Environmental consequences of shifting to timber construction: The case of Denmark

Rasmus Nøddegaard Hansen, Jonas Lassen Eliassen, Jannick Schmidt, Camilla Ernst Andersen,
Bo Pedersen Weidema, Harpa Birgisdóttir, Endrit Hoxha

Many life cycle assessments (LCA) studies on wooden buildings show potential to decarbonise the building industry, though often neglecting to consider the systemic changes of such a shift at the building stock scale. This study applies a consequential LCA to evaluate the transition from conventional construction to increased wood-based construction in Denmark from 2022 to 2050. The assessment models a material flow analysis of the two construction scenarios, incorporating an area forecast and case buildings. By that, we assessed suppliers’ capacity to likely meet the demand for wood, steel, and concrete, employed an input-output model to enhance completeness and country representativeness for other materials’ markets, and considered the competition for land by indirect land use change. We implemented a dynamic IPCC-based assessment of GHG-emissions concurrently with a carbon forest model to anticipate the relationship between the delayed carbon storage resulting from using wood in buildings and forest regrowth management.

The findings indicate wood construction is the most climate-friendly option for multifamily houses. In contrast, single-family houses (SFH) and office buildings (OB) exhibit the lowest climate impacts in the conventional scenario. The SFH result could be credible due to the sizable GWP impact gap between construction scenarios despite uncertainties related to the weight proportion of sedum roofs. The less conclusive OB findings relate to the substantial steel quantities in the wood case buildings, requiring further investigation. Generally, metals, cement-based- and biobased materials demonstrate the largest climate impact among the material categories. Across all three building typologies, the change to timber construction increased the impact on nature occupation (biodiversity).

In conclusion, this study emphasises the need for further research on forest management model inputs, land use change approaches, potential steel suppliers’ impact, and a broader array of case studies. It is because these are influential factors in facilitating informed decision-making of the increased implementation of wood in buildings. As the first study to integrate these modelling characteristics, it contributes to the research gap concerning geographical circumstances, forestry, and markets relevant to decision support for increased wood utilisation in Europe’s building industry.

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