Should Wooden Construction Be Considered Sustainable?

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Robison Wells
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The publication Arch Daily recently published an op-ed questioning the long-held belief that using wood in construction is a more sustainable, more environmentally-friendly method. Wood is a renewable resource, which other materials, like steel and concrete, are not. It also contributes less of a carbon footprint during production: steel and concrete factories are notoriously bad for their emissions, while lumber milling is far less.

But with deforestation growing at such an accelerating rate, is it still wise to be cutting down so many trees? The WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) estimates that the amount of wood removed from the world will triple by 2050. The State of the World’s Forests 2020 Report states that since 1990 420 million hectares of forest have been lost. The loss rate is decreasing—it is at 10 million hectares per year now versus 16 million hectares in 1990—but that loss is still problematic. The WWF estimated that in 2019 the tropics (including the Amazon) lost 30 football fields’ worth of forest every minute.

Most deforestation is not attributable to construction materials. The majority is because of agriculture and livestock, as well as fires.

According to ArchDaily: “The situation looks bleak, but in the case of civil construction, it is always important to keep in mind that to build almost always requires us to destroy. Each decision in a project will produce some kind of impact on the environment, and understanding how to reduce this impact is vital for real long-term sustainability. Wood is a suitable material to improve sustainability because even with deforestation, wooden buildings are vastly preferable to those built of concrete, brick, aluminum, and steel.”

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