Since international leaders reached a historic climate change agreement at the United Nations meeting in Paris earlier this month, the conversations have shifted toward how to reach the ambitious goals.
For the most part, national, sub-national and local governments, private and public organizations and the general public are all in agreement that much more needs to be done to address climate change and keep long-term global warming to below two degrees Celsius.
The bigger question is how.
How can governments set policy to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? How can industries around the world play a bigger role? What choices can the average person make to reduce GHGs?
In its Speech from the Throne, the Trudeau government announced it would make “strategic investments in clean technology” which is encouraging. The cornerstone of such investments and future policy discussion, such as putting a price on carbon, must include a collective movement to build more with wood.
In North America, the building sector accounts for about 37 per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. That represents a tremendous opportunity to reduce climate change by building more, and specifically taller, buildings with wood. A recent study by a team of scientists from Yale University and the University of Washington estimated that global CO2 pollution could be reduced by between 14 to 31 percent by using wood in place of steel and concrete. Clearly, it’s a massive opportunity.
For years, world-renowned Canadian architect Michael Green, the creative force behind the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George – has championed the benefit of building with wood. Calling it carbon-neutral building, he routinely asks developers to consider the renewable and energy-efficient solutions building with wood presents. Green estimates that a 100,000 square-foot wood building can store 5,300 tons of CO2 and would also contribute 2,100 metric tonnes of avoided GHG emissions that would have been released from using alternative materials. The net carbon benefit of a 100,000 square-foot wood building is the equivalent of taking more than 1,400 cars off the road each year.
Manufacturing processes associated with wood products require less energy overall so they are responsible for far less GHG emissions than conventional materials.
Furthermore, because forests are renewable, any trees that are harvested are regrown, largely ensuring the maintenance of our forest carbon stocks. Best practices in sustainable forest management can also help increase the amount of carbon absorbed by growing forests.
Changes to building codes now permit up to six-storey wood frame buildings, but many buildings will be going even higher because of the development of ultra-strong mass timber products such as cross-laminated timber. For example, the University of British Columbia is currently constructing an 18-storey student residence wood building that at 53 metres (approx. 174 feet) will rank among the world’s tallest wood buildings.
Environmentally-friendly wood-frame buildings have many other benefits as well. They can be built faster, therefore minimizing disruption for urban renewal. They are often less expensive and require fewer workers than other conventional materials. And studies have shown that new wood buildings are safe.
Other products made from wood also store carbon be it traditional furniture or books or new innovative bio-products using wood fibre from car parts to clothing to cosmetics to green chemicals. Using products made from wood will help pave the way to a low carbon economy.
That is especially true for wood construction.
For building developers anxious to reduce their carbon footprint, using wood is the obvious strategic environmental choice. Given the momentum coming out of Paris and the federal government’s commitment to addressing climate change, we are optimistic that policy developers, builders, designers and communities alike will redouble their commitment to building with wood.