Barking Up the Wrong Tree

By Jacob Friesen 

There’s a new opportunity for one of New Brunswick’s oldest industries. New Brunswick’s forestry industry may soon be able to benefit from global enthusiasm for the use of wood as a construction material. At a time when the oil and gas industry dominate headlines about Canadian natural resources, it is worth remembering our valuable forestry industry.

Wood is both environmentally friendly and safe. Currently, cement-making produces 6% of the world’s carbon emissions, while the making of steel, half of which is used in construction, produces 8% of global emissions. This is part of the reason for which it is estimated that 30-60% of the carbon emissions caused by a building over its lifespan are released during its construction. It takes six times as much energy to create a steel beam as it does to create a laminated wooden beam of similar strength. Well-made wooden building materials from old wooden buildings are also easy to reuse in new building projects.

Wooden buildings also require less energy to heat. A softwood window frame provides 1000 times as much insulation as an aluminum windowframe, and 400 times as much as a steel windowframe. Thus, wood is also useful in making old buildings more energy efficient.

Beyond requiring less energy to build and heat, wooden buildings can actually have a negative impact on carbon emissions. Carbon stored in trees used for construction remains stored in the builing materials, and new trees can be planted in the place of those that are harvested, as is already standard practice in many logging industries.

Additonally, wood is a safe construction material. Contrary to popular belief about an elevated risk of fire in wooden buildings, cross-laminated timber panels peform better in fire tests than steel panels.

As governments work to meet emissions reduction targets, there will likely be increased interest in cutting carbon at the construction site. One way to do this is to encourage the use of wood as a construction material. The forestry industry in New Brunswick, and accross Canada, stands to benefit. Canadian foresters offer high-quality products produced in accordance with world-class environmental and safety standards. Canadian foresters should continue to position themselves as leaders in green innovation, and all levels of Canadian government should promote building codes which recognize the value of wood in safe and environmentally friendly construction. In doing so, they’ll be barking up the right tree.

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