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Wood—A Sustainable Building Material

5/20/2014 11:00:00 PM
Article by Rob Ziegelmeier

I have been in the architectural woodwork industry for over 30 years and have always believed that wood is one of the most sustainable building products available to man. I tend to cringe when I hear phrases like “Green Concrete” and “Green Steel” as these products may have some recyclable value however they are made from finite materials. To understand wood’s sustainable elements we need to start with its life-cycle.

Trees take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen while they grow. The carbon is converted into simple sugars that travel throughout all parts of the tree becoming sap which as each year goes by then becomes a polymer called wood. The carbon stays in the wood whether it’s alive or dead, in a building or on a forest floor and wood is the only building material that stores carbon. 49% of wood’s dry weight is sequestered carbon.

Trees grow with solar power and are watered from rain, while requiring little or no pesticides. They remain untouched for 60 – 140 years and no energy is needed until harvest. Harvesting is very efficient – one machine selects, harvests, cuts and stacks in minutes.

Trees are renewable. Have you ever seen a picture of a forest that had a fire 5 to 10 years later? It is amazing that with no involvement from mankind the forest regenerates on its own. Trees and wood products are recyclable. When trees are harvested all parts of the tree will be used. Wood products can be recycled or repurposed for use within a building.

In the United States there is 25% more forestland than there was 50 years ago. Additionally, forest product companies employ 1.75 million people and are ranked among the top ten employers in 40 states. So let’s recap, forest products are renewable and recyclable. They require small amount of energy, only at harvest, have little or no impact on water consumption other than what Mother Nature gives us and it is one of the most beautiful building material available. So what building product is more sustainable than wood?

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