Exploring Sustainable Building

The need to reduce fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions from construction will become increasingly critical as demand for new buildings, bridges and other infrastructure is expected to surge worldwide. Sustainable building can help improve the longevity and the quality of our world’s natural resources.  Green building has already gained popularity in many communities around the world.  In fact, there are skyscrapers with wooden frame in Canada, Norway, and Austria. Wood is a superior building material  and is considered renewable, durable, cost-effective, reusable, recyclable and biodegradable resource. Not only does it take less fossil fuels to produce, but there are other benefits of building with wood such as Carbon sequestration and forest management.

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Wood products make up 47% of all industrial raw materials made, yet consume only 4% of the energy consumed by all industrial materials.  The production and processing of wood uses much less energy than most other building materials, giving wood products a significantly lower carbon footprint. Compared to wood – it takes 5 times more energy to produce one ton of cement and 25 times more energy to produce one ton of steel.  The annual energy cost of steel, concrete and brick production is 16 percent of the total global fossil fuel consumption according to F&ES estimates. Using wood to build homes, offices and furniture could help reduce new carbon emissions and promote a healthier environment.

In addition, Wood combats climate change by storing carbon and providing clean air. Annual forest growth sequesters around 4 gigatons of carbon every year. Along with oceans and other plant life, trees removed approximately 54% of all carbon dioxide created by human activities globally during the period 2000-2007, according to research group The Global Carbon Project. Similar to how forests act as carbon sinks, wooden buildings also sequester carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.  To effectively tackle climate change we must remove carbon from the atmosphere as well as reduce new carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Wood achieves both of these.

Using wood products in green building is also a good way to ensure our forests stay healthy and intact. Overgrown forests vitality can be improved by active forest management, such as thinning, and wood harvested from the activities can be a sustainable supply of wood to produce lumber.  Researchers from UC Merced and elsewhere think that managing healthy growth levels can increase water runoff instead of sucking up the water supply.  Forest that are too dense are also a huge risk for major wildfires, the devastating Rim Fire of 2013. Wood from overgrown forest can be used to increase supplies for sustainable building and help improve forest health and water supply at the same time.

Even the US government is recognizing the importance of wood and sustainable building. Last month, United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new partnership to train architects, engineers and builders about the benefits of advanced wood building materials. “Wood may be one of the world’s oldest building materials, but it is now also one of the most advanced, said Vilsack. “Building stronger markets for innovative new wood products supports sustainable forestry, helps buffer reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and puts rural America at the forefront of an emerging industry.”