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Special Issue "Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 October 2021) | Viewed by 29366

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Indroneil Ganguly
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
Interests: life cycle assessment of wood products; bioenergy solutions; wood products trade and environmental policy

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you with a proposal for a Special Issue in the journal Sustainability that will gather original research articles, case studies, review articles, and methodological notes in the fields of mass timber-based building constructions and interaction between the built and the natural environments. The topic is timely, with large-scale significance for the building construction industry and its impact on climate change.

The building construction industry is regarded as one of the most carbon-intensive and wasteful industrial sectors, contributing to a significant share of the total greenhouse gas emissions in most industrialized countries. Whereas most industries in modern society have made tremendous technological advancements in the last few decades, the building construction industry has demonstrated an unimpressive innovation adoption propensity. This is especially true with regard to structural engineering and corresponding material use for building constructions. However, the tide may be turning, with positive adoption trends of innovative mass timber systems among architects and designers for designing taller buildings with wood as the primary structural material.

The use of wood in low rise construction, utilizing light wood-frame and post-and-beam systems, is well established in North America and some European and Latin American countries. Complementing the traditional use of wood in building constructions, mass timber systems enable construction of taller buildings using wood as the primary structural material. Mass timber framing styles are typically characterized by the use of large solid engineered wood panels for wall, floor, and roof construction. The products in the mass timber family include cross-laminated timber (CLT), glued laminated timber (GLT), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), nail-laminated timber (NLT), mass plywood, and other similar engineered panel and beam products.

Mass timber systems offer a potentially appealing alternative to traditional materials where new buildings can be constructed with (i) significantly lower fossil carbon emissions, (ii) reduced material waste and lighter carbon footprint, (iii) increased construction efficiency, and (iv) long-term biogenic carbon storage. Moreover, the proponents of mass timber systems also claim that increased demand for wood will help forest heath restoration, mitigate catastrophic forest fire risk, promote sustainable forestry, and help to drive reforestation activities.

Accordingly, we are inviting original research articles, case studies, review articles, and methodological articles/notes, in the following topical areas:

  1. Comparative life cycle assessment (LCA)-based environmental analysis of mass timber products;
  2. Comparative life cycle assessment (LCA)-based environmental assessment of mass timber building systems;
  3. Biophilic building designs and operations, and environmentally responsible mass timber-based construction systems;
  4. Role of circular economy in developing a comprehensive understanding of mass timber-based building systems, including, end of life, cascading use of wood, and cross-sectoral interlinkages;
  5. Analysis of embodied carbon, carbon storage, forest carbon stock changes, carbon stock changes in the economy, and temporal evaluation of the global warming impact analysis associated with mass timber building systems;
  6. Analysis of enviroeconomic scenarios associated with mass timber usage, including consequential life cycle assessment;
  7. Exploring linkages between the mass timber adoption, increased wood demand and impact on natural systems and the world’s forests.
  8. General analysis of wood demand and sourcing, because of increased adoption of mass timber as a building material.

Dr. Indroneil Ganguly
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Mass timber
  • Sustainable building construction
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Embodied carbon
  • Carbon storage
  • Circular economy

