By CEI-Bois and UK TTF

Timber buildings have already been built that are more than 18-storeys in height, thanks to the development of new, innovative, engineered wood products – and will reach even greater heights this century.

Image credit: v2com Newswire

Image credit: v2com Newswire

Contemporary urban areas now enjoy buildings using wood at height and at scale. Products such as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), Glued Laminated Timber (Glulam) and Laminated Veneered Lumber (LVL), have the structural strength of steel and concrete with the added advantages of being light in weight, thus not requiring such substantial foundations or significant transport to move.

Timber and timber frame buildings can be prefabricated in offsite factories, requiring fewer deliveries to site and have quicker on-site assembly times, with far less dust and noise to disturb other local residents.

Wood offers modular possibilities to redesign and modernise buildings via additional storeys, roof extensions and interior refurbishment, maximising the lifespan of existing buildings and reducing the need for demolition. Recovered wood also has the potential for reuse in the manufacture of new products extending the time the carbon is stored.

Despite some mistaken perceptions and rhetoric finished timber buildings have no greater fire risk than concrete and steel buildings.

Europe’s forest areas have increased by 10% over the last 30 years, at a rate of 643 thousand hectares per year.

Likewise, in the United States and Canada sustainable forest management has resulted in more than 50 consecutive years where growth has exceeded harvest.

This growth has been encouraged by the commercial management of forests for timber and other forest products.

Policy recommendations:

We are calling on political leaders and policy makers in every country to recognise forests and the global wood and forest industries as a major solution toward a more climate-resilient economy. This can be achieved through the following policies:

  1. Embed mandatory lifecycle assessments and embodied carbon thresholds within local and national building plans. Only by measuring our environmental impacts will we be able to manage and steadily reduce our impact. These should be measured according to common metrics using existing tools, such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPD).
  2. Increase the use of wood within new build and renovation. There is a need for affordable homes all over the world. Up-scaling must be done in a cost and climate effective way, using off-site, industrial prefabrication based on light, high quality, easy to transport, and sustainable, wood-based solutions. This will allow for less disturbance next to construction sites, reduced waste and increased affordability.
  3. Drive the growth of the bio-based circular economy through sustainable public procurement. Harnessing government spending to advantage climate-friendly solutions for construction and renovation of the building stock will allow investment and rapid expansion of the sector, thus supporting societal climate reduction goals.
  4. Facilitate resource efficient use of wood and wood recycling, especially collection and sorting in municipalities, and develop measures to gain access to post-consumer wood, an invaluable secondary raw material resource. The recovery and reuse of wood helps to prolong carbon storage and maintain availability of resources for further life cycles. Using the same wood multiple times is the most efficient use of this natural, sustainable and precious resource.
  5. Increase training to upskill workers and create new jobs to boost the development of a sustainable and circular bioeconomy. New areas such as modern renovation and prefabrication require different skillsets and knowledge bases. Enhancing training and education is essential to a) create more sustainable, green jobs, b) develop the new skills in nature-based materials and c) improve the traditional manufacturing in wood industries.

In conclusion, wood must be adopted more widely in the global built environment. The potential climate impacts of using more wood and wood-based materials are immense: they offer solutions based on existing business models and proven technology which simultaneously store carbon and substitute fossil resources and thus can diminish the CO₂ emissions caused by the global building stock.

‘Growing our low-carbon future: Time for Timber’ was produced by CEI-Bois and UK TTF