A Natural Construction Material

Wood is an excellent construction material from an environmental perspective. By increasing its use, we can reduce the consumption of non-renewable natural resources and the carbon dioxide emissions of construction. Metsä Wood explain more.

The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by 2050. At the same time, a billion people will move to cities, and the need for food, housing and various materials will increase. In the future, we will have to be more responsible and make more from less. “We need sustainable and recyclable solutions to meet increasing demand in areas such as packaging and construction. In terms of the climate, using renewable wood as a raw material is one of the best alternatives, because its environmental impact and energy consumption are small compared to brick, concrete, aluminium, plastic and steel,” says Mikko Saavalainen, Senior Vice President, Business Development at Metsä Wood.

In Europe, construction consumes more raw materials than any other industry – and the majority of this consumption is based on non-renewable natural resources. Climate change is a global problem, and reducing emissions is necessary in all aspects of life. When it comes to living and construction, one solution is superior to others: wood.

When measured in weight, construction’s share of the consumption of non-renewable natural resources is as high as 50%. In addition, the built environment causes a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and consumes roughly 40% of primary energy. “This is construction today, but it can no longer be that tomorrow,” says Matti Mikkola, Managing Director of the Federation of the Finnish Woodworking Industries.

Timber construction reduces the consumption of natural resources
The member states of the EU aim to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050. The achievement of this climate goal requires us to reduce the use of non-renewable natural resources in construction and to replace them with sustainable materials. Wood can be classified as a low-energy construction material. “Further processing of wood requires only a little energy. Furthermore, the majority of the energy used in the production of wood products is obtained from by-products such as bark and sawdust,” says Saavalainen.

“If all residential buildings in Europe were constructed from wood rather than concrete, the consumption of natural resources would decrease by as much as 70%. At the same time, energy consumption during production and construction would decrease by 40% and emissions by 60%. For this reason, wood is the best choice,” adds Mikkola.

Timber structures are urban carbon storage
Wood is a renewable, recyclable and reusable building material. Above all, however, wood stores carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We are seeking ways to reduce the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but we must also find ways to bind and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Every tree used in construction stores carbon and makes way for a new seedling – a new carbon sink. 

Even small wooden items store carbon from the atmosphere. The wood used in the manufacture of a kitchen stool has stored over 8kg of carbon from the atmosphere when growing. The impact of an individual stool is minor, but when stools are mass-produced, the amount of carbon stored becomes massive.

Forests are a unique natural resource in the sense that they grow all the time. In addition, we can influence how they grow and how much they are able to bind carbon. A wisely managed and utilised forest binds more carbon dioxide than an old forest, which no longer grows that much. The sustainable use of forests regenerates them, while also improving their ability to bind carbon. The carbon sink of a forest is at its biggest when the forest is 20–40 years old.

The benefits of timber: speed and lightness
In addition, the weight and strength ratio of engineered wood products is world class. This is why wood lends itself to the production of lightweight and strong structures, ideal for high and compact urban construction.

The lightness of wooden structures reduces the consumption of natural resources, as construction sites require less of other materials. “The foundations of a wooden building do not need to be as extensive as those of a concrete building. This reduces environmental load, since nowadays the foundations account for a large part of a building’s carbon footprint,” says Saavalainen. Light wooden structures also reduce transport loads, given that the amount of wood that can be transported in a single load is five-fold compared to concrete.

Prefabrication guarantees quality
The light weight of wood also enables the prefabrication of construction materials. Prefabrication speeds up the construction process significantly, because the finished wooden modules can be assembled on-site as precisely as Lego bricks.  “The work can be moved from the construction site to factory conditions. This means that most of the work can be carried out in dry and controlled conditions, so the high quality of the construction can be maintained throughout the process. A wooden high-rise can be assembled fully, roof included, in a matter of weeks, meaning that the time during which the construction site is at the mercy of the weather is very brief. This increases the quality of the construction to a significant degree.”

For more information visit: www.metsawood.co.uk

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