The construction wood crisis

November 9, 2022

It’s election time in several major economies. One of which is Brazil, which is home to one of the world’s largest biomes – the Amazon rainforest.

It’s election time in several major economies. One of which is Brazil, which is home to one of the world’s largest biomes – the Amazon rainforest.

One of the presidential candidates in Brazil ran on a “zero de-forestation” campaign. Looks like he won. That’s certainly a step forward.

If you follow my work regularly you know that I’m about the architecture, engineering and construction industry – not the wood industry. It just so happens that A TON of politicians and lobbyists in the Western markets seem to have fallen in love with using a ton of wood in construction recently – other than this Brazilian politician.

That’s why I am fascinated by the use of wood in construction. Last week I prefaced my “wood in construction” thoughts with a primer on CO2 from construction. I recommend you read the primer here before proceeding.

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Read the primer? Great. Let’s continue part-deux here.

Various scientists come to the conclusion that scaling up the use of wood in construction can significantly reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Latest estimates point to 30% reduction or more if we use timber buildings for 50% of our new construction.

Here’s the problem that lobbied Western politicians don’t get:

  • We have 4 billion hectares of forests
  • They produce 4.75 billion m3 of net incremental wood growth
  • Of which we can safely harvest 3 – 4 billion m3 per year
  • In 2020 we consumed 5 billion m3
  • World population keeps growing by 30%
  • Middle class keeps growing and emerging economies have a right to consume like their Western counterparts did and do
  • Therefore we will need to construct +70% floor space in Europe, +90% in Americas, +125% in APAC and +300% in Africa and Middle East until 2060
  • And the whole point is to use MORE WOOD in construction of those floor spaces.

This means: We are already consuming more than our supply, we are increasing our demand even before we put more wood into construction, then we need to use even more wood in construction, and by doing all this we will kill our wood supply.


So maybe some lobbyist will tell some politician over fancy lunch: “We’ll just recycle wood”.

Not happening, amigo. Wood is a downcycling material due to its specific properties. In the US, 17% of wood waste is recycled once or twice. 83% are downcycled to be either a fuel or compost/landfill. You can’t change the shape and structure of wood the way you can with metals/steel.

Meaning: Supply is supply. Not much we can do other than not fuck it.

What we need to fix is the consumption of wood in other sectors to allow construction to use much more wood.

So who consumes wood?

  • 51% for paper & packaging
  • 20% in construction
  • 18% for cooking, fuels, chemicals industry and others
  • 11% for furniture

Ikea alone is consuming 1% of global wood. Furniture + packaging.

So the way I see it, we have amazing founders working on decarbonizing one of the largest CO2-emitting sectors (construction) by bringing new materials and wood into buildings, such as Mighty Buildings, 011h and Juno.

But our politicians need to enable these founders to use more wood by eliminating the use of wood in packaging, paper, fuels, cooking and furniture.

Amazon needs to replace paper-based packaging with new materials.

Ikea needs to replace wood with new materials.

And Western politicians need to equip emerging markets with non-wood-based cooking and heating alternatives, and also need to ban cozy fireplaces for role-model reasons.

Only then we can free up wood supply for scaling up wood in construction, bring construction emissions down to 10% or less of world emissions, and not fuck the (Amazon) forests.


Great guide for differentiating wood products | WWF | Churkina et al. | UCSUSA | EPA | GOIAM on IKEA | Consuming sectors of wood | Wood consumption | Wood consumption

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