Wood the Focus of Urban Sustainability, Rural Prosperity Forum


(Minneapolis, MN) - An October 20th, 2015 national policy panel discussion titled "Urban Sustainability, Rural Prosperity", hosted by the American Wood Council and reThink Wood in Washington, D.C., focused on the potential for greater use of wood in construction of tall buildings. Panelists included U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell, internationally renowned and award-winning architect Michael Green, LCA expert Dr. Jim Bowyer, and Kathleen Sims, Vice-President of Government Affairs for Plum Creek Timber Company.

There is growing recognition that expanded use of wood products, including mass timber and cross laminated timber, can reduce the environmental impacts of buildings while strengthening rural economies. In 2011, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA's strategy to promote the use of wood as a green building material. In 2014, he announced a significant partnership with WoodWorks, stating that: "Building stronger markets for innovative new wood products supports sustainable forestry, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and puts rural America at the forefront of an emerging industry."

The discussion and panelists examined wood availability in the context of forest sustainability. It was noted that annual net growth substantially exceeds removals and that increased harvest levels would benefit both forest health and the well-being of communities located in forested regions. Also acknowledged was the reality that over 90 percent of timber harvests in the U.S. occur on privately-owned forestland, and that stable markets for wood and wood products are needed to incentivize continued forest investment and reduce the likelihood of forest conversion.

Also examined were technical and regulatory issues related to tall wood construction. Technical issues are seen as presenting only minimal obstacles to increased use in tall wood buildings, while regulatory barriers are viewed as significant. Regulatory issues present a particular challenge in the U.S. where changes to building codes can take years to decades to achieve.

One major driver in the increasing interest in tall wood structures is the carbon and other environmental benefits of wood buildings. Wood was described as a renewable material produced by solar energy that is characterized by low embodied energy, especially low embodied fossil energy, low embodied carbon, massive long-term carbon storage potential, and long-term durability.

Participants were challenged to consider how they might contribute to increasing the use of wood in North American urban structures. Identified needs include advocacy, education, increased engagement with the design and regulatory community, and continued work in the public policy arena.

View a video of the panel discussion in its entirety above, or visit: http://www.awc.org/nfpw