Are trees the key to a sustainable building future?


  • Darlene Stanley, Shutterstock

Michigan is in a unique position to capitalize on innovative building technology that can improve the environment.

Mass timber is created from smaller pieces of wood, such as two-by-fours, that are glued together to create beams, floors and other load-bearing building structures. Michigan State University's new STEM Teaching and Learning Facility is the first building in the state to use mass timber.

Richard Kobe, professor and chair of the Department of Forestry at MSU, said the material is a more sustainable and carbon-friendly alternative to steel and concrete construction.

"One thousand, eight hundred and fifty six metric tons of carbon that's contained in that building," Kobe said. "And when the trees were growing, they took that carbon out of the atmosphere and now this is a long-term mechanism for storing that carbon that will keep it out of the atmosphere."

A virtual tour of the building will take place today during the Michigan Mass Timber Summit. The event will be held online over three sessions, and will examine the costs and benefits of mass timber projects, design and logistics, building codes and construction.

Dave Neumann, forest products utilization and marketing specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Forest Resources Division, said with about 60% of Michigan covered in forest, there's great potential for mass timber building components to be sourced from the state in the future.

"All of this wood comes from somewhere," Neumann said. "Some of it may be sourced from Michigan and help put Michigan workers to work. And the more demand we can create for forest products generally, the more demand will trickle down to Michigan."

Neumann explained that such a demand for wood could help prevent the conversion of forests into land for other uses.

"There's a strong linkage between markets for forest products — that is having a commercial outlet to sell the products coming out of forest land — and our ability to keep forest land actively managed, sustainably growing and healthy," he said.

Building materials, including steel and concrete, account for roughly 11% of carbon emissions worldwide.

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