Building for a Sustainable Future

Comments from Washington State leaders on catalyzing a sustainable market for Cross Laminated Timber

Forterra President Gene Duvernoy, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Sequim), Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, Dept. of Commerce Director Brian Bonlender, UW Tacoma Chancellor Mark A. Pagano
Photo by: Hannah Letinich

A Growing Coalition

About four years ago, Forterra took a keen interest in cross laminated timber (CLT) for its potential to provide innovative and intersectional solutions to environmental, economic, and social needs across Washington State.

In 2015, Forterra spearheaded a conversation with about eighty stakeholders to discuss leveraging CLT and mass timber products to improve forest health, stimulate employment in rural communities, and house a growing urban population. Just over three years and an established CLT Coalition later, engagement has grown substantially. On November 20th, Forterra along with the Construction Center of Excellence and Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing, held its third CLT event, hosted by University of Washington Tacoma. Over two hundred-fifty were registered and the day featured thirty-seven speakers hailing from a broad spectrum of expertise to extend knowledge in key areas and facilitate dialogue around overcoming current obstacles and maximizing CLT’s benefits. In addition to these robust educational sessions, the day featured remarks and dialogue from elected officials and agency leaders committed to catalyzing a sustainable future for the region.


Comments from Leadership

We were honored to have the presence of long-time supporters of CLT, Congressman Derek Kilmer of Washington’s 6th District and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene of Washington’s 1st District. Both are responsible for collaboratively introducing the bipartisan Timber Innovation Act, to support rural manufacturing jobs and accelerate research and development of wood in construction of buildings, particularly those over eighty-five feet high.

Rep. Kilmer shared his story of growing up in Port Angeles in the 1990’s, watching as members in his community traversed devastating job loss, and how this experience shaped his future endeavors. “If we do this right, we have the opportunity to write a new chapter,” he emphasized. He noted that there is a push to incorporate CLT in projects with the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, and praised University of Washington Tacoma for committing to use CLT in the construction of their next academic building. “Let’s go write that chapter,” he closed.

CLT Schoolhouse in progress in Sequim

Possessing a background in technology, Rep. DelBene spoke to Washington’s history of disruptive innovation across sectors, highlighting the growing potential in agriculture: “Now we’re seeing technology impact so many different sectors… and not just in healthcare or computer science, but now technology in agriculture.” She detailed that her interest in the Timber Innovation Act was influenced by her work as member of the House Agriculture Committee and conversations with Mayor Dan Rankin of Darrington; she recognized the economic opportunity sustainable timber technology can bring to communities like his. “Increasing use of cross laminated timber really will make a difference for families in our region and our environment, if done responsibly,” she said.

Looking ahead to the future of CLT & mass timber in Washington State, Forterra President Gene Duvernoy facilitated a dialogue with a state leadership panel, including Rep. Steve Tharinger of the Olympic Peninsula, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, and WA Dept. of Commerce Director Brian Bonlender.

Rep. Tharinger highlighted that Washington State has come a long way with this product: “The session a few years ago was a sort of chicken-egg session. We raised issues that had no answers… but in today’s sessions… we’ve shown a lot of progress in answering those.” He referenced the success of CLT classroom pilot projects in five school districts, made possible through an appropriation in the 2016 capital budget, indicating reinvestment in these types of projects, and emphasizing the benefits of using CLT: “You start a school in April or May and have them in there by September or October. And that is a huge, huge plus.” These classrooms have served as timely and durable solutions to pressing classroom size needs, while providing demonstration value. Citing high costs as a current barrier, Rep. Tharinger underlined the important role of the public sector to drive down these costs by taking on and investing in