Just How Climate-Friendly Are Timber Buildings? It’s Complicated

Urban skyline with earth brown to green signalling climate change

Building with wood instead of concrete or steel is touted as a way to cut carbon emissions. But determining how it stacks up, climate-wise, isn’t easy.

February 12, 2024
Eric Roston - Bloomberg

This article is part of the Bloomberg Green series Timber Town, which looks at the global rise of timber as a low-carbon building material.

The number of people living in urban areas around the world will swell by upwards of 2 billion over the next three decades. Many of those people will need new homes. But building those with conventional materials would unleash a gusher of carbon dioxide: Concrete, steel, glass and bricks for construction make up a combined 9% of global CO2 emissions, according to research by the United Nations Environment Program.

Enter engineered wood, a seemingly no-brainer solution. Mass timber is not the typical lumber that has structured single-family houses in North America for decades. The wood components are strong enough to hold up an office tower or apartment block, and building with them is thought to emit much less CO2 than using standard materials. And since wood is about 50% carbon, the material itself even stores a little carbon, to boot.


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