In the absence of physical meetings taking place during the COVID-19 crisis, the Nordic Wood in Construction Secretariat hosted a digital roundtable dialogue on May 28th 2020, bringing together five experts from across the Nordic region, including local and national policymakers, academics and industry representatives.
The session focused in on three topics:
- Policy barriers – work arounds and required changes
- Knowledge gaps – collaborating to build competencies
- COVID-19 – kick-starting a shift to low-carbon construction
Scroll down to watch the full recording of the roundtable dialogue...
Key take-away messages
→ Rigidity in the construction sector and its regulation
“Fat cat syndrome” still rules in construction, which is still somewhat stuck in its ways. Likewise, current legislation is based on those old ways of working and is unfit for new sustainable construction materials, particularly wood. As an example, building codes should consider net and not gross area, as wood uses more space than conventional materials.
New policy approaches are needed to solve these challenges, for example a material neutral maximum limit on the lifetime carbon footprint of buildings, as embodied carbon is currently unregulated and accounts for 11% of total global carbon emissions. Such a max. CO2 per m2 limit could be a sensible point to reassess Nordic building code harmonisation, and would drive the sector to fill the current gaps in knowledge and data.
→ Broaden the perspective
Increased cooperation is needed in several respects, both across the value chain, but also with new and unconventional partners from beyond the immediate sector. The most successful education initiatives and municipal strategies have taken a triple or quadruple helix approach, collaborating directly with the industry and architects.
New partnerships in financing are important too, such as with banks offering green loans and investments. Sometimes it’s unhelpful to talk only about wood; a broader and more neutral ‘low-carbon’ or ‘sustainability’ perspective often leads to better results whilst still promoting wood in construction.
→ Independent research and quality data is missing
Despite substantial progress, there still lacks a good foundation of independent and reliable research on the lifetime carbon footprint of buildings. What we know so far is that the variation in current buildings is significant, showing the large potential to bring down emissions if we use a smarter, data driven approach to material choice. Doing so however, requires that everyone in the industry improves their ability to gather good quality and useful LCA data.
→ Nordic low-carbon construction competency taskforce
Simply put, the Nordics are short of a qualified and experienced available workforce, as well as the educators to build those competences; we need more people working on and educated to build a low-carbon future. Nordic cooperation can be critical here, sharing knowledge and resources about embodied carbon online. The creation of a Nordic taskforce to build those links and develop the required competences could be an excellent next step.
→ Just do it
Whilst COVID-19’s impact on the Nordic wood construction sector has not been too severe, emerging from the crisis offers a chance to level the playing field on materials and kick-start policy and the status quo. The local level especially has a huge potential to move fast and drive wider change, creating huge Nordic export opportunities. The economic, environmental and social case already exists today for building in wood, we just need to do it.
Three action points
On the back of the key findings of the roundtable dialogue, the following recommendations have been identified to be taken forward for further discussion and development.
1. Set a maximum lifetime CO2/m2 for new Nordic buildings
As requirements to measure and declare the lifetime carbon footprint of buildings are introduced across the Nordics, policy should be developed to set a cap on the maximum lifetime CO2 of new buildings, as this is currently unregulated. This would be an effective and material neutral way to get a grip on building sector emissions, which account for roughly a third of the Nordic total. Discussions should step up now on the intricacies of how to develop such a policy.
2. Create a Nordic taskforce to enhance education on embodied carbon
Lack of knowledge and an available and competent workforce was identified as a key barrier in making low-carbon construction methods more wide-spread. To address this at a Nordic level, a taskforce could be established to look into competency building and education on embodied carbon, including professional training opportunities. Sharing resources, particularly online, is a particularly useful way to ensure that this effort is done in the most effective way.
3. Boost Nordic cooperation around developing material neutral regulation
Regulation and building codes in much of the Nordic region still tend to be stacked against new materials, including wood, which limits their uptake amongst developers. There is a clear need to level the playing field through adjusting policy, especially on fire and acoustics, to be material neutral. Enhanced efforts should be made to increase Nordic cooperation on the best way to achieve this – for example through a max CO2/m2 as above – feeding into the region’s long sought-after goal of building code harmonisation.
Watch the full roundtable dialogue
The Nordic Wood in Construction Secretariat hopes to hold more roundtable discussions later in the year, diving into specific topics and continuing to enable Nordic knowledge exchange and discovery of common solutions.