of 80 percent, those recommendations were generally based on cases with only two judges and/or just a few categories (2,14). The greater the number of judges and categories, the larger the probability of disagreement. The reliability measurement for the four judges together was 49 percent (36 agreements Out of the 73 ad designs). On the other hand, when only the evaluations of the two judges with a marketing background were considered, reliability increased to 84 percent (61 agreements out of 73 ad designs). Therefore, we decided to consider the evaluations of only these two judges.


The 151 analyzed advertisements were published by 34 forest products companies or associations (for example, the American Forest and Paper Association). Some of these companies published more environmental advertisements than others; those with 10 or more such ads were the American Forest and Paper Association, CanFibre, Coastal Lumber Company, International Paper, Trus Joist Macmillan, and Weyerhaeuser.

Surprisingly, the number of ads was fairly constant on a yearly basis; in 1999, however, numbers were twice the previous averages (Table 2) (the 10 advertisements from the year 2000 are omitted because they do not represent a complete year). When certification ads are excluded, the numbers still increase in 1999, but not so dramatically (Table 2). We expected an increase during recent years, but the increase in 1999 is not enough to indicate a trend. As we discuss in the next section, Architectural Record and Environmental Design & Construction recently published a large number of forest products industry environmental ads. The decrease in such ads in some of the other analyzed magazines explains the similarity in green ad numbers across different years. Figure 2 shows results of the measurement model calculated for the 73 original advertisement designs. The figure includes only the ratings by the two judges with a marketing background. All categories of greenness were represented, but extra green (40% of adv ertisements) and brown (23%) were dominant. The greenness distribution changes when repetitions are included; that is, when all 151 published advertisements are examined (Fig. 3). In this case, extra green is still the dominant category (33%), but both the green (25%) and brown (28%) categories increase in importance.

Of the ads that mentioned product life cycle, 67 percent referred to the raw material stage (Table 3). Of those that made use of a leverage point, 69 percent mentioned a rational one, and of those reporting a driving force, 70 percent referred to planet preservation (Table 3).

The bottom row of Table 3 shows the total number of advertisements that refer to any element of a given category (product life cycle, leverage points, or driving forces). Achieving higher levels of greenness (green and extra green) requires addressing some stage of the product life cycle and/or using a leverage point to address a driving force. Just under half the 151 published advertisements (73 ads) mentioned product life cycle, and about a third (56 ads) referred to a driving force; in general, the ads that mentioned a driving force also referred to a leverage point (54 ads). These low numbers explain why approximately 40 percent of the ads achieved only the lower categories of greenness: light green, brown-green, and brown.


Companies tended to have favorite magazines. Interestingly, several companies, especially those that had not previously published environmental advertisements, are now publishing environmental ads, primarily in two magazines: Architectural Record and Environmental Design & Construction, which suggests a change in interest toward a target audience of architects. The Journal of Forestry ads represent a different case. This magazine is the preferred target for certification ads, which appeared only at the beginning of 1998 and were not considered in our analysis. Environmental advertising by the forest products industry was not seasonal. The large number of advertisements in August was the only data point outside the 95 percent confidence interval. The straightforward explanation for this difference is that in August 1996 and August 1997, the "Building with Wood" campaign published 12 environmental advertisements in response to an advertising campaign by the insulation industry, all in the same magazine (Builder ). Although the levels of greenness do not differ significantly between Figures 2 and 3, they do suggest an interesting phenomenon: extra green ad designs appear to be repeated less frequently than brown designs. If we accept that a greener ad is more effective, this pattern suggests that marketers lack information about the effectiveness of their ad designs; otherwise, they would repeat the extra green ad designs more often.

It is important to note that the majority of the analyzed ads were company- or organization-specific. The 91 original advertisement designs can be categorized as 10 forest certification ads (Forest Stewardship Council or Certified Forest Products Council) (11%), 28 product-specific ads (30.8%), and 53 company-or organization-specific ads (58.2%). Analysis of the advertising by product type was not performed because of the low percentage of product-specific ads.

Kahle (7) commented that measurements of advertising effectiveness may be improved by assessing how successfully the ads tie meanings to personal values. This implies something interesting: if the same ad is to be effective in all the magazines, the audiences should have the same core values. As we have pointed out, a single ad design was used an average of only twice, but sometimes ads were repeated more often and placed in different magazines. It is beyond the scope of this investigation to assess the values of diverse audiences, but it seems advisable to use different designs for ads directed toward architects (for example) than for those aimed toward foresters.

Our technique provides a relatively simple method for evaluating the greenness of environmental ads. The validity of a methodology depends on the extent to which it measures what it is intended to measure (8). Therefore, it is important to determine whether the methodology is objective, quantitative, and systematic, as required for content analysis (8):

* Objective: The interjudge reliability of this study was 84 percent, but only for judges with a marketing background. Judgment-based data and interjudge reliability depend on the skill and motivation of the judges (14), which were issues in this study. During evaluation, judges without a marketing background tended to be more skeptical about the ads' environmental messages than judged with a background in marketing; this phenomenon led to differences among the judges. This problem could not be solved even when we explained that the methodology was not designed to measure the companies' sincerity; we aimed only to evaluate the design of the ads. The non-marketing judges had trouble focusing on the rules of the coding exercise. Other authors point out that training of coders strongly affects the reliability and validity of content analysis studies (1,9). In our case, the training should have focused not only on the technique itself, but also on avoiding preconceptions about the ads. Nevertheless, our reliabili ty measure implies that if an ad receives an evaluation of, say, light green, it is probably somewhere within the green to green-brown range.

