2022 - 2024
The Mass Timber Tipping Point
The Mass Timber Tipping Point is a two-year project led by Pilot Projects and partners that will involve a deep engagement with a select number of North American Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Planning (AECP) firms. The goal is to deeply explore diverse firm experiences with mass timber as an alternative low-carbon and carbon-storing material for commercial, institutional, and multi-family buildings in the interest of accelerating uptake. By empowering the design industry to scale-up demand for mass timber products from well-managed forests, the project will displace high-emissions building materials and drive investment in improved forest management, reforestation, restoration, and agroforestry. A North America wide survey will be conducted after which a small cohort of firms will be guided through a workshop process to capture data on mass timber successes and barriers to use. Results of both the survey and the workshop will be synthesized in a publication for firm use, other sector stakeholders and government agencies interested in decarbonizing the building sector.
To gather and synthesize the specific challenges to integration of mass timber solutions faced by leading AECP firms.
To produce a “systems map” that clarifies gaps between knowledge and practice and share these findings amongst industry.
To directly empower firms to overcome barriers and prioritize mass timber as a solution to client needs and climate imperatives, using a co-design systems thinking approach.
The largest wave of urban growth in human history is expected to double the global building floor area by 2060. Approximately 2.4 trillion sqft of new floor area will be added—the equivalent of adding another New York City to the world every month for 40 years. Unlike operational carbon emissions (heating, cooling, etc.), which can be reduced over time with upgrades, the embodied carbon emissions (from materials, processing and construction) are locked in by the time the building is completed. Immediate action to reduce embodied carbon in new construction must be taken if we hope to achieve zero emissions by 2040 to meet the 1.5°C warning limit set out in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Transitioning to lower carbon buildings requires a fundamental change in the materials used for structural systems. Mass timber typically has much lower embodied carbon than the current go-to materials, concrete and steel.
However, the use of mass timber is not scaling according to its potential. Gaps remain between theory and practice, aspirations and market realities, slowing its uptake in professional practice and policy making. Understanding these gaps is fundamental to accelerate the use of mass timber.
Every major building in North America requires an architect and/or engineer for design decision-making. Designers can reduce the embodied carbon of a building by making early design decisions and specifications that favor lower carbon alternatives. This presents a massive opportunity to leverage the design sector to increase the demand for low carbon, high value timber products.
Many influential design firms have used mass timber for select projects, but they have yet to scale its application across their diverse work portfolios. To catalyze rapid private-sector momentum, we must harness the power of the world's largest architecture, engineering, construction and planning (AECP) firms, and set precedents for the basis of design, constructability, and supply chains in their respective markets.
By empowering the design industry to scale-up demand for mass timber products from well-managed forests, this project will drive investment in improved forest management and reforestation. The result will be net climate benefits derived from carbon sequestration, storage, and substitution. It will create new and expanded channels for wood to enter the marketplace, enhancing forest management and rural employment and innovation.
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Photos are from the 2018 Wood at Work Mobile Mass Timber Roundtable.