The environmental footprint of CLT is frequently discussed as potentially beneficial when compared to functionally equivalent non-wood alternatives, particularly concrete systems. In this Chapter, the role of CLT in sustainable design is addressed. The embodied environmental impacts of CLT in a mid-rise building are discussed, with preliminary results from a comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) study. We also discuss other aspects of CLT's environmental profile, including impact on the forest resource and impact on indoor air quality from CLT emissions. The ability of the North American forest to sustainably support a CLT industry is an important consideration and is assessed from several angles, including a companion discussion regarding efficient use of material. Market projections and forest growth-removal are applied to reach a clear conclusion that CLT will not create a challenge to the sustainable forest practices currently in place in North America and safeguarded through legislation and/or third party certification programs. To assess potential impact on indoor air quality, CLT products with different thicknesses and glue lines were tested for their volative organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde emissions. CLT was found to be in compliance with European labeling programs as well as the most stringent CARB limits for formaldehyde emissions. Testing was done on Canadian species, as there was no U.S. supplier of CLT at the time of this writing; because VOC emissions are affected by species, this work should be repeated from products made from different species.
The objective of this project was to quantify and compare the environmental impacts associated with alternative designs for a typical North American mid-rise office building. Two scenarios were considered; a traditional cast-in-place, reinforced concrete frame and a laminated timber hybrid design, which utilized engineered wood products (cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glulam). The boundary of the quantitative analysis was cradle-to-construction site gate and encompassed the structural support system and the building enclosure. Floor plans, elevations, material quantities, and structural loads associated with a five-storey concrete-framed building design were obtained from issued-for-construction drawings. A functionally equivalent, laminated timber hybrid design was conceived, based on Canadian Building Code requirements. Design values for locally produced CLT panels were established from in-house material testing. Primary data collected from a pilot-scale manufacturing facility was used to develop the life cycle inventory for CLT, whereas secondary sources were referenced for other construction materials. The TRACI characterization methodology was employed to translate inventory flows into impact indicators. The results indicated that the laminated timber building design offered a lower environmental impact in 10 of 11 assessment categories. The cradle-to-gate process energy was found to be nearly identical in both design scenarios (3.5 GJ/m2), whereas the cumulative embodied energy (feedstock plus process) of construction materials was estimated to be 8.2 and 4.6 GJ/m2 for the timber and concrete designs, respectively; which indicated an increased availability of readily accessible potential energy stored within the building materials of the timber alternative.