By Rudolf Kolbe
The building sector has a considerable impact on CO2 emissions in the European Union and worldwide. It is essential to reduce its footprint; promoting timber construction is an important lever to achieve that and to drive the green transition.
Wood sequesters carbon before it is used as a building material – a tree consists of approximately 50% pure carbon – and performs very well on many counts: timber from forests certified as sustainable can, in many countries, be sourced within relatively short transport distances of construction sites; processing is rarely problematic or environmentally harmful; and wood can easily be re-used. Comparisons of equivalent buildings over their entire life cycle show that wood is a viable alternative in terms of embodied energy, greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution and other impact indicators.
However, to promote timber construction as a way to achieve climate objectives, it is essential to use quality criteria in procurement, including sustainability and life-cycle criteria, and to choose appropriate procurement procedures that allow innovative solutions. We need stricter legal obligations for quality-based competition and climate-friendly public procurement. We also need measures to train contracting authorities to apply such criteria and obligations.
Additionally, we need minimum standards for life-cycle carbon emissions from buildings and for the corresponding carbon reporting requirement across the construction sector, along with a legal and technical environment that enables innovation in general and timber construction in particular.
For people living in and using buildings, timber construction can provide sustainable, inclusive and beautiful living spaces.