Building with wood reduces the impact on climate change

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Climate warming is due to the greenhouse effect caused by the release of ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. The biggest proportion of carbon dioxide emissions are created as a result of burning fossil fuels.

Finnish government has approved a principle decision to promote the use of wood products and wood as a material in building construction. On the basis of this policy two programmes were launched: The Woodworking Industrial Programme and The Wood Construction Development Programme. Under these programmes that extend until 2010, Finland undertakes to promote and support measures where the use of non-renewable natural resources will be substituted with renewable resources in such sectors as the building industry. As Finland is a world leader in forestry and wood processing it has a good opportunity to build an internationally competitive business based on the technology and product solutions in renewable natural resources.

The amount of carbon dioxide released to the earth’s atmosphere increases each year. It has been calculated that the average temperature of the earth will increase during the next decade. Carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced in two ways: by reducing the emissions or by storing the carbon dioxide created.

Wood possesses the unique property to achieve both. It has been calculated that due to the positive effect that wood has on the environment, a 10% increase in the percentage of wooden houses constructed in Europe would produce sufficient carbon dioxide savings to account for about 25% of the reductions prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol.

Wood products act as long-term stores of carbon

Growing trees store on average one tonne of carbon dioxide for each growing cubic metre of wood whilst at the same time generating 0.7 tonnes of oxygen. Forests that have been managed are more effective absorbers of carbon than forest regions that have been left in their natural state. Young trees absorb carbon dioxide more effectively than older trees that when they die and begin to rot return the carbon they have absorbed back into the atmosphere.

The average age of wood products used in construction is around 75 years and the average age of a wooden building is around 80 to 100 years. During the life cycle of a product or building, the carbon dioxide is permanently bound into the material.

Wood is an energy-friendly material

The machining and transportation of wood consumes less energy than the energy bound into the material through the process of photosynthesis when the tree was growing. When processing wood products, the energy used in manufacture is mainly in the form of the bio energy generated as a by-product. When by-products, such as the bark and shavings resulting from sawmilling, are used to generate energy, virtually no waste or very little waste is produced in the manufacture of the finished product.

The effective heat coefficient of wood means that wooden buildings save energy throughout the life-span of the building. According to research, small wooden houses in Finland consume on average 8% less energy than other types of similar buildings. The increasingly stringent building codes regarding heat conservation has made wood a more competitive material than ever.

A life-cycle without end

Wood is a 100% recyclable material. The life-cycle of a wood product can come to an end either by recycling or as a source of energy, which from the point of view of the earth’s atmosphere, is carbon neutral. It’s estimated that around 160 million tonnes of wood are consumed annually in Europe, of which 15 tonnes is recycled.

European legislation concerning waste disposal and recycling is becoming ever more stringent which means that there are greater benefits to be gained by utilising products made of wood. Because the use of wood as a source of energy only returns to the atmosphere the same amount of carbon dioxide that it absorbed during its lifetime means that it does not add to global warming, unlike the burning of fossil fuels.

Forest reserves of Europe are growing

95% of the wood used in Europe is derived from European forests. Two thirds of the annual growth of forests is harvested, one third remains in the forests and increases our forest reserves every year. Sustainable forest management and diversity is emphasised in the management of European forests. Already around half of the forests in Europe have been certified.

Well-established traditions for building with wood

At the present rate of economic growth in the world, many of our non-renewable natural resources and fossil fuels will be severely depleted within the next 50 years. This phenomenon will undoubtedly also increase the price of building materials that are derived from non-renewable resources. In addition, when we take into consideration carbon dioxide emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels in the production of goods from non-renewable resources, it’s clear that the global economic growth cannot be based on the use of depleting natural resources in the long term.

The Finnish government has agreed in principle to support measures that favour substituting non-renewable natural resources, in such sectors as building construction, by materials that are renewable. On the basis of this agreement two programmes have been established that extend to the year 2010: The Woodworking Industrial Programme and The Wood Construction Development Programme.

Viewed from the perspective of a more balanced ecological and regional development, building with wood has well-established traditions. It has a positive effect on both employment and on the economic prospects of small and medium size businesses. By increasing the use of wood-based products we can save the non-renewable natural resources for purposes where there is no alternative substitute material.

The objective of the Wood Construction Development Programme is to promote the use of wood in construction by increasing the production of small houses. The goal is to build residential areas of small houses suited to urban surroundings that are of good quality, pleasant to live in, reasonably priced, and that form a habitat suitable for different sectors of the population.

Could Finland’s expertise in the use of renewable resources be a trump card in a global competition?

Finland’s has achieved a level of expertise in the forestry and wood processing industry even by international standards. As a world forest economy leader, Finland could select a strategy whereby the country’s national competitive edge is built on the use of sustainable natural resources. In that way, both the product solutions and technologies based on the use of renewable natural resources, in coordination with the products and service solutions that favour the well-being of the population, could forge a competitive cornerstone for the Finnish wood products in global economy.

In order to further develop building construction in wood active initiatives from the wood products business sector are necessary. Political support at a local level is also needed. Sustainable use of natural resources is only a matter of common will.

This story is partly based on: "Tackle Climate Change: Use Wood" published by CEI-Bois