How The World Of Building Materials Is Responding To Climate Change


This story is part of Degrees Of Change, a series that explores the problem of building materials

in front of climate change and how we as a planet are adapting to it.

Tell us how you or your community are responding to climate change in the Comments form below.

In order to slow a warming planet, nearly every industry will be forced to adapt:

airlines, fashion, and even the unglamorous and often overlooked building materials sector. 

Just like the farm to table movement, consumers are increasingly thinking about

where the raw materials for their homes and cities come from, and how they impact climate change.

And in response to this concern, the materials sector is serving up an unusual menu option: wood.

“Mass timber” is the buzzword these days in the world of sustainable building materials.

Architects are crazy for it, engineers praise its excellent structural properties,

and even forestry managers are in support of its use. 

A timelapse of the construction of the T3 office building in Minneapolis,

the largest modern mass timber building in the U.S. Credit: StructureCraft

Of course, cutting down trees to curb carbon emissions seems counterintuitive at first.

And there are skeptics who doubt whether the wood is strong enough to build future city skyscrapers. 


New Building Materials in Spain

Yes. We all know that wood has been used since ancient times to build houses.

Nevertheless, new building materials appeared in CastellĂłn-Spain in the last century, such as Wall and Floor Tiles,

as well as extruded tiles, which are a stronger and cleaner option to build houses.

Building Materials

Frank Lowenstein, Chief Conservation Officer with the New England Forestry Foundation and Casey Malmquist,

Founder and CEO of timber company SmartLam North America, join Ira to explain why the hype over mass timber’s potential to mitigate climate change is the real deal.  

And as the popularity of sustainable mass timber rises, big carbon-emitting industries like steel and concrete are facing pressure to address their role in the climate crisis.

One steel company out of Sweden is aiming to make it’s product carbon-neutral by 2026 by replacing coal with hydrogen in the steel-making process.

And other researchers are hoping to make concrete more sustainable by using ingredients that would actually trap carbon inside the material. 

We hear from Martin Pei, Chief Technology Officer of European steel company SSAB, and Jeremy Gregory,

Director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at MIT, about how the traditional building materials sector is going green.

Plus, architect and structural engineer Kate Simonen of the University of Washington talks about the need for more sustainable building materials to construct homes for an estimated 2.3 billion more people by the year 2050.


What They Said About this

We asked you if you would live in a city entirely made of wood if it means reducing your carbon footprint. Share your viewpoint in the comments below.

Pellucid and David said this on the SciFri VoxPop app:

Who thought of this question? We need to grow more forests, not chop them down for cities.

Not only that, but I’m also sure that there are better materials—and stronger—for building cities in the face of the turbulence of global warming.

I thought about this question and decided that I would. But I also thought about living in a city that’s mostly made of stone and cinderblocks and bricks.

Then I remembered that the process of creating cinderblocks has a massive carbon footprint.


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