Vancouver conference touts sustainability benefits of wood

At the recent Wood Solutions Conference in Vancouver, speakers promoted the benefits of wood construction

by Peter Caulfield
A headshot of David Lomax, senior associate at Waugh Thistleton Architects in the U.K.

David Lomax, a senior associate at Waugh Thistleton Architects in the U.K., believes the building industry needs to change its thinking. — Photo courtesy Maureen McLaughlin

At the recent Wood Solutions Conference in Vancouver, speakers promoted the benefits of wood construction as a way to increase sustainability and combat climate change.

Keynote speaker Michael Green, a Vancouver architect who is well-known around the world as an enthusiastic supporter of wood as a construction material, said climate change is having a major impact on our built environment.

“The good news is that wood absorbs carbon,” Green said. “But other building materials, such as steel and concrete, are net emitters of carbon, and that’s not good.”

Both the construction and the operation of buildings need to be transformed, he said.

“The construction industry needs to change the way it builds,” Green said. “It hasn’t evolved much in the last 150 years. It’s the last craft industry on the planet. Everything else is built in a factory.”

The solution, he said, is a disruption in the way we do construction, not unlike Amazon (retail), Airbnb (hotels) and Uber (taxis). The same kind of transformation is coming to construction.

“The intersection of sustainability, prefabrication methods and new construction materials are behind the new way of building in the future,” Green said. “My firm has made it its mission to solve the related problems of climate change, population growth and the need for affordable housing.”

Green says the major disrupters in construction are coming from outside the construction industry.

“Silicon Valley has been getting involved,” he said.  “They have been introducing systems principles and helping us to rethink the entire construction process.”

Taking responsibility

Another speaker at the Wood Solutions Conference said society should not accept the cost to the environment of constructing new buildings.

“While we’re working hard to reduce carbon emissions from so many other sources, like vehicles and power, why would we accept that building should carry on as it is today?” asked David Lomax, senior associate with Waugh Thistleton Architects in London, England.

The main sources of carbon emissions from the building process are from cement-based products, like concrete and steel, Lomax said. 

“Our building industry thinks that more rules around sustainable construction are a barrier to building more homes,” he said. “But we think things can be different.”

Lomax said Waugh Thistleton supports using mass timber, which uses large prefabricated panels of solid wood as a structural material. 

“It reduces carbon emissions not only by reducing the use of concrete but also by using lumber that comes from trees that absorb carbon while they are alive,” Lomax said. “It’s quick and high-quality because it is built in a factory, and it gives the construction workforce a clean, dry, safe place to work that doesn’t move around every time there’s a new project.”

The executive director of one of the organizers of the conference said there will be more use of Canadian prefabricated wood products in the future.

“There is growing awareness of the benefits of sustainability,” said Lynn Embury-Williams, executive director of Wood WORKS! BC. “For example, the federal and provincial levels of government in Canada have climate action strategies.”

Embury-Williams said Canada has some of the most advanced technology in the world to make prefabricated structural wood.

“And in the future it will be used more and more in tall buildings as the building codes catch up,” she said.

The 2017 Wood Solutions Conference took place November 14 at the Vancouver Convention Centre East (Canada Place). More than 600 participants attended the conference, which has been an annual event for 15 years. The conference also hosted 22 speakers and 31 exhibitors.

Event organizers were Wood WORKS! BC and the Canadian Wood Council. National funder was Natural Resources Canada. Provincial funders and event sponsors were Forestry Innovation Investment and naturally:wood.


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