Want to Lower Your Carbon Footprint? Use More Wood

Across the world, demand for wood is through the roof. Lumber, biomass and paper products are just a few forest products flying off production lines right now, putting pressure on timberlands and mills to produce a steady flow of this popular resource. On the surface, that might sound like a bad thing. Doesn’t it mean we need to cut down too many trees? Actually, no – as long as forests are sustainably managed. 

Wood is a sustainable and renewable resource, and new breakthroughs in science and technology are allowing us to use it in all kinds of spectacular ways, not the least of which is high rise construction. Manufactured forms of timber like CLT are proving to be as strong and durable as steel and concrete, giving it the potential to dramatically transform what urban architecture looks like.

As The New York Times recently reported, more and more developers are turning to wood, partially for its versatility and partially due to concerns about climate change. Demand for CLT is so high, the number of construction projects using it is projected to double annually to reach more than 24,000 by 2034. CLT makes use of trees that are 12 inches or less in diameter, which happens to align perfectly with recommendations for forest thinning to reduce wildfires. (A recent study found that Eastern White Pine is ideal for use in CLT!)

While steel and cement generate massive shares of greenhouse gases during every phase of their production, wood stores carbon by absorbing it from the atmosphere, offsetting the emission of greenhouse gases. That’s true both in the form of growing forests and even in finished wooden structures and products. In fact, wood products continue to store much of this carbon indefinitely, keeping it out of the atmosphere for the lifetime of the structure. And when the life cycle of a wooden building is complete, its components can be recycled into new objects to keep that carbon locked away.

The American Wood Council explains a little more about carbon storage in working forests:

“When a tree is harvested, some of the carbon stays in the forest and some is removed in the logs. Some carbon is released when the forest soil is disturbed during harvest, and as the roots, branches and leaves left behind begin to decompose. However, once the harvested area is regenerated, the forest once again begins to absorb and store carbon.”

“According to The State of America’s Forests report, less than 2 percent of the standing tree inventory in the U.S. is harvested each year while net tree growth is close to 3 percent. In Canada, less than 1 percent of the managed forest is harvested annually and the law requires regeneration. In both countries, responsible forest management has resulted in more than 50 consecutive years of forest growth that exceeds annual forest removals. As a result of these trends, forests in both countries have sequestered fairly high levels of carbon in recent decades.”

On top of all that, wood is an excellent insulator that can help improve energy efficiency – and people just love it. 

Worried about the potential for fire danger in high rise wood buildings? Read on:

Learn more about how demand for forest products actually helps keep more land forested: