7 May 2022

Wood is a sustainable alternative in the face of steel shortages, academic says

Building with wood could make construction more sustainable and supply chains more resilient says a professor at Aalto University in Finland.

Wooden puzzle
© Kieran Wood/Unsplash

The conflict in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions on Russia have affected energy and commodity prices. The combination of supply uncertainty, expensive energy, and rising material costs has added urgency to the need to find alternatives. The price of steel jumped after Russia invaded Ukraine, and it has remained high as the war continues. Supply problems and high prices are likely to persist because Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s largest steel exporters. However, it should be noted that they also supply timber.

Speaking specifically about Finland, Seppo Junnila, a professor at Aalto University notes the construction industry in Finland is already facing shortages and possible bankruptcies, but, ‘Wooden construction could offer a solution, and we could change the structure of the industry in a short time if we’re politically committed.’

He says that shifting to wooden construction would help Europe in its effort to rely less on Russian energy and resources.

According to Junnila, contractors have continued using steel and concrete mainly because of the business risks involved in switching to an unfamiliar technology. ‘What’s needed is an ecosystem where companies in the supply chain see the business benefit of switching from concrete and steel to wood. They know how to do it, but so far the costs have been relatively low and making the change has been too much of a business risk because there’s reliable demand for concrete apartment buildings,’ he explains. ‘If the price stays high, whether because of the war or other things, then there will almost automatically be a switch to constructing wooden residential high-rises.’

The Finnish government has set of a goal of 45% of public construction using wood by 2025 – tripling the market share from 2019.

Research from Junnila’s group suggests that using wood to build 80% of new residential buildings in Europe would sequester 55mln tons of carbon dioxide per year.