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9 Reasons Why Wood Can Be Seen As A Sustainable Building Material


Wood can be a more sustainable building material than cement or glass. Have you seen any of the recent positive press about the sustainability benefits of building in wood? Especially in the Nordics a lot of research has gone into government initiatives supporting wood and timber construction. And building sustainably is a worthy cause; currently, the construction industry has a lot to answer for as buildings & construction account for 39% of world carbon emissions (see here). Construction is also an industry that has historically struggled with productivity: something we’re obviously passionate about addressing through BIM software and our own wood modeling software. Check out these nine reasons why wood can be a sustainable building material choice.

1. The carbon sink effect of building in timber

  • Building in wood can help with climate stabilization: timber efficiently absorbs and binds carbon from the CO2 in the air.
  • ScienceDaily recently published a study showing how buildings can actually function as a global carbon sink if they are made out of wood instead of cement and steel (source here)
  • By harvesting and engineering timber into buildings, building in wood can help bind CO2 from the atmosphere into timber.
  • As the scientific study highlights, “A five-story residential building structured in laminated timber can store up to 180 kilos of carbon per square meter, three times more than in the above ground biomass of natural forests with high carbon density.”

2. Wood manufacturing requires little external energy

  • The manufacture of wood and timber is done in such a way that little external energy is used. There is no need for complex extraction processes or destructive actions like mining.
  • Unlike costly and time-consuming processes like extraction and refinement needed for other building materials, wood is relatively easy to harness and make into timber.

3. Using local materials is better

  • Wood can also be harvested nearby, reducing the number of miles traveled in order to obtain building materials. Travel can be a huge environmental burden.
  • In many countries, trees and timber are an abundant natural resource that can be found nearby. Planting new trees is relatively easy and often encouraged, as long as some of the trees planted are left to grow.

4. Wood is the only renewable building material

  • Let that sink in for a second. Not only versatile, wood is the only construction material that literally grows on trees. If replanting is managed with care, the timber used for construction can be used as a catalyst for the planting of even more trees.
  • In contrast, the production of cement and steel causes a lot of greenhouse gases.
  • Even just increasing the ratio of wood to other non-renewable materials like brick, glass, or steel in a building, can help make it more sustainable.

5. Recyclable building material

  • If designed well and not treated, wood is a very recyclable building material. Unlike some other popular building materials, wood is easy to dispose of and re-use.
  • Wood also lasts a long time and it is very versatile: it can be adapted to a wide range of residential and commercial building scenarios and features. Many popular building elements can be replaced by wooden or timber ones.

6. Lower carbon emissions

  • Keeping energy inside buildings is a very important sustainability goal. Energy that escapes through poor building or insulation is wasted energy.
  • Timber apartment buildings are shown to have 40% lower carbon emissions than concrete buildings when comparing two 4-storey buildings (details here.)

7. Emissions need to be cut in the raw materials phase

  • Making up that carbon emissions figure of 39%, 11% comes from the raw materials used in buildings and the construction process itself, whereas the rest 28% comes from building use, e.g. heating: known as ‘operational emissions’. (See the World Green Building Council report).
  • Though there has been a lot of media surrounding operational emissions, the industry itself is shifting the focus to cutting emissions from the raw materials and construction phase.
  • Could wood be the potential answer? As a potentially more sustainable building material, it could help the industry meet its environmental goals.

8. Helps with urbanization challenges

  • Instead of glossy glass buildings that are expensive to heat, wooden skyscrapers provide a viable alternative.
  • In fact, the case for investing in building in wood is particularly strong when looking at areas like larger apartment blocks, public buildings, halls, bridges etc.
  • We have an exciting opportunity to really embrace wood and timber as a universal building material and invest in wooden public buildings.

Mjøstårnet in Norway in March 2019: the world’s tallest timber building at 85.4 meters. The building is made out of a mixture of glued laminated timber and cross-laminated timber.

9. Encouraged by government policy

  • In the Nordics, building in wood is positively encouraged by various ministries and organizations.
  • Increasing wood construction is a publicized goal of Finnish Ministry of Environment (see here). Practical steps like updated fire safety codes and a preference for wood in public buildings is helping stoke the fires of wood building enthusiasts.
  • And it’s not just Finland: the World Green Building Commission and other Nordic countries agree and wooden ‘skyscrapers’ like Mjøstårnet pictured above are modernizing the image of wooden buildings around the world (great news for us ArchiFrame users!).

Further reading on wood building sustainability

Interested in wood as a sustainable building material? Here are some further reading resources.


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