Shifting construction onto assembly lines is the most sure-fire approach to deliver net zero, low-embodied carbon new buildings. Engineered wood is strategically important because its structural characteristics are a low-embodied carbon option to GHG-intensive concrete in tall buildings. There is a big palette of low-embodied carbon construction materials such as recycled plastic cladding, insulation from straw or perennial crops, and cement-like composites bound by wood polymers.
Cement will not disappear. No superior material currently exists for some applications like foundations. The cement industry is also innovating with diverse, new mixes that are dramatically cutting embodied carbon.
To defensibly advance low-embodied carbon construction, it is important to strengthen the resilience of building construction to reduce demolition rates, establish new construction and strong end of life policies to support a circular economy, and develop strong methodologies that distinguish between the embodied carbon of second versus old growth forests.
Prefabricated building manufacturing with a mass timber cornerstone is an immense industrial development opportunity for British Columbia and Canada, offering stable jobs in big cities and resource-based communities and getting more value for dollar from a forestry sector with diminishing fibre quantity and quality due to over-harvesting, fire and insect infestation exacerbated by climate change. Given resource constraints and escalating climate risks, it will be critical for the industry’s resilience to strengthen forestry policies and practices and maximize value industry-wide.
Prefabricated, building manufacturing is less labour-intensive than traditional, in-situ construction supporting the transition to an economy with an aging demographic and a shrinking workforce.
As with any new, disruptive change, there are barriers to widespread adoption, including provincial, national and local government policies, industry knowledge and confidence and across diverse professions from building officials, engineers, architects and planners, as well as the challenge of providing a predictable pipeline of projects to provide the confidence to industries and investors to capitalize high tech, manufacturing plants. Renewable Cities is focussing current efforts on advancing solutions to local barriers.
Key Renewable Cities Activities
- Advance solutions to local government barriers, focussing on land use policies and permitting processes that inadvertently add time and cost to this novel construction approach
- Engage with diverse professions, industries and governments involved in advancing high-performance, prefabricated, mass timber construction in cities to advance solutions to the diverse barriers