21st century is the time for wood: UNECE

Construction of a building using cross-laminated timber.

Wood as the material of the future was a common consensus at the 74th session of the UNECE Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 18 – 20 October 2016.

The 21st century will be seen as the century of wood, said Peter Wilson, managing director of Timber Design Initiatives. He is confident that given the amazing qualities of wood, it will soon be the material of choice for buildings.

Mr Hans-Joachim Danzer, head of his family timber business, stated that if consumers had to pay the real cost of carbon emissions and waste disposal in the price of goods made from most other materials, they would choose wood.

The building industry currently accounts for 40% of global resource consumption and CO2 emissions. Using wood for construction can reduce CO2 emissions contained in buildings by more than 90% and has many other advantages such as quick construction time, ease of use and cost competiveness.

In the UNECE region the share of wooden construction in residential buildings varies considerably- from 90% in North America to 8-10% in Europe. Most buildings however, are confined to single family – low rise buildings.

Misconceptions about wood continue to drive its underutilisation, especially in cities. The Session heard that there will be a need to invest in training architects, city planners and researchers on the performance qualities of wood, as an engineering material, and on its environmental credentials. 

Wood proponents also believe that profits do not conflict with the concept of a green economy; they are necessary to guarantee sustainable forest management practices and innovation. A thriving forest industry will not only provide materials for wood products companies like construction, but also guarantees employment and income for rural areas and keep forests healthy. Similarly, in poorer countries, it is important to maintain adequate returns from the forest, lest they be converted to other unsustainable land uses.

To promote wood use, certification was cited as a useful tool to gain consumer confidence.

Building resilient infrastructure, making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable and sustainable consumption and production will support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Cover image: Erection of timber frames/ Photo credit: Ruamoko Solutions