* Quantitative: Our methodology permits an assessment of greenness based on incremental requirements, allowing the ad to move from one category to the next. The incremental scale has advantages over mere addition of attributes. For example, if an environmental ad can have 10 different attributes, an ad with only 1 of those attributes would have a value of 1. One problem with such numerical or interval scales is that two different advertisements could both have the same total, say seven, originating from different sets of attributes. Although both ads would have the same level of greenness, some attributes might be "stronger" than others, which would be difficult to assess. The proposed model is based strictly on an accepted model, the MECCAS model, which specifies a certain hierarchy of ad elements, with the leverage points and driving forces as the more abstract ones (highest in the hierarchy). A good methodology prevents different judges from taking different directions in their assessment. The hierarchical methodology proposed here has the advantage of promoting a fixed pattern of thinking, thus overcoming the problem of using an interval scale by defining ordinal measurements. The difference between extra green and green need not be the same as that between, say, green and light green; the categories need only have increasing greenness.

* Systematic: Five levels of greenness were defined. The number of categories was a natural outcome of the four requirements of the model (Fig. 1): the general requirement, the executional framework, the message elements (product life cycle), and the driving forces (addressed through leverage points). The absence of all four categories defines a fifth, leading to five incremental levels of greenness. It is important to note that one element of the modified MECCAS model -- consumer benefits -- was not included in this analysis because all useful requirements originating from this element were covered in other categories.


If a forest products company decides to publish an environmental ad, it should be as green as possible. Several patterns apparent in the analyzed advertisements suggest possibilities for improvement (Table 1):

* An environmental ad must look "green." Some environmental ads that were otherwise well constructed failed in not having extensive use of green colors, pictures of animals or natural landscapes, or an environmentally related headline, which are all conditions for a good executional framework.

* Of the advertisements that referred to the product life cycle, 67 percent alluded to the raw material stage. Only a few referred to the production process or to consumption or disposal of the product. Companies can differentiate their ads by referring to these later stages of the product life cycle.

* The most important problem in the analyzed advertisements was their failure to correctly express the driving force through a clear leverage point. This expression is important because the driving force is always abstract; it needs a leverage point to link it with the more concrete message elements. In the example given previously, pictures of small children served as an emotional leverage point, with the reason for supporting the driving force -- planet preservation -- being the children.

* Most ads that do mention a driving force focus on planet preservation, using a rational leverage point as support. Companies can differentiate their ads by using other driving forces (animal life, personal health) and other leverage points, such as moral or emotional ones.
Figure 2

Levels of greenness of the 73 original advertisement designs.

Extra Green 40%
Green 17%
Light Green 12%
Brown-Green 8%
Brown 23%

Note: Table made from pie chart
Figure 3

Levels of greenness of the 151 published advertisements.

Extra green 33%
Green 25%
Light green 9%
Brown-green 5%
Brown 28%

Note: Table made from pie chart

Measurement model.

 A B C D

 Important Executional Product Driving
 environmental framework life force and
 claim (looks "green") cycle leverage point

Extra green [check] [check] [check] [check]
Green [check] [check] [check]
Green [check] [check] [check]
Light green [check] [check]
Green-brown [check] [check]
Green-brown [check] [check]
Green-brown [check]

Number of environmental advertisements in the 6 magazines analyzed.

Year 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999

No. of ads 31 23 30 33 59
No. of ads minus the 31 23 30 25 43
 certification ads

Specific elements of the product life cycle, leverage points, and
driving forces (for a total of 151 published advertisements).

 Product Leverage points
life cycle
 (%) (%)

 Raw material 67 Rational 69
 Production process 25 Moral 9
Packaging/transport/ Emotional 20
 distribution 1
Consumption/disposal 7 Zeitgeist 2
 100 100
 Total 73 ads Total 54 ads

 Driving forces

 Raw material Planet preservation 70
 Production process Animal life 19
Packaging/transport/ Personal health 11
 Total Total 56 ads


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E.R. WAGNER (*), E.N. HANSEN (*)

(*.) Forest Products Society Member.

The authors are, respectively, Graduate Research Assistant and Associate Professor, Dept. of Wood Science and Engineering, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, OR 97331. This is paper 3442, Forest Res. Lab., Oregon State Univ. The authors would like to thank Jane Thomas for editorial assistance and Kristen R. Douglas, editor of Environmental Design and Construction, for providing a complete set of past issues for this study. The authors would also like to acknowledge XiaoDong Zhou for his early efforts in developing this study. This paper was received for publication in December 2000. Reprint No. 9235.

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Author:Wagner, E.R.; Hansen, E.N.
Publication:Forest Products Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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