Forterra President Gene Duvernoy addresses the forum
Photo by: Hannah Letinich

6 Things We Learned at the Cross Laminated Timber Forum

Cross laminated timber (CLT) is a wood-based alternative to conventional construction materials. Unlike regular lumber, it can be used structurally in very large and tall buildings. It is manufactured by fusing crisscrossing layers of wood, which leads to a material remarkable in strength, stability and range of sizes. If created from sustainably harvested trees, CLT has the potential to provide environmental benefits and generate rural jobs.

On November 1st, over 100 industry, design, academic, environmental and governmental leaders from across Washington State celebrated a year of progress catalyzing a market for CLT and other mass timber products in the Pacific Northwest. Forterra is leading a broad coalition working to accelerate a market for the sustainable production and use of innovative wood products with the potential to spark rural economies, help mitigate climate change and make our buildings more beautiful.

The evening featured President Fawn Sharp of Quinault Indian Nation, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, Congressman Derek Kilmer, Dr. Lisa Graumlich, Dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, Dr. Michael Wolcott, Founding Director of WSU’s Institute for Sustainable Design, Susan Jones, architect and owner of atelierjones and Thomas F. Robinson, Principal and Founder of LEVER architecture.

Here are 6 takeaways from that powerhouse discussion:

#1: Tall wood buildings could reduce our carbon footprint.

Skyscrapers, defined as buildings 10 stories or higher, are currently built with concrete and steel. These materials are heavily carbon-intensive to produce. On the other hand, CLT, produced from wood, sequesters carbon and, if responsibly sourced, has the potential to reduce the climate impacts of building. Imagine that—cities full of buildings that store carbon rather than contributing to carbon emissions.

Dean Lisa Graumlich spoke to the duality of CLT’s benefits in addressing the challenges of growth and climate change. CLT is “one of those sweet spots” in the innovation marketplace that knits together rural and urban and wild and working

Dean Graumlich and Dr. Wolcott.
Photo by: Hannah Letinich

#2: We have an opportunity to revitalize our forests and our rural economies.

CLT presents an opportunity to generate rural jobs in logging, milling and fabrication. While our urban communities have grown significantly, the national economic recession hit Washington’s forest communities especially hard, exacerbating the challenges of 20-year declines in the timber industry. How do we bring value back into our rural areas?

Congressman Derek Kilmer grew up on the Olympic Peninsula. In high school he started seeing people lose their jobs as the timber industry imploded. Like many around the Pacific Northwest, he’s excited about CLT. The way he sees it, there are no silver bullets; more like silver buckshot. Still, bringing CLT to market is one of the best ways to knit back together rural and urban in Washington. It’s time to build Timber 2.0. “This product will change the way our country builds,” he said.

CLT buildings designed and built in our cities with products responsibly sourced and milled in our forest communities will link the economic and environmental health of urban and rural communities to benefit both people and ecosystems in Washington.

President Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation sees an immediate opportunity for CLT. Due to climate change and its proximity to the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the Quinault Indian Nation village of Taholah must soon be relocated to higher ground to avoid the growing threat from tsunamis, storm surge and river flooding. President Sharp expressed hope that CLT, as a more climate friendly, locally-produced product, could be incorporated into their new village.

“The Quinault Indian Nation sees great opportunity in cross laminated timber,” said President Sharp. “It offers the prospect of creating jobs and economic growth for our communities by providing strong, beautiful and sustainable material for the construction market.”

President Fawn Sharp of Quinault Indian Nation
Photo by: Hannah Letinich

#3: It’s already being safely used to build tall buildings, but our building codes must change.

The biggest challenge of bringing CLT to market is the newness of our market, which presents the challenges of building familiarity with the product and addressing our building codes.

“CLT has been used in Europe for 20 years, but it is relatively new to North America,” remarked Gene Duvernoy, President of Forterra. “Vancouver, Portland and Minneapolis have complete or in-progress CLT projects that demonstrate both the possibilities and the hurdles for broad CLT construction.”

Architect Susan Jones (whose beautiful home, built with CLT, you may remember from Ampersand magazine, Volume 3) reminds us that under the current code we still have the capacity to build under six stories today. In fact, five demonstration projects will be built by March 2017 providing K-12 classrooms in Washington.

Courtesy of Lever Architecture

#4: Use fresh, local ingredients for best results.

Portland-based architect Thomas Robinson spoke about Framework, his CLT building that’s going up in Portland. He playfully calls his concept Forest to Frame, playing off the familiar Farm to Table concept. The idea is similar: use fresh, local ingredients to build our cities for a lower carbon footprint and to keep the economic benefits local.

Thomas also remarked at the amazing, engaged community in Washington galvanized around CLT. He says that he spends more time talking to people about CLT in Washington than in his home state of Oregon.

Architect Thomas Robinson
Photo by: Hannah Letinich

#5: Washington State is poised to become a national leader.

Oregon and British Columbia, Canada, are also focusing resources on bringing CLT to market. Luckily, Washington has the advantage of organized collective action, thanks to Forterra’s leadership and the willingness of a remarkably broad coalition. With continued collective action from the coalition, Washington State can align its vast tree-growing land base and nationally-prominent timber industry with its vibrant economy, urban centers of technical innovation, and rapidly-growing population.

President Sharp, Congressman Kilmer and others
Photo by: Hannah Letinich

#6: CLT has bipartisan support. Yes, really.

“These days it’s rare to find something that unites and excites people on both sides of the aisle and can help grow rural economies and sustainable cities,” Kilmer added. “CLT carries such a spectrum of potential benefits that virtually everyone wants to pitch in, and make sure we get it right.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, joined by Congressman Kilmer, as well as others in bipartisan coalitions introduced the House version of the Timber Innovation Act, which would expand grant funding for research and development, as well as education and technical assistance for those who want to enter the new industry. (In fact, Forterra has been able to continue to lead the CLT coalition thanks in part to a $250,000 grant from The Wood Innovations Grant program that the Act would continue.)

“Advancing tall wood building construction is a win for working families and our environment,” DelBene said. “Technological advancements in CLT have made it easier for us to support healthy forests, wildlife habitats and rural economies dependent on forest products.”

What other type of buildings can you literally grow from a handful of seeds?
Susan Jones, architect