It’s Time to Ditch the Concrete and Steel. Wood Is the Construction Material of the Future

Across North America, trees stand ready to help us solve the climate crisis. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their wood. One way to respond to a challenge from the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, to seek “bold action and much greater ambition” on climate change is to protect forests from development, improve forest management and use sustainably harvested wood to build tall buildings. This will allow us to pump carbon from the atmosphere and store it both in forests and in cities. It will also support rural economies, improve wildlife habitat and create more affordable housing.

This opportunity arises from cross-laminated timber, or CLT. First introduced in the 1990s, it enables architects and engineers to design tall, fire-safe and beautiful wood buildings. Recent examples in the United States include the seven-story T3 building in Minneapolis, the eight-story Carbon12 building in Portland, Ore., and a six-story dormitory at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. In CanadaNorwaySwedenEngland and Australia, even taller wooden buildings are already in use. The Mjosa tower in Brumunddal, Norway, is only 25 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty.

Private industry is gearing up to provide engineered wood for more tall wood buildings here in the United States. This year a highly automated, large CLT plant opened in Washington state. Last week, the first ever CLT plant in New England was announced in Maine.