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Published on November 23, 2020

The role of wooden building elements in achieving a Net Zero world

Buildings account for more than a third of global carbon emissions1, due to energy use and construction materials like cement, steel, and petroleum-based products. So it’s imperative we increase the adoption of biomass and wood-based construction materials to harness their valuable climate service. At Puro.earth, we recognize the carbon removal potential of building elements created out of sustainable sources and provide manufacturers with a platform to get rewarded for their net effect on the climate.

Why are wooden building elements valid carbon removal?

Sustainably managed forests provide renewable biomass that continuously captures CO2 from the atmosphere. When wooden building elements are produced from these forests, they maintain the biomass and carbon sequestered within a long-lived storage, with low likelihood of reversal. This cycle makes wooden building elements a vital carbon removal pathway.

In fact, according to a review2 of the technological and economic prospects for CO2 utilization and removal, published in Nature magazine, the carbon removal potential from sustainably harvested wood products is of 1,1 Gt of CO2 removal per year.

How do we reach the potential of wooden building elements? 

Wood is currently marginally used for building offices and homes. Actually, only 5% of buildings in Europe are built from wood, so suppliers have high barriers to contend with.

A study3 by Aalto University and the Finnish Environment Institute estimated that the carbon storage potential of new European buildings between 2020 and 2040 could displace up to 47% of CO2 emissions from the cement industry in Europe. The researchers found that “the carbon storage capacity of buildings is not significantly influenced by the type […] or the size of the building but rather by the number and volume of wooden elements used in the structural and non-structural components of the building”.

At Puro.earth, we think that income linked to their climate service would help suppliers reach their potential, lift barriers to growth and impact adoption rates. This is why we co-created the carbon removal methodology for Wooden Building Elements. We realized that we could decouple their carbon sequestration service as a separate attribute and create new revenue that reflects the climate value and helps manufacturers increase production by eliminating technical and financial bottlenecks. We quantify and deduct all manufacturing emissions from the embodied carbon in the element to issue a verified carbon removal offset, the CO2 Removal Certificate or CORC, per tonne of CO2 removed.

Durable carbon removal

CORCs from wooden building elements offer longer permanence of carbon removal (50 to 100 years) than soil carbon or forests and are easily and scientifically measurable, offering value for the investment. Moreover, to meet the Puro.earth methodology standard suppliers must provide a carbon footprint calculation (LCA) and FSC/PEFS certification, as evidence that their manufacturing comes from sustainable forestry. The wooden building elements need to be used as part of the structure of a building to classify as durable CO2 storage. We also apply a buffer of 10% to each CORC, to take into account risks such as loss by fire.

Co-benefits

Even though CORCs only quantify the net removal and storage of emissions, not reduced or avoided emissions, we are aware of wooden building elements’ co-benefits. Among them are:

-replacement of materials: if the cement industry was a country, it would be the third largest emitter right after China and the US. Nearly 4 tons of CO2 emissions may be avoided for each tonne of dry wood that displaces concrete-based materials

 -green jobs: decarbonizing the world’s economy requires regenerative use of natural resources and the new jobs and livelihoods they can create. Manufacturing wooden building elements creates jobs often in regions where they are badly needed

-cascading recyclability: wood biomass can be recycled in many ways including packaging, biochar (another carbon removal method) and bioenergy

Innovations support adoption

A showcase of future potential is the 18-story multi-use Mjøstårnet, or Mjøsa Tower in Brumunddal, Norway,  which at 85.4 meters high, is currently the world’s tallest wooden building, with a structure and façade made of wood. State-of-the-art wood-based products such as cross-laminated timber and glulam timber were used in the construction, exemplifying the innovations entering the construction industry and generating more carbon sequestration.

Companies can purchase carbon removals in these already available technologies in the short and medium term to neutralize emissions and in parallel support the long-term vision of the construction industry of the future.

New value to wooden building elements climate service: a win-win situation

As we transition out of fossil fuels, wooden building elements are not only a mitigation strategy but also an adaptation one.  The more we change the construction industry the more resilient our communities will be, both as we reduce future climate risks and at the same time boost economic and social opportunities.

We say we want a net zero world, so let’s give new value to the things that help us get there. Corporations looking to remove their emissions with carbon removal offsets can play a part by acknowledging the carbon removal available right now in wooden building elements.

Are you ready to include carbon removal in your climate actions? Welcome to learn more about our Wooden Building Elements carbon removal suppliers and don't hesitate to contact us.

References:
1 IEA Global Status Report for  Buildings and Construction
2 Hepburn, C., Adlen, E., Beddington, J. et al. The technological and economic prospects for CO2 utilization and removal. Nature 575, 87–97 (2019).
3 Ali Amiri et al 2020 Environmental Research Letters 15 094076
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