When it comes to a sustainable built environment, material choices matter. Wood is a natural, renewable, and sustainable material for building. Maximizing wood use in both residential and commercial construction could remove an estimated 21 million tons of C02 from the atmosphere annually—equal to taking 4.4 million cars off the road.
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Because 80% of a building’s embodied carbon comes from the structural materials used to build it, building material specification is impactful. Wood performs better than concrete and steel when it comes to both its carbon footprint and air and water pollution. Its low-carbon benefits, and other sustainability advantages, including certified wood, recycled/reused materials, local sourcing of materials, waste minimization, and indoor air quality, make wood one of the best tools in the toolkit to reach net-zero carbon for buildings.
North America has more certified forests than anywhere else in the world. Modern forestry standards ensure a continuous cycle of growing, harvesting and replanting.
Strong markets for wood products encourage forest owners to keep their lands as forests and invest in practices to keep trees healthy. Forest management in the U.S. and Canada operates under federal, state, provincial and local regulations to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, soil and other natural resources. In the U.S., more forest land is lost to development, than forestry.
Wood stores carbon and, with the least embodied energy of all major building materials, it requires less energy from harvest to transport, manufacturing, installation, maintenance and disposal or recycling. Harvesting and replanting increases forests’ carbon sink potential as the rate of sequestration is greater during young, vigorous growth. Active forest management, or forest thinning, mitigates wildfires, cuts carbon emissions, replenishes area waterways, expands wildlife habitat, and creates jobs in rural areas.
Credit: Image excerpted from Decarbonizing Construction presentation, courtesy Gray Organschi Architecture
We've come to respect wood's enormous potential as a powerful tool to mitigate climate change.”
Wood construction can help solve issues our cities are facing like a shortage of low carbon energy efficient buildings, and affordable housing. The number of affordable rentals across the United States fell by more than 60 percent between 2010 and 2016. Repurposing outdated office buildings for residential use and adding new floors is increasingly becoming a popular development approach to address densification. Adding stories to existing buildings is more feasible with timber, compared to alternative materials, because of its lighter weight.
Infill real estate often goes for a premium price, so the economic advantage of building five or six stories using wood is often the only way a project can work financially.