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The Sustainable Wood Warehouse - for city projects and procurement

Updated: Jan 28

When an architect or contractor is building a new community center or an apartment complex, there are many sourcing decisions to make, often in too little time. How can we assist in these being made in the best interests of the world’s climate and forests?

One key to unlocking this puzzle is in supply chain management of forest-positive building materials. Suppliers of construction materials often use highly efficient "just-in-time" inventory management where materials are requested and supplied as they become needed. This creates pressure to choose readily available raw materials, which aren’t necessarily the most environmentally friendly. Regulations encouraging the use of more sustainably sourced wood are slowly gaining support, but even with regulations and incentives this has yet to make these materials easily available. The Sustainable Wood Warehouse aims to put more sustainable wood, from a variety of sustainable pathways, within reach for small and medium sized urban projects.

Some cities, like Portland, Oregon, have recently introduced incentives that encourage the use of more sustainable materials in construction, like requiring wood buildings to be salvaged for future re-use. Other cities like Rotterdam, London and Glasgow are undertaking similar efforts. With construction firms being pressed by concerns of affordability and accessibility to such materials, the issue becomes how to make sustainably sourced wood convenient and affordable. Sustainably sourced wood isn’t always economically competitive and may have longer lead times to obtain.

High-quality lumber that is milled in Portland from urban trees lacks a reliable market. Creating a virtual wood warehouse can ensure that wood like this gets used to meet city sustainability goals

Warehousing a supply of sustainable wood close to a city center which has been pre-vetted by sustainability experts and made accessible with advanced inventory management would bring this wood within reach of more projects, big and small. If costs prohibit a physical warehouse within the bounds of a bustling city, a collection of existing facilities that may already store sustainable wood, can be linked through an online inventory program: a virtual sustainable wood warehouse.

Whatever hybrid of physical and virtual, this municipal warehouse would provide a one-stop shop for a city’s wood supply needs and make it easier for contractors and city officials to follow sustainable wood procurement guidelines. The sustainable wood warehouse would have physical and virtual inventory where contractors and city planners can choose from options such as reclaimed lumber from city demolition or lumber from urban trees or conservation timber from the sustainable community forest management.

A mock-up of a residential tower in Rotterdam that is currently under construction. The building, named SAWA, will be made from 90% sustainable wood sourced from forests in Scandinavia. However, the project has faced significant supply chain issues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to the need for better supply chain solutions for sustainable construction materials.

Two other significant roadblocks to using more sustainable wood are contractor bidding and longer lead times for procurement. These both drive up costs and lead to cheaper, easier and usually less sustainable wood. The Sustainable Wood Warehouse would sidestep these problems – by making it easier to order materials in advance, offering a fair and transparent marketplace for the various options. It would allow last-minute buys of sustainable products (cutting out the need for choosing poor-quality products because of limited options) and could even offer a holistic carbon savings score for each product.

The Sustainable Wood Warehouse could give cities a meaningful way to follow through with their talk of encouraging more sustainable building practices. Engaging city officials in the process would support a culture of sustainable decision-making, to the benefit of other actions and future projects.

The greatest benefit to the Sustainable Wood Warehouse might be the innovation and skills-training potentials that would develop in person and online; including new green jobs, connections between academic and industrial sectors and a place to bring together the concerns around climate, social issues, green infrastructure policy and economics.

We ultimately imagine the Sustainable Wood Warehouse as a network of many regional hubs that share best practices between cities, businesses and organizations with the common goals of healthier, happier, and lower-carbon urban living.

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