The staggering carbon emissions released during the production of cement and steel make the world’s buildings “look like a giant environmental problem,” says a feature in the latest issue of The Economist. With many governments striving to mitigate climate change, or at least its worst effects, radically reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a must.
This is leading to a rise in “zero carbon” building standards all over the world. For example, a new rule went into place on January 1st, 2019 stating that all new public sector buildings in the European Union must be built to “nearly zero-energy” standards, and all other types of buildings will follow in January 2021. But even that isn’t enough.
The answer, state the writers, is wood. No other building material has environmental credentials quite as exciting as this renewable, natural material. Wooden buildings continue to store carbon emissions even after the trees are cut down to construct them, and producing a single laminated wooden beam requires just one-sixth the amount of energy to create a steel one of comparable strength.
“A race is on to build the world’s tallest fully wooden skyscraper. But such edifices are still uncommon. Industry fragmentation, vicious competition for contracts and low profit margins mean that most building firms have little money to invest in greener construction methods beyond what regulation dictates.
Governments can help nudge the industry to use more wood, particularly in the public sector—the construction industry’s biggest client. That would help wood-building specialists achieve greater scale and lower costs. Zero-carbon building regulations should be altered to take account of the emissions that are embodied in materials. This would favour wood as well as innovative ways of producing other materials.
Construction codes could be tweaked to make building with wood easier.”
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