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Research

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Communication
Safeguarding against Harm in a Climate-Smart Forest Economy: Definitions, Challenges, and Solutions
Sustainability 2022, 14(7), 4209; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14074209 - 01 Apr 2022
Viewed by 1159
Abstract
Sustainably managed forests and forest products have a well-documented potential to deliver significant climate change mitigation benefits via sequestration, storage, and substitution (the 3Ss) when they are sourced sustainably and substituted for traditional resource-intensive materials. Moving beyond product-specific considerations, a climate-smart forest economy [...] Read more.
Sustainably managed forests and forest products have a well-documented potential to deliver significant climate change mitigation benefits via sequestration, storage, and substitution (the 3Ss) when they are sourced sustainably and substituted for traditional resource-intensive materials. Moving beyond product-specific considerations, a climate-smart forest economy (CSFE) aims to bolster the 3Ss and catalyze broader systemic change to address the climate crisis. In their most successful cases, forest value chain interventions that lead to CSFEs will link secondary and tertiary sectors for greater waste reduction, substitution, innovation, and overall cascading climate benefits. However, interventions that contribute to CSFEs, from small to large scale, will inevitably impact environments and communities, both directly and indirectly. While positive impacts can be thought of as co-benefits and should be encouraged, negative impacts are considered negative externalities, and these should be avoided or minimized wherever possible by safeguarding against harm. The failure to minimize negative externalities will have implications for equity, project longevity, and climate benefits. This paper provides preliminary results of mixed methods research with an aim of identifying and building consensus on the definitions, challenges, and solutions relevant to the assessment, planning, and implementation of CSFE safeguards. While broad and novel CSFE safeguards application faces diverse challenges, this paper explores practical solutions to advance and set a foundation for future dialogue, analysis, and application. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
A Lifecycle Assessment of a Low-Energy Mass-Timber Building and Mainstream Concrete Alternative in Central Chile
Sustainability 2022, 14(3), 1249; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14031249 - 22 Jan 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2917
Abstract
While high-rise mass-timber construction is booming worldwide as a more sustainable alternative to mainstream cement and steel, in South America, there are still many gaps to overcome regarding sourcing, design, and environmental performance. The aim of this study was to assess the carbon [...] Read more.
While high-rise mass-timber construction is booming worldwide as a more sustainable alternative to mainstream cement and steel, in South America, there are still many gaps to overcome regarding sourcing, design, and environmental performance. The aim of this study was to assess the carbon emission footprint of using mass-timber products to build a mid-rise low-energy residential building in central Chile (CCL). The design presented at a solar decathlon contest in Santiago was assessed through lifecycle analysis (LCA) and compared to an equivalent mainstream concrete building. Greenhouse gas emissions, expressed as global warming potential (GWP), from cradle-to-usage over a 50-year life span, were lower for the timber design, with 131 kg CO2 eq/m2 of floor area (compared to 353 kg CO2 eq/m2) and a biogenic carbon storage of 447 tons of CO2 eq/m2 based on sustainable forestry practices. From cradle-to-construction, the embodied emissions of the mass-timber building were 42% lower (101 kg CO2 eq/m2) than those of the equivalent concrete building (167 kg CO2 eq/m2). The embodied energy of the mass-timber building was 37% higher than that of its equivalent concrete building and its envelope design helped reduce space-conditioning emissions by as much as 83%, from 187 kg CO2 eq/m2 as estimated for the equivalent concrete building to 31 kg CO2 eq/m2 50-yr. Overall, provided that further efforts are made to address residual energy end-uses and end-of-life waste management options, the use of mass-timber products offers a promising potential in CCL for delivering zero carbon residential multistory buildings. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
Increasing Mass Timber Consumption in the U.S. and Sustainable Timber Supply
Sustainability 2022, 14(1), 381; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14010381 - 30 Dec 2021
Viewed by 2363
Abstract
Mass timber products are growing in popularity as a substitute for steel and concrete, reducing embodied carbon in the built environment. This trend has raised questions about the sustainability of the U.S. timber supply. Our research addresses concerns that rising demand for mass [...] Read more.
Mass timber products are growing in popularity as a substitute for steel and concrete, reducing embodied carbon in the built environment. This trend has raised questions about the sustainability of the U.S. timber supply. Our research addresses concerns that rising demand for mass timber products may result in unsustainable levels of harvesting in coniferous forests in the United States. Using U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data, incremental U.S. softwood (coniferous) timber harvests were projected to supply a high-volume estimate of mass timber and dimensional lumber consumption in 2035. Growth in reserve forests and riparian zones was excluded, and low confidence intervals were used for timber growth estimates, compared with high confidence intervals for harvest and consumption estimates. Results were considered for the U.S. in total and by three geographic regions (North, South, and West). In total, forest inventory growth in America exceeds timber harvests including incremental mass timber volumes. Even the most optimistic projections of mass timber growth will not exceed the lowest expected annual increases in the nation’s harvestable coniferous timber inventory. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Mass Timber and Concrete Residential Buildings: A Case Study in China
Sustainability 2022, 14(1), 144; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14010144 - 23 Dec 2021
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 3042
Abstract
As the population continues to grow in China’s urban settings, the building sector contributes to increasing levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Concrete and steel are the two most common construction materials used in China and account for 60% of the carbon emissions [...] Read more.
