2015 Spring Scholarship Honorable Mention – Samuel Deshields

Congratulations to Samuel Deshields; her essay earned her an honorable mention from American Pole and Timber. We asked the question, “In what ways can the increased use of wood and wood-derived building materials in construction make the most positive impacts on the environment in next 35 years (by 2050)?”  The following is Samuel’s winning submission


For centuries wood has been man’s primary building material. Primarily because of the large amount of wood readily accessible and for how useful it is to build with. Wood is also one of the most gorgeous materials when handled properly. Wood is cost effective for many projects, it is very adaptable to many environments, easily fits in with many décors, but the primary reason builders should consider using wood is it long and short term impacts on the environment. Below we talk about why wood building materials will have a positive impact on the environment in the next thirty five years.

Since wood grows naturally it is a renewable resource. Wood’s lifecycle assessment (LCA) shows that it actually has environmental advantages. LCA is known internationally. It primarily measures the impacts of building materials and buildings as a whole over their entire lives. It is measured from the second the wood is harvested then manufactured, transported to the desired location, installed, used over its life, impact of maintaining, and finally disposal. LCA urges design professionals to compare and contrast different ways to build structures. Primarily by making the builders make informed choices about the different materials they use. (Evans)

Building environmentally conscious is not only good for the environment it is good for business. When compared to concrete and steel wood products help to increase a building’s energy efficiency and keeps energy consumed to a minimum throughout the life of the structure. Wood also helps keep carbon out of the atmosphere that helps reduce the effects of climate change. As trees grow they store carbon dioxide.  Steel and concrete consume twelve and twenty percent more energy and emit fifteen and twenty nine percent more greenhouse gases respectively. Wood is known to be an excellent insulator. Wood has a cellular structure that allows for air pockets that helps to slow the progress of conducting heat. (American Forest Foundation)

Wood is also a sustainable resource. This will be a key factor in wood building materials make positive impacts on the environment within the next thirty five years. However we must balance the needs of society for forest products while respecting the forest itself and preserving the forest for future generations. Responsible forest management has managed to meet society’s needs in North America. U.S. and Canada has had fifty consecutive years of net forest growth that exceeds annual forest harvests. Therefore the rate of deforestation in the U.S. and Canada is virtually zero. Also wood is the only building material with third party certification programs in affect. This demonstrates that wood products being sold have come from a sustainably managed resource. (Evans)

A sustainable forest certification allows companies who harvest wood to demonstrate the effectiveness of their craft. A forest certification has companies practices independently assessed against a strict practice that considers environmental, economic and social values. About 500 million acres of forest in the U.S. and Canada were certified under one of the four internationally recognized programs in North America. These four internationally recognized programs represent more than half the world’s certified forests. (Evans)

Wood has another key advantage. The advantage of low conductivity compared to their building counterparts steel and concrete. This makes wood simple to insulate to high standards. Concrete and steel have to contend with thermal bridging and the possibility of condensation on their cold surfaces. However what many designers love about wood is it is greatly energy efficient. When you talk about embodied energy, air/water pollution, and carbon footprint wood has considerably less impact. Even a somewhat primitive wood structure can have a tight building envelope using newer systems such as CLT. For those who wish to meet the Passive House Standard, which is to create a zero carbon building, wood is proving to be the best choice. (Evans)

Global climate change has never been more at the forefront of our societies conscious. The general stability of our planet has never been more critical. Forests play such a crucial role in our planet’s carbon cycle. They remove carbon from the air through the process of photosynthesis, which turns carbon dioxide and water into sugars. This allows trees to grow and releases oxygen into the atmosphere thus combating global warming. Our forests harbor about 26 billion metric tons of carbon inside standing trees throughout the process.(Falk)

When we talk about storing carbon inside of trees this is called embodied energy. In other words this is the quantity of energy required to harvest, mine, manufacture, and transport a material or product. When we talk about positive impacts on environment by 2050 when have to discuss the amounts of embodied energy. Wood when compared to the other options of steel and concrete wood has a low level of embodied energy. The sun is the primary source of energy to grow wood products where nonrenewable fossil fuels are the primary energy source in the production of concrete and steel. Also the primary source of fuel to harvest trees is a bioenergy made largely from tree bark, sawdust, and by-products of the paper making process. (Falk)

Another primary reason why wood building materials is crucial in having a positive impact is the answer to the question what will happen to the materials after their useful life? According to “Survey on Actual Service Lives of North American Buildings” buildings in the U.S. often are useful for less than fifty years regardless of the type of material used to construct the building. When you consider the amount of energy embodied in these materials and the difficulty of disposing all the different building materials wood has the definite advantage. (Evans)

Each passing year the pressure to reduce carbon dioxide in the air grows greater and greater. Designers of buildings are increasingly being called to maintain an ever-growing difficult balance of maintaining functionality and cost effectiveness with a reduced impact to the environment. Overall wood amounts to less cost both on the wallet and on the environment. In spite of these lower costs wood delivers more so in beauty and performance. When we think about a building material that will have positive impacts on the environment, wood is far above the rest the number one choice.


Works Cited

American Forest Foundation. Wood: A Good Choice for Energy Efficiency and the Environment. N.D. 15 March 2015 <https://www.forestfoundation.org/wood–a-good-choice-for-energy-efficiency-and-the-environment>.

Evans, Layne. “Rethinking Wood as a Material of Choice.” Architectural Record (2012).

Falk, Robert H. “Wood as a Sustainable Building Material.” N.A. Forest Products Laboratory. 15 March 2015 <http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fplgtr190/chapter_01.pdf>.