Study Says Building With Trees Is Better For The Planet


The fact that trees are capable of absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere makes them the ideal building material, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Washington say that using wood in place of steel and concrete that devour fossil fuels and produce harmful emissions during manufacturing could quadruple the amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere over 100 years.

“Every time you see a wood building, it’s a storehouse of carbon from the forest. When you see steel or concrete, you’re seeing the emissions of carbon dioxide that had to go into the atmosphere for those structures to go up,” said Bruce Lippke, University of Washington professor emeritus of forest resources.

Lippke suggests that sustainably-managed forests are essentially carbon neutral as they provide an equal, two-way flow of carbon dioxide: the gas that trees absorb while growing eventually goes back to the atmosphere when, for example, a tree falls in the forest and decays or a wood cabinet goes to a landfill and rots.

According to the study’s contributors, which include Mid Sweden University and the U.S. Forest Service, it’s better to harvest the wood for building and other products instead of letting a wildfire or beetle infestation release all that carefully stored carbon.

While the reasoning seems to make sense, it’s important to remember that forests do a lot more than just sit there. They also provide shelter and food for millions of creatures; their root system helps stabilize the soil and hold entire hillsides together; and their leaves fall to the forest floor each season, enriching its natural hummus.

Still, the researchers maintain they’re not advocating the destruction of all forests for wood: they say potential materials for products and building projects should undergo life cycle analysis to help determine the amount of carbon that could be offset by using wood instead of steel or concrete.

Narrowly looking just at the carbon lost when wood products are disposed of through burning or being sent to landfills, has led to incentives not to cut trees in the first place, Lippke says.

“What’s missing in the analysis and policy making,” he said, “is how much carbon dioxide can be kept out of the atmosphere by using wood products, instead of those that take lot of fossil fuels to produce.”

Sound Off! Do you agree with the logic of this study, or do you think it’s a clever ploy by the USFS to convince people that logging is really good for the planet. Share your thoughts in a comment!

Related Reading:

Elementary Student Challenges KFC To Stop Destroying The Forests

Ancient Trees Cut Down For Toilet Paper

Why Forest Loss Must Be Stopped


Image Credit: Flickr – Peg Syverson

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James H.
James Hager4 years ago


Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado4 years ago


Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak4 years ago

The paper industry in Maine has been sustainable for 50 plus years.

alex l.
alex l.4 years ago

colleen p is right.
bamboo grows at the rate of a foot per day and is stronger than wood. it was used in Japanese home for thousands of years - and the amazing thing is that it made them earthquake proof. bamboo is flexible, porous and very, very strong. it is really cheap to grow, and you could never lack for it. one plant produces over a foot of growth a day - a whole forest can produce tons of the material. it also makes the softest fabrics and most likely could be used to make very sustainable paper.
while i think working with wood is a better idea than using things which are fossil fuel pigs, can any of us trust logging companies to actually be honest? to respect the rights of natives, when we have seen how they have treated them the world 'round? to not clear cut, and destroy more than can be replaced in time? greed seems to work far more than the mind or morality in this one, unfortunately, which is very like all big business. the government allows them to get away with pollution on a mass scale, and with human rights violations - like the gang rape of natives who complain - because they get a piece of the pie.
so yes, in theory it sounds good, but in practice? pretty sure the earth would lose out to greed and incredible stupidity once again.

Sandra Kravitz
Sandra K.4 years ago

Concrete and steel last longer than wood. Depreciation value should be factored into costs of building. As for it being a sustainable material -- pioneers made sturdy homes from wood. It's about as natural as you can this really isn't anything new.

I'd more likely believe this news is "a clever ploy by the USFS to convince people that logging is really good for the planet."

Bernadette P.
Berny p.4 years ago


Billie C.
Billie C.4 years ago

we harvested certain trees from our land. had them cut into lumber and built our house. that was 6 years ago. the areas where the trees were cut have now grown things like blue berry bushes and wild grasses. the wild life love them. trees are also coming back but until they take over again there are clearings that are used by lots of happy animals.

Nimue Pendragon
Nimue Pendragon4 years ago


Betsy M.
Betsy M.4 years ago

Whatever materials we use, better quality building practices are needed.

Angela S.
Angela S.4 years ago

I can't see any benefit in destroying ancient forests, or ecologically rich and diverse forests such as the Amazon rainforests, because the cost seems to obviously outweigh the benefits. But I do think we need to be open to reevaluating our assumptions about pollution and carbon emissions. Looking at the life-cycle, the big picture of each process is a good thing.

Maybe sustainable forests harvested for building would be better in the long run than concrete and steel construction which requires a great deal of carbon output during production and which don't store any carbon afterwards...
It is worth looking into.