As the population continues to grow in China’s urban settings, the building sector contributes to increasing levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Concrete and steel are the two most common construction materials used in China and account for 60% of the carbon emissions among all building components. Mass timber is recognized as an alternative building material to concrete and steel, characterized by better environmental performance and unique structural features. Nonetheless, research associated with mass timber buildings is still lacking in China. Quantifying the emission mitigation potentials of using mass timber in new buildings can help accelerate associated policy development and provide valuable references for developing more sustainable constructions in China. This study used a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach to compare the environmental impacts of a baseline concrete building and a functionally equivalent timber building that uses cross-laminated timber as the primary material. A cradle-to-gate LCA model was developed based on onsite interviews and surveys collected in China, existing publications, and geography-specific life cycle inventory data. The results show that the timber building achieved a 25% reduction in global warming potential compared to its concrete counterpart. The environmental performance of timber buildings can be further improved through local sourcing, enhanced logistics, and manufacturing optimizations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
Mass Timber Building Life Cycle Assessment Methodology for the U.S. Regional Case Studies
Sustainability 2021, 13(24), 14034; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132414034 - 20 Dec 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1385
Abstract
The building industry currently consumes over a third of energy produced and emits 39% of greenhouse gases globally produced by human activities. The manufacturing of building materials and the construction of buildings make up 11% of those emissions within the sector. Whole-building life-cycle [...] Read more.
The building industry currently consumes over a third of energy produced and emits 39% of greenhouse gases globally produced by human activities. The manufacturing of building materials and the construction of buildings make up 11% of those emissions within the sector. Whole-building life-cycle assessment is a holistic and scientific tool to assess multiple environmental impacts with internationally accepted inventory databases. A comparison of the building life-cycle assessment results would help to select materials and designs to reduce total environmental impacts at the early planning stage for architects and developers, and to revise the building code to improve environmental performance. The Nature Conservancy convened a group of researchers and policymakers from governments and non-profit organizations with expertise across wood product life-cycle assessment, forest carbon, and forest products market analysis to address emissions and energy consumption associated with mass timber building solutions. The study disclosed a series of detailed, comparative life-cycle assessments of pairs of buildings using both mass timber and conventional materials. The methodologies used in this study are clearly laid out in this paper for transparency and accountability. A plethora of data exists on the favorable environmental performance of wood as a building material and energy source, and many opportunities appear for research to improve on current practices. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
Comparative LCAs of Conventional and Mass Timber Buildings in Regions with Potential for Mass Timber Penetration
Sustainability 2021, 13(24), 13987; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132413987 - 18 Dec 2021
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 2950
Abstract
Manufacturing of building materials and construction of buildings make up 11% of the global greenhouse gas emission by sector. Mass timber construction has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving wood into buildings with designs that have traditionally been dominated by [...] Read more.
Manufacturing of building materials and construction of buildings make up 11% of the global greenhouse gas emission by sector. Mass timber construction has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving wood into buildings with designs that have traditionally been dominated by steel and concrete. The environmental impacts of mass timber buildings were compared against those of functionally equivalent conventional buildings. Three pairs of buildings were designed for the Pacific Northwest, Northeast and Southeast regions in the United States to conform to mass timber building types with 8, 12, or 18 stories. Conventional buildings constructed with concrete and steel were designed for comparisons with the mass timber buildings. Over all regions and building heights, the mass timber buildings exhibited a reduction in the embodied carbon varying between 22% and 50% compared to the concrete buildings. Embodied carbon per unit of area increased with building height as the quantity of concrete, metals, and other nonrenewable materials increased. Total embodied energy to produce, transport, and construct A1–A5 materials was higher in all mass timber buildings compared to equivalent concrete. Further research is needed to predict the long-term carbon emissions and carbon mitigation potential of mass timber buildings to conventional building materials. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
Effects on Global Forests and Wood Product Markets of Increased Demand for Mass Timber
Sustainability 2021, 13(24), 13943; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132413943 - 17 Dec 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2051
Abstract
This study evaluated the effects on forest resources and forest product markets of three contrasting mass timber demand scenarios (Conservative, Optimistic, and Extreme), up to 2060, in twelve selected countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. Analyses were carried out by [...] Read more.
