A large-scale shift to using wood in construction could significantly reduce the sector’s environmental impact, a new study has found.
Building generates roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions – 10-times more than air traffic. Using wood instead of conventional materials could slash emissions by effectively storing millions of tonnes of carbon, according to the researchers at Aalto University and the Finnish Environment Institute.
If 80% of new residential buildings in Europe were made of wood, and wood was used in the structures, cladding, surfaces, and furnishings of houses, the buildings would store 55m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the researchers said – equivalent to about 47% of the annual emissions of Europe’s cement industry.
“This is the first time that the carbon storage potential of wooden building construction has been evaluated on the European level, in different scenarios,” said Ali Amiri, who is completing his doctorate at Aalto University. “We hope that our model could be used as roadmap to increase wooden construction in Europe.”
The researchers said the share of wooden buildings would need to grow steadily to 80% by 2040 to store 55m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
“Energy efficiency is the most frequently used instrument for measuring the environmental impact of buildings,” a research announcement said. “However, energy efficiency requires more insulation, efficient recovery of heat, and better windows. In fact, about half of the carbon footprint… occurs before anyone has even lived in them.
“When the energy used in housing comes increasingly from renewable sources, the significance of the construction phase of the building’s total environmental impact grows even more.”
Researcher Juudit Ottelin said: “Wood construction is sustainable only if the wood comes from forests that are grown in a sustainable manner. Shifting from short-lived products, like paper, to products with a long life-cycle, like wooden construction materials, would help minimise the impact on European forests and the crucial carbon sinks they hold.”
The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, was based on extensive analysis of available literature, including 50 case studies.