“If we want to keep the effects of man-made climate change to within tolerable limits, we need to choose materials and products with a strong benefit, when looking at the complete environmental impact and performance.” said Dr Andrew Norton, Technical Advisor of the European Wood Industries (CEI-Bois and EOS). Buildings generate approximately 40% of global emissions therefore we must make substantial changes to the way we design, build, and manage our built environment.
The potential climate benefits of wood products are numerous: they offer solutions based on existing business models and proven technology which simultaneously store carbon and substitute fossil resources, thus diminishing the CO2 emissions caused by the global building stock. Wood is a versatile and aesthetic building material that can store large quantities of atmospheric CO2 above the earth’s surface easily and without risk. The beams in medieval timbered houses in many European cities bear witness to the resource efficiency of these “CO2 sinks”.
The manufacturing and construction process is responsible for embodied greenhouse gas emissions before buildings are occupied, and when they reach the end of their service life. A corresponding possible action for the construction ecosystem is to reduce embodied emissions in design and construction practices, including at the stage of manufacturing of construction products.
It is therefore crucial that building materials have a low overall impact on the environment, which can also result in significantly lower production costs. Materials should also help with reducing across the whole life cycle, and this should be properly accounted for through an appropriate life cycle assessment (LCA), such as the dynamic LCA methodology. In addition to measuring the amount of CO2 stored in construction materials and products, this methodology also provides essential information about the duration of CO2 storage. Furthermore, wastewater production should also be as low as possible in the manufacturing of construction materials and products.
Similarly important for the transition to a green construction ecosystem is its resilience, which is not at its highest point due to issues related to accessibility to raw materials necessary to produce construction products. Overall, COVID-19 has shown disruptions in the global supply chain and led to shortages of certain critical products in Europe. Specifically in construction, after the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions, a rising demand and important supply challenges were observed. At the same time, export restrictions are being implemented by Ukraine and Russia, with detrimental impacts on the competitiveness of the EU industry.
The challenges associated with accessibility to raw materials to produce construction products are amplified by barriers to trade, WTO infringements, and a lengthy legislative framework for intervention in the WTO. This creates an uneven level playing field, negatively affecting the competitiveness of the sector. In turn, this results in delays in delivering construction products down the supply chain, as well as significant price fluctuations.
To ensure the resilience of the construction ecosystem, a level playing field on raw material supply, within and outside of the European Union, must be guaranteed and accompanied by relentless vigilance against all kinds of trade distortions.