This study evaluated the effects on forest resources and forest product markets of three contrasting mass timber demand scenarios (Conservative, Optimistic, and Extreme), up to 2060, in twelve selected countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. Analyses were carried out by utilizing the FOrest Resource Outlook Model, a partial market equilibrium model of the global forest sector. The findings suggest increases in global softwood lumber production of 8, 23, and 53 million m3 per year by 2060, under the Conservative, Optimistic, and Extreme scenarios, respectively, leading to world price increases of 2%, 7%, and 23%, respectively. This projected price increase is relative to the projected price in the reference scenario, altering prices, production, consumption, trade of forest products, timber harvest, forest growth, and forest stock in individual countries. An increase in softwood lumber prices due to increased mass timber demand would lead to the reduced consumption of softwood lumber for traditional end-use (e.g., light-frame construction), suggesting a likely strong market competition for softwood lumber between the mass timber and traditional construction industries. In contrast, the projected effect on global forest stock was relatively small based on the relatively fast projected biomass growth in stands assumed to be regenerated after harvest. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
Carbon Impact and Cost of Mass Timber Beam–Column Gravity Systems
Sustainability 2021, 13(23), 12966; https://doi.org/10.3390/su132312966 - 23 Nov 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1187
Abstract
The need to lower the embodied carbon impact of the built environment and sequester carbon over the life of buildings has spurred the growth of mass timber building construction, leading to the introduction of new building types (Types IV-A, B, and C) in [...] Read more.
The need to lower the embodied carbon impact of the built environment and sequester carbon over the life of buildings has spurred the growth of mass timber building construction, leading to the introduction of new building types (Types IV-A, B, and C) in the 2021 International Building Code (IBC). The achievement of sustainability goals has been hindered by the perceived first cost assessment of mass timber systems. Optimizing cost is an urgent prerequisite to embodied carbon reduction. Due to a high level of prefabrication and reduction in field labor, the mass timber material volume constitutes a larger portion of total project cost when compared to buildings with traditional materials. In this study, the dollar cost, carbon emitted, and carbon sequestered of mass timber beam–column gravity system solutions with different design configurations was studied. Design parameters studied in this sensitivity analysis included viable building types, column grid dimension, and building height. A scenario study was conducted to estimate the economic viability of tall wood buildings with respect to land costs. It is concluded that, while Type III building designations are the most economical for lower building heights, the newly introduced Type IV subcategories remain competitive for taller structures while providing a potentially significant embodied carbon benefit. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
Environmental Life-Cycle Assessment and Life-Cycle Cost Analysis of a High-Rise Mass Timber Building: A Case Study in Pacific Northwestern United States
Sustainability 2021, 13(14), 7831; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13147831 - 13 Jul 2021
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 3454
Abstract
Global construction industry has a huge influence on world primary energy consumption, spending, and greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. To better understand these factors for mass timber construction, this work quantified the life cycle environmental and economic performances of a high-rise mass timber building [...] Read more.
Global construction industry has a huge influence on world primary energy consumption, spending, and greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. To better understand these factors for mass timber construction, this work quantified the life cycle environmental and economic performances of a high-rise mass timber building in U.S. Pacific Northwest region through the use of life-cycle assessment (LCA) and life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA). Using the TRACI impact category method, the cradle-to-grave LCA results showed better environmental performances for the mass timber building relative to conventional concrete building, with 3153 kg CO2-eq per m2 floor area compared to 3203 CO2-eq per m2 floor area, respectively. Over 90% of GHGs emissions occur at the operational stage with a 60-year study period. The end-of-life recycling of mass timber could provide carbon offset of 364 kg CO2-eq per m2 floor that lowers the GHG emissions of the mass timber building to a total 12% lower GHGs emissions than concrete building. The LCCA results showed that mass timber building had total life cycle cost of $3976 per m2 floor area that was 9.6% higher than concrete building, driven mainly by upfront construction costs related to the mass timber material. Uncertainty analysis of mass timber product pricing provided a pathway for builders to make mass timber buildings cost competitive. The integration of LCA and LCCA on mass timber building study can contribute more information to the decision makers such as building developers and policymakers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Article
Overview and Main Findings for the Austrian Case Study
Sustainability 2021, 13(14), 7584; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13147584 - 07 Jul 2021
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1530
Abstract
As part of a project investigating in the potential greenhouse gas mitigation effect of the increased use and production of mass timber worldwide, a comparative study was carried out to show the potential benefit of mass timber use in buildings in central Europe. [...] Read more.
As part of a project investigating in the potential greenhouse gas mitigation effect of the increased use and production of mass timber worldwide, a comparative study was carried out to show the potential benefit of mass timber use in buildings in central Europe. After designing a mass timber building functionally equivalent to an existing conventional building, cradle to grave life cycle assessments (LCA) were calculated. The reference is an eight-story building with mixed use in Vienna, originally built in reinforced concrete. Global Warming Potential (GWP) is defined as the central parameter of interest. Calculated life cycle phases are A1–A3 (resource to production), A4 and A5 (transport to site and construction, respectively), B4 (replacement in the use phase), and C1–C4 (End of Life), as well as D (benefits and loads beyond the building life). It can be shown that the total mass of the timber building is 47% lower than of the concrete building. Considering life cycle phases A1 to A5, the timber building shows 18% less embodied carbon. Taking the whole building life cycle and the operational energy use (B6) into account, differences in GWP are much lower, as the heating system, though equipped with high efficiency and clean Austrian electricity grid mix, has much higher impact than the other phases. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Review

