Fostering sustainable wood use in the building sector for greener cities: Lessons-learned from wood encouragement policies

©Stéphane Groleau. Building “Condos Origine”, Québec city, 2017. First wood-based 13 storey building in Eastern-North-America. Winner of Québec Cécobois 2019 wood construction prize. Multiresidential use.

For building back better after the Covid19 pandemic, wood based solutions offer a green construction material. It is renewable, recyclable, can be sustainably sourced and has low fossil carbon and environmental footprints.

On 15 July 2020, FAO’s Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries (ACSFI) organized a webinar to provide examples and lessons-learned from various WEP and stakeholders, including wood sector companies, architects and the public sector to discuss lessons-learned from various experiences of wood encouragement policies (WEP). WEP are implemented around the world at national, regional and local levels to i) promote the use of wood as a building material; ii) support local forest industries; iii) encourage sustainable economic development and iv) contribute to climate change mitigation. Through substitution effects and carbon storage, wood use in construction can contribute to meet the challenge of reducing fossil carbon footprint from the construction sector by proposing lower-energy consumption solutions.

Derek Nighbor, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Forest Products Association Canada, Chair of the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations and ACSFI Steering Committee member, introduced the webinar, highlighting that ACSFI members have an increasing interest in WEP. There are great expectations in sharing and learning from each other on this topic and among FAO, the forest-based private sector and governments. He stressed that within the current work for economic and social recovery, there is a growing strategic concern about how to build back better and how the forest sector could contribute to this ambition. In Canada and in particular in provinces of British-Columbia and Québec, there is already some experience in WEP. Legislation can thus improve the status of wood as a green material as well as better define green and low-carbon public procurement. Recent initiatives allowed for example the construction of high-rise wood-framed buildings in British-Columbia, Alberta and Québec. As there is a good momentum on these questions, this webinar is very timely.

Pierre Bouillon, Forestry Expert in forest-based bioeconomy at FAO introduced the ACSFI draft background document on the ‘Status of public policies encouraging wood use in construction – an overview’. He explained that there is a great variety of WEP addressing challenges such as the update of regulations and standards for wood use in construction, training in the wood construction sector, research, development and innovation, innovative uses (for example, reference buildings)  and competition between fossil and non-fossil as well as high- and low-fossil-carbon construction materials. He stressed that flagship buildings can have a ripple effect and contribute to policy objectives such as climate change mitigation as well as reduction of carbon footprint, energy consumption and production of waste. WEP can also be part of a rural development policies and sustainable wood circular economy strategies. Encouragement policies can contribute to create a stimulus to promote the use of wood, and thus more carbon storage, in greener cities. He concluded that “wood is an abundant renewable natural resource that can bring many benefits when coming from sustainably managed forests or from a circular economy”. According to Mr Bouillon, “moving from fossil-resource based urbanization to sustainable cities can be supported by increased use of sustainable wood in construction.”

Silvia Melegari, Secretary General of EOS, European Organisation of Sawmill Industry, introduced the topic of ‘European sawmill industries expectations from wood encouragement policies.’ She drew an overview of wood markets in the context of a double crisis of the Covid19 pandemic (severe impact on both demand and supply) and bark beetle proliferation in Europe, due to several factors including climate change. Damaged wood due to bark beetle may reach in total 750 million m3 between 2017 and 2026. Ms Melegari expressed strong expectations from the implementation of the European green deal objectives (resource efficient and climate-friendly economy) and from the development of a regulatory framework for carbon removals certification, as proposed in the European Circular Economy Action Plan. Additionally, the Renovation Wave Initiative, expected to be published in September, will be another key legislation that may boost the use of wood in buildings. She recalled that according to a recent study “European forests and forest-based sector already remove annually 806 tonnes of carbon (20% of fossil emissions in the EU)”. The contribution of wood products in tackling climate change is also recognised in several national carbon accounting plans (under the land use, land-use change and forestry Regulation). In countries such as Austria and Finland, it calls among others for increasing wood use in construction. Ms Melegari concluded by mentioning the European Wood Industry communication campaign for promoting wood products at European and global levels: “Wood building the bioeconomy”.

David Rowlinson, the ‘Make it Wood’ Campaign Manager from the Planet Ark Environmental Foundation in Australia delivered a presentation on ‘How an environmental foundation helped deliver 22 WEPs across Australia.’ Funded by Australia’s federal government, member levies and research grants through Forest & Wood Products Australia (FWPA), the ‘Make it Wood’ campaign’s goals are to increase the use of responsibly sourced (certified) wood as a building material and provide trusted, credible, research-based advocacy for the timber industry. A WEP does not mandate that public constructions are necessarily built from wood, but it does ensure that government authorities (federal, state or council) at least consider a wood based option for their building proposal. He highlighted how a wide range of communication actions can help to overcome the perceived limitations of timber in construction, and how that has helped to increase the use of wood in public buildings. He concluded that 22 WEPs across Australia are showcasing the benefits of wood in construction by highlighting some outstanding wood-based public buildings.

Agnès Lauret-Grémillet, architect in charge of wood uses and climate change mitigation from the French Ministry for Agriculture and Food, Direction of Forest and Wood, introduced the interministerial work in France aiming at producing synergies for an efficient WEP. The forest policy (‘Forest and Wood National Plan’) is interconnected with the strategy for a low-carbon economy, with the law on energy transition and green growth and the multiannual energy plan. The French construction sector profile is dominated by big international companies specialized in concrete-based construction, and wood choice is not currently the majority material choice (6% market share in housing, 27% for building extensions and 16% for non-residential buildings). As French forests are mainly covered with broad-leaved species, another challenge is to develop the use of hardwood in construction. The wood sector development ambition has thus been inserted in several action plans where wood use can contribute to reach goals such as improving the environmental footprint of the construction sector or reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. These action plans include goals such as 10% wood buildings for public land-developers, increasing the modernization and investment in hardwood mills, support of research for wood and other bio-based solutions and encourage the rise of flagship projects. Ms Lauret-Grémillet concluded by highlighting the major importance of standardization for greater wood products’ use and inserting their entire carbon footprint in construction regulations.
During the discussion, panellists addressed several challenges and opportunities related to WEP, including

  • technical market barriers that may hamper greater use of wood in the construction sector;
  • awareness raising needs related to the possible benefits in carbon storage for climate change mitigation through the use of wood products;
  • training needs of designers and architects, who are often not used to use wood products; and
  • possible impacts of building more with wood on forests.

Jane Molony, Executive Director, Paper Manufacturers Association and ACSFI Steering Committee member provided the closing remarks for the webinar. She highlighted key words from the presentations such as “green wood solutions”, “carbon footprint”, “thermal, acoustic and environmental performances of buildings” and “efficient construction”. Ms Molony stressed that when markets are not driven by sustainable solutions, WEP can make a difference. She stressed the importance of upstream WEP connected with sustainable forest and wood policies and investment, for example through public research and with benefits from international knowledge networks. Coordination of both policies and investment help foresters to provide sustainable wood supply to wood industries on the long term.

Webinar recordings: 15 July 2020 webinar on "Fostering sustainable wood use in the building sector for greener cities: Lessons-learned from wood encouragement policies"

Draft Background Paper: Status of public policies encouraging wood use in construction – an overview

last updated:  Wednesday, April 7, 2021