Our sustainable products help provide homes for everyone
What is the challenge?
Few amenities are more fundamental to life and comfort than a home. It is a place where people sleep, entertain and break bread with friends and family; retreat from the busy world; and raise their children. For many, home is a sacred, personal space, and it can take many forms. It can be a single-family detached home in the suburbs or in a small town or city. It can be an apartment or condominium in a multifamily building, a place where two or more households live under the same roof, an intergenerational family home or a homestead in a rural setting.
Today, most single-family homes in North America are built with wood, one of the world’s most sustainable and versatile building materials. Many low-rise multifamily buildings, typically five stories or shorter, also use wood. But one of the largest opportunities to expand wood construction — and greatly multiply the supply of quality, affordable housing — is to increase the use of sustainably grown wood in mid- and high-rise buildings of five to 10-plus stories. Currently, buildings of this size tend to use less wood due to building codes that historically restricted the use of wood in taller structures. As a result, developers tend to focus either on constructing low-rise buildings, which do not significantly increase housing availability or density, or much taller, more high-end buildings, which do not improve affordability — and which also use building materials, such as concrete and steel, that have much higher environmental impacts than wood.
We see a critical need to fill this housing gap in mid-rise buildings. Through innovation in wood products and updated building codes and techniques, we can significantly increase the overall availability of homes of all kinds. We need to ensure enough options are available to meet different income levels and suit different geographies, and we also need to improve the overall understanding and acceptance of wood as the most sustainable and cost-effective building material.
That is where we see our role: Working with partners and through our deep industry and supply chain expertise, we believe we can help create more quality, affordable housing — faster, more efficiently and at a scale to make a real difference for communities of all sizes across North America. And we see a double win: More wood construction also decreases our planet’s dependence on building materials that rely on large amounts of fossil fuels in their production and use.
What do we want to achieve by 2030?
By 2030, we envision a world where sustainable wood products are providing abundant, creative opportunities for ensuring everyone has access to housing. We want to be part of a paradigm shift where there are more housing options — of all shapes and sizes — anchored in natural, renewable and efficient materials.
Where we are focused
While there is much we can do between now and 2030, we are structuring our long-term goals into three-year segments to effectively prioritize and accelerate progress. During these first three years, we are focusing our work in two key areas:
Promoting innovation in the sustainability of wood building materials
Mass timber is a category of wood building products that can provide structural performance, carbon efficiency and resilience while linking urban sustainability solutions to rural economies. We are partnering with leaders and advocates to grow the acceptance of mass timber as an innovative and sustainable building material.
Supporting affordable homebuilding efforts
We believe everyone deserves a sustainably built, affordable home. While our wood products already provide the essential building blocks for single-family housing across North America, we are creating and strengthening relationships with key partners to help make sustainable, affordable homes more broadly accessible.
As we explore and implement solutions for sustainable homes, we will develop and report progress and measurable-success metrics for each of our focus areas.
While we are still early in our work to achieve our 3 by 30 sustainability ambitions, we are laying the groundwork for meaningful progress toward our goals. The key objectives and accomplishments below are foundational to our success and will be updated throughout our journey.
Strengthen mass timber prioritization in building-code adoption and policies, particularly for multifamily housing
In 2021 our government relations team added mass timber building-code adoption to our legislative action plans.
In 2018 the International Code Council developed code provisions for mass timber construction projects up to 18 stories; those provisions were then added to the 2021 International Building Code. Part of our ongoing activity includes working to get the IBC’s codes adopted in the U.S. Our team is working with partners and associations at the state level to build acceptance of mass timber, position innovative wood building materials as a low-carbon option and encourage states to expand mass timber promotion and construction projects.
Partner with and support organizations to drive improvements in research and understanding of mass timber, particularly related to housing
In 2020 we awarded a grant to the University of Arkansas’ Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design for a research project and design studio called Wood City: Timberizing the City’s Building Blocks. The project received the 2021 Green Good Design Award.
Building on this success, in 2021 we funded a second design research project, A Just Home for the Arkansas Timberlands. Together, these projects have helped amplify the program’s emphasis on timber and wood products, as well as the specific typology of affordable housing. Both projects have been expanded into additional work with new partners interested in using mass timber for affordable housing and also in rural, forest-centered communities.
In 2021 we also sponsored the International Mass Timber Report, which informed the International Mass Timber Conference, the world’s largest gathering of mass timber experts.
Finally, in 2021 we joined the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Mass Timber Action Committee, a group of civil society and business leaders focused on moving sustainable mass timber from a niche opportunity to a mainstream option and developing tools to expand the use of mass timber.
Partner with organizations to ensure existing and innovative wood products are accurately represented in sustainable building assessment tools
With our support, the American Wood Council partnered with the Carbon Leadership Forum in 2020 to host the Wood Carbon Seminars, an eight-part webinar series featuring wood products and forestry experts who answered questions from the building industry about the carbon and climate impacts of wood.
To inform the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator’s representation of variability within the industrywide environmental product declarations for various wood products, in 2021 we awarded a grant to the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials to analyze the energy use and associated variability of greenhouse gas emissions among the softwood lumber life-cycle assessments. This calculator is one of the prominent tools being used to evaluate a building product’s environmental impact.
Drive industrywide improvements in the transparency and traceability of sustainable wood products
Over the past two years, as part of the creation of the North American Environmental Product Declarations, we developed and implemented an action plan with the American Wood Council to improve the quality and quantity of data collected from manufacturing companies. This project will dramatically increase participation from manufacturing facilities and streamline the life cycle-assessment creation process with an online data portal.
Use our scale and expertise to enhance partnerships with builders of affordable housing
We have an ongoing partnership with Habitat for Humanity to connect our employee volunteers and direct giving with local chapters across North America. Since 2018, our employees have participated in 51 building projects with local Habitat for Humanity chapters, which we paired with more than $135,000 in direct donations.