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Review
What Is the Impact of Mass Timber Utilization on Climate and Forests?
Sustainability 2022, 14(2), 758; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14020758 - 11 Jan 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2881
Abstract
As the need to address climate change grows more urgent, policymakers, businesses, and others are seeking innovative approaches to remove carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere and decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors. Forests can play a role in reducing atmospheric carbon. However, there is disagreement [...] Read more.
As the need to address climate change grows more urgent, policymakers, businesses, and others are seeking innovative approaches to remove carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere and decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors. Forests can play a role in reducing atmospheric carbon. However, there is disagreement over whether forests are most effective in reducing carbon emissions when left alone versus managed for sustainable harvesting and wood product production. Cross-laminated timber is at the forefront of the mass timber movement, which is enabling designers, engineers, and other stakeholders to build taller wood buildings. Several recent studies have shown that substituting mass timber for steel and concrete in mid-rise buildings can reduce the emissions associated with manufacturing, transporting, and installing building materials by 13%-26.5%. However, the prospect of increased utilization of wood products as a climate solution also raises questions about the impact of increased demand for wood on forest carbon stocks, on forest condition, and on the provision of the many other critical social and environmental benefits that healthy forests can provide. A holistic assessment of the total climate impact of forest product demand across product substitution, carbon storage in materials, current and future forest carbon stock, and forest area and condition is challenging, but it is important to understand the impact of increased mass timber utilization on forests and climate, and therefore also on which safeguards might be necessary to ensure positive outcomes. To thus assess the potential impacts, both positive and negative, of greater mass timber utilization on forests ecosystems and emissions associated with the built environment, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) initiated a global mass timber impact assessment (GMTIA), a five-part, highly collaborative research program focused on understanding the potential benefits and risks of increased demand for mass timber products on forests and identifying appropriate safeguards to ensure positive outcomes. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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Other

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Opinion
Will a Transition to Timber Construction Cool the Climate?
Sustainability 2022, 14(7), 4271; https://doi.org/10.3390/su14074271 - 04 Apr 2022
Viewed by 1261
Abstract
Timber construction is on the rise and its contribution to climate change mitigation has been widely discussed by scientists and practitioners alike. As midrise building with wood in cities spreads, it will lead to fundamental and systemic change in forests, the manufacturing of [...] Read more.
Timber construction is on the rise and its contribution to climate change mitigation has been widely discussed by scientists and practitioners alike. As midrise building with wood in cities spreads, it will lead to fundamental and systemic change in forests, the manufacturing of construction materials, and the character and performance of the built environment. In this paper, we discuss the multifaceted implications of the transition to building with timber in cities for climate, which include greenhouse gas emissions but also go beyond those potential benefits. We demonstrate that while a transition to timber cities can have a balancing effect on the global carbon cycle, the other accompanying effects may enhance, reduce, or diminish that effect on climate. A collaboration of practitioners with scientists will be required to steer this transition in a climate-friendly direction. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Mass Timber and Sustainable Building Construction)
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