Promotion of wood construction in Finland

Kaisa Pirkola
Ministerial Adviser
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

Petri Heino
Programme Manager
Ministry of the Environment

The construction sector has plenty of opportunities to mitigate climate change. Emissions from construction can be easily reduced by using renewable materials, such as wood. In addition to renewability, wood has many good qualities as a construction material: it is light, loadbearing and insulting. It is also easy to process and easier to recycle than many other materials.

In the Programme of Prime Minister Marin’s Government, Finland set the objective of increasing the use of wood in construction. At the same time, the aim is to increase the value added of wood products and to find more diverse uses for wood and wood fibres. From the climate perspective, there is a particular emphasis on wood products where carbon is sequestered for a long time.

The promotion of the use of wood in construction and of wood products serves many of the current policy objectives in Finland. In addition to climate change mitigation, these important objectives include sustainable construction and housing and promoting the circular economy. As wood raw material is mostly of domestic origin, the harvesting and processing of wood have positive impacts on the vitality of rural areas.

Important developments seen in wood construction in recent years

Traditionally, wood has been widely used in the construction of single-family houses in Finland. In recent years, remarkable progress has been made especially in multi-storey construction and large wood constructions. The use of wood in public buildings has increased substantially. For example, a large number of wooden schools and daycare centres have been built in recent years. This has even been called “a boom of wooden schools”. The Finnish construction sector has truly proven that a transition towards low-carbon construction and housing is possible.

Although we have long traditions in wood construction in Finland, increasing the use of renewable materials is still important, and so is improving its cost-effectiveness. This means that further product development is still needed concerning e.g. the even wiser use of side-streams, the reuse and recycling of materials, and the development of low-carbon fibre-based insulation materials. The key objective is building performance related to matters such as technical durability, fire resistance and energy efficiency with minimal environmental impact. And, of course, we must not forget architecture and user satisfaction. The main goal is to have healthy and enjoyable buildings for us to live and work in.

Increasing share of wood in construction set as goal in several strategies

The most important strategy for promoting wood construction in Finland is the Wood Building Programme (2016–2023) led by the Ministry of the Environment. The objectives of the programme are to promote and develop the skills base in order to take wood construction onto an internationally competitive level and to support industrial wood material manufacturing in Finland. As part of the programme, in 2020 national targets were set for the share of wood in all new public construction and for the types of buildings with the greatest construction volumes. The programme also promotes new industrial solutions for large wood constructions, such as bridges and halls. One of the key objectives of the programme is to boost exports.

The discussion on increasing wood construction often focuses on multi-storey buildings and public construction. This is understandable, because they have the greatest potential if we look at the construction volumes. In addition to the measures of the above-mentioned Wood Building Programme, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry also promotes the use of wood in construction. Development work on wooden farm structures and transport infrastructure is carried out as part of the Catch the Carbon programme launched in 2020.

Wood is highlighted as a climate-friendly material, so it is also justified to develop methods for estimating the amount of carbon sequestered in wood, including tools for the assessment of the carbon footprint and handprint in wood construction projects. In addition, the two ministries have jointly funded communication projects related to forest carbon sequestration and the carbon storage of wood products. The scale of construction projects has increased and the methods are partly new, so efforts are made to enhance expertise in the sector by producing learning materials on wood structures and wood products. Topics that still need to be further studied include the impact of wood buildings and wood materials on indoor air, acoustics and health, and on how people experience wooden spaces.

Cooperation at the European level is also considered important, including exchange of information about best practices related to wood construction. Many countries have just recently decided to participate in the WoodPop initiative and the New European Bauhaus initiative, and Finland is actively involved in both of them. Although wood construction has long traditions in Europe, we believe that even this sector will still see innovative solutions, materials and applications of using wood.

Expert article 3325

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