Buildings and the construction sector together account for about 39% of the global energy-related CO2 emissions. Recent building designs are introducing promising new mass timber products that have the capacity to partially replace concrete and steel in traditional buildings. The inherently lower environmental impacts of engineered wood products for construction are seen as one of the key strategies to mitigate climate change through their increased use in the construction sector. This chapter synthesizes the estimated carbon benefits of using engineered wood products and mass timber in the construction sector based on insights obtained from recent Life Cycle Assessment studies in the topic area of reduced carbon emissions and carbon sequestration/storage.
Manufacturing of building materials and construction of buildings make up 11% of the global greenhouse gas emission by sector. Mass timber construction has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving wood into buildings with designs that have traditionally been dominated by steel and concrete. The environmental impacts of mass timber buildings were compared against those of functionally equivalent conventional buildings. Three pairs of buildings were designed for the Pacific Northwest, Northeast and Southeast regions in the United States to conform to mass timber building types with 8, 12, or 18 stories. Conventional buildings constructed with concrete and steel were designed for comparisons with the mass timber buildings. Over all regions and building heights, the mass timber buildings exhibited a reduction in the embodied carbon varying between 22% and 50% compared to the concrete buildings. Embodied carbon per unit of area increased with building height as the quantity of concrete, metals, and other nonrenewable materials increased. Total embodied energy to produce, transport, and construct A1–A5 materials was higher in all mass timber buildings compared to equivalent concrete. Further research is needed to predict the long-term carbon emissions and carbon mitigation potential of mass timber buildings to conventional building materials.
The US housing construction market consumes vast amounts of resources, with most structural elements derived from wood, a renewable and sustainable resource. The same cannot be said for all nonresidential or high-rise buildings, which are primarily made of concrete and steel. As part of continuous environmental improvement processes, building life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a useful tool to compare the environmental footprint of building structures. This study is a comparative LCA of an 8360-m2, 12-story mixed-use apartment/office building designed for Portland, OR, and constructed from mainly mass timber. The designed mass timber building had a relatively lightweight structural frame that used 1782 m3 of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and 557 m3 of glue-laminated timber (glulam) and associated materials, which replaced approximately 58% of concrete and 72% of rebar that would have been used in a conventional building. Compared with a similar concrete building, the mass timber building had 18%, 1%, and 47% reduction in the impact categories of global warming, ozone depletion, and eutrophication, respectively, for the A1-A5 building LCA. The use of CLT and glulam materials substantially decreased the carbon footprint of the building, although it consumed more primary energy compared with a similar concrete building. The impacts for the mass timber building were affected by large amounts of gypsum board, which accounted for 16% of total building mass. Both lowering the amount of gypsum and keeping the mass timber production close to the construction site could lower the overall environmental footprint of the mass timber building.
Mass timber building materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) have captured attention in mid- to high-rise building designs because of their potential environmental benefits. The recently updated multistory building code also enables greater utilization of these wood building materials. The cost-effectiveness of mass timber buildings is also undergoing substantial analysis. Given the relatively new presence of CLT in United States, high front-end construction costs are expected. This study presents the life-cycle cost (LCC) for a 12-story, 8,360-m2 mass timber building to be built in Portland, Oregon. The goal was to assess its total life-cycle cost (TLCC) relative to a functionally equivalent reinforced-concrete building design using our in-house-developed LCC tool. Based on commercial construction cost data from the RSMeans database, a mass timber building design is estimated to have 26 percent higher front-end costs than its concrete alternative. Front-end construction costs dominated the TLCC for both buildings. However, a decrease of 2.4 percent TLCC relative to concrete building was observed because of the estimated longer lifespan and higher end-of-life salvage value for the mass timber building. The end-of-life savings from demolition cost or salvage values in mass timber building could offset some initial construction costs. There are minimal historical construction cost data and lack of operational cost data for mass timber buildings; therefore, more studies and data are needed to make the generalization of these results. However, a solid methodology for mass timber building LCC was developed and applied to demonstrate several cost scenarios for mass timber building benefits or disadvantages.
Global construction industry has a huge influence on world primary energy consumption, spending, and greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. To better understand these factors for mass timber construction, this work quantified the life cycle environmental and economic performances of a high-rise mass timber building in U.S. Pacific Northwest region through the use of life-cycle assessment (LCA) and life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA). Using the TRACI impact category method, the cradle-to-grave LCA results showed better environmental performances for the mass timber building relative to conventional concrete building, with 3153 kg CO2-eq per m2 floor area compared to 3203 CO2-eq per m2 floor area, respectively. Over 90% of GHGs emissions occur at the operational stage with a 60-year study period. The end-of-life recycling of mass timber could provide carbon offset of 364 kg CO2-eq per m2 floor that lowers the GHG emissions of the mass timber building to a total 12% lower GHGs emissions than concrete building. The LCCA results showed that mass timber building had total life cycle cost of $3976 per m2 floor area that was 9.6% higher than concrete building, driven mainly by upfront construction costs related to the mass timber material. Uncertainty analysis of mass timber product pricing provided a pathway for builders to make mass timber buildings cost competitive. The integration of LCA and LCCA on mass timber building study can contribute more information to the decision makers such as building developers and policymakers.
EBD was first developed by the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute. An EBD is a summary report of the comprehensive environmental footprint data for a building and declares life-cycle impacts according to a standardized format. It is a statement of performance and is publicly disclosed, similar to a nutrition label on a food package. The intent of the document is to present results as transparently and concisely as possible.
Athena’s EBDs are compliant with the European standard EN 15978, a whole-building LCA standard that is intended to support decision-making and documentation around the assessment of environmental performance of buildings. The Design Building would be the fourth building to be assessed as part of Athena’s EBD initiative and the first located in the United States.
With the world’s increasing focus on sustainability in the construction sector through green building systems, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been actively engaged in green building advocacy in the United States through USDA Tall Wood Building competitions and follow-up research on use of mass timber for nonresidential buildings. The USDA Forest Service, Forest Product Laboratory (FPL) funded the study of environmental performance of the pioneer mass timber building (the John W. Olver Design Building) built at University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2016. The Athena Sustainable Materials Institute conducted the whole building life cycle assessment (LCA) using the Impact Estimator for Building software. Secondly, the reported LCA results led to development of an environmental building declaration (EBD) in conformance with European standard EN 15978. Environmental building declarations summarize the embodied and operational environmental impacts during the full building life cycle. An EBD is much like an environmental product declaration (EPD) which is intended for marketing and educational use, but instead of covering individual products like an EPD, an EBD covers the whole building. Lastly, the LCA results of the Design Building were then compared with a functionally equivalent steel and concrete building to acquire the whole building LCA credit in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) v.4 for green buildings. With the mass timber use in the Design Building, the building qualified for the whole building LCA credit in LEED v4. With this project, FPL is helping to standardize environmental performance reporting and advanced mass timber building sustainability.
Cross-laminated timber (CLT) used in the U.S. is mainly imported from abroad. In the existing literature, however, there are data on domestic transportation, but little understanding exists about the environmental impacts from the CLT import. Most studies use travel distances to the site based on domestic supply origins. The new Adohi Hall building at the University of Arkansas campus, Fayetteville, AR, presents the opportunity to address the multimodal transportation with overseas origin, and to use real data gathered from transporters and manufacturers. The comparison targets the environmental impacts of CLT from an overseas transportation route (Austria-Fayetteville, AR) to two other local transportation lines. The global warming potential (GWP) impact, from various transportation systems, constitutes the assessment metric. The findings demonstrate that transportation by water results in the least greenhouse gas (GHG) emission compared with freight transportation by rail and road. Transportation by rail is the second most efficient, and by road the least environmentally efficient. On the other hand, the comparison of the life cycle assessment (LCA) tools, SimaPro (Ecoinvent database) and Tally (GaBi database), used in this research, indicate a remarkable difference in GWP characterization impact factors per tonne.km (tkm), primarily due to the different database used by each software.
Climate change, environmental degradation, and limited resources are motivations for sustainable forest management. Forests, the most abundant renewable resource on earth, used to make a wide variety of forest-based products for human consumption. To provide a scientific measure of a product’s sustainability and environmental performance, the life cycle assessment (LCA) method is used. This article provides a comprehensive review of environmental performances of forest-based products including traditional building products, emerging (mass-timber) building products and nanomaterials using attributional LCA. Across the supply chain, the product manufacturing life-cycle stage tends to have the largest environmental impacts. However, forest management activities and logistics tend to have the greatest economic impact. In addition, environmental trade-offs exist when regulating emissions as indicated by the latest traditional wood building product LCAs. Interpretation of these LCA results can guide new product development using biomaterials, future (mass) building systems and policy-making on mitigating climate change. Key challenges include handling of uncertainties in the supply chain and complex interactions of environment, material conversion, resource use for product production and quantifying the emissions released.