Wood use on the rise as green movement takes flight

Cooley Landing Educational Center in San Francisco is the first CLT structure in California.

Bullitt Center in Seattle is dubbed America’s “Greenest Commercial Building”, using energy efficiency systems and softwoods for the interior.

Wood is experiencing a renaissance across Europe, CIS nations and North America as its greener credentials become more well-known and preferred for building and energy use.

All three regions demonstrated growth in both production and consumption of sawn softwood for the first time in a decade, according to figures from the UNECE/FAO Forest Products Annual Market Review 2016-2017. In 2016, consumption of sawnwood rose four per cent; panels was up 2.5 per cent and pulp and paper, 0.9 per cent.

An improving economy, revived housing starts and home renovations contributed to this growth. Increased momentum behind replacing carbon-intensive building materials with wood, and using wood as a low-carbon source of energy also played a strong role.

The report notes that growth will continue throughout 2017, particularly in Europe, where growth is accelerating. This is expected to boost the housing industry – a major driver of the use of forest products – where construction forecasts show increases for 2017 of 2 – 3 per cent. Yet construction still remains 40 – 50 per cent below pre-recession levels, which also highlights the scope for continued growth. 

Yet, trade restrictions have become a growing challenge for the sector such as the US-Canada softwood lumber agreement spat is. A number of traditional log suppliers have also imposed export restrictions designed to develop their domestic industry.

Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) production has increased as its use in large multi-storey structures become increasingly favoured. European production is around 680,000 m3 and is expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2020. The potential market in the U.S. alone is between two and six million m3.

Wood pellet consumption in the region is also at a record high of 25 million tonnes, up four per cent over 2015 and more than 50 per cent over 2012. In Europe, the increase was 6.6 per cent for 2016. This densified energy product is a major factor in retaining wood’s status as the leading source of renewable energy in the region.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) reported a combined global total of 497 million hectares of certified forest in May, representing a year-on-year increase of 7.5 per cent. However, nearly 69 million hectares are now certified under more than one scheme – a decline of three million hectares of certified forest area from the previous reporting period (which can largely be explained by overlapping certification of forestlands from both FSC and PEFC).