Rising demand for green buildings has positioned wood as a powerful and valuable solution for sustainable structures that doesn’t add unnecessary layers of cost or compromise building performance. Wood is immediately recognized as sustainable by virtue of it being a renewable resource. It grows naturally, and modern forestry standards harvest wood in a sustainable way to preserve the environment of the forest.

Because trees grow across North America, wood can often be sourced locally, reducing transport costs. It weighs less than other structural materials, further reducing the energy used to move it.

Using Wood to Reduce Environmental Impact

When it comes to sustainability in construction, research points to the significant advantage wood has over comparable materials. Those include carbon emissions, effect on water quality and overall environmental impact when measured over the complete life cycle of the structural material.

A separate study looking at the life cycle of building materials used in both cold and warm climates found that total life-cycle emissions for wood houses were lower than comparable houses of concrete (by 31 percent) or steel (by 26 percent), even before accounting for the amount of carbon stored in wood products.

Other research supports wood products as energy-efficient alternatives to those made of concrete and steel: Per square meter of floor space, a wood floor beam requires 80 megajoules of energy, compared with beams made of steel and concrete, which need 516 megajoules and 290 megajoules, respectively.

Meanwhile, carbon emissions for the product are 4 kilograms for the wood version, 40 kilograms for steel and 27 kilograms for concrete. Here are a few ways wood can help reduce a project’s overall environmental impact:

  • Reduced embodied energy. Measured over its lifetime—from material harvest through manufacturing, transportation, installation, use, maintenance and disposal or recycling—wood outperforms concrete in overall carbon footprint reduction.
  • Fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Global life-cycle assessment studies have proven that wood can offer lower greenhouse gas emissions, less air and water pollution, lower volumes of solid waste and less ecological resource use than other materials.
  • Carbon sequestration. When wood is used in a building,the carbon absorbed by the tree as it grew is effectively locked away, often for decades and sometimes even longer.
  • Sustainability certification. Wood can make it easier to attain third-party certification for a project, improving its value and marketability.

Learn more by taking our Building Materials Matter and The Impact of Wood Use on North American Forests CEUs.


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