The Swedish Government and the Nordic Council of Ministers have in 2018 initiated a Nordic project concerning the use of wood in construction. The project is led by a secretariat hosted by EIT Climate-KIC Nordic. The Nordic project: Wood in Construction aims to support further development of the use of wood in industrial construction, thus contributing to achieving more of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Local Communities and SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production.
Substituting traditional building materials
Continuous new research and development makes it possible to use wood more broadly in construction. Wood construction is growing in the Nordic countries and wood is an example of an environmentally sustainable construction material; it is biodegradable, renewable and carries the lowest carbon footprint of any comparable building material. However, simply substituting traditional building materials (like concrete and steel) with wood is not so straightforward. Concerns like sustainable forestry management, knowledge about wood building methods, technical aspects of wood as a construction material, how wood can enable a more circular economy and other issues still need to be examined.
The construction sector is responsible for a considerable amount of global carbon emissions, and with many years of focusing on optimizing energy-use in the buildings during the operation phase, the time has now come to look closer at the construction phase. Studies have estimated that up to 50% of total emissions are emitted during the construction phase, making it necessary to also look at the materials used for construction of buildings. There is currently another Nordic project looking at the same time into how we can transform construction sites to be zero-emissions sites, though also contributing to lower emissions over the whole life time of a building.
Since the start of the Wood in Construction project in January 2018 the project has been mapping the barriers for increasing the use of wood as a building material. This has been done through a series of workshops conducted with various actors in the field across the Nordic countries. One of the main barriers identified is that a majority of the construction sector is locked in on certain building materials, e.g. concrete and steel. There are multiple reasons for this, but one of them is that the present expertise and traditions are within these materials. This is resulting in a lack of attention on alternative construction materials. The way we educate the future constructors and advisors within the construction sector is contributing to this lock-in, as the focus on alternative construction materials is missing in the education. This lack of knowledge within wood construction is a barrier today for increasing the usage of wood in construction.
Systemic approach needed to achieve the greatest possible climate impact
The Nordic project is closely linked to EIT Climate-KIC’s other activities. EIT Climate-KIC is a European knowledge and innovation community working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy through whole systems transformation. One of the areas EIT Climate-KIC is working strategically with is the forestry area. Through our more than 300 partners in Europe we are examining how sustainable forestry management can contribute to a zero-carbon economy. A tangible outcome of this work has been a set of recommendations. One of these is that we need to support the widespread substitution of fossil carbon with bio-based products, including wood construction products, and ensure that wood entering downstream value chains contributes to climate change mitigation efforts. However, there is also a recognition that the ways in which fossil carbon can be replaced by forest carbon in downstream value chains needs to be better understood and assessed. The circular economy offers a significant opportunity to boost the residence time in a series of products and needs to be more closely connected with the bio economy. Without a robust substitution framework, the development of new downstream value chains will be difficult and will not necessarily achieve the greatest possible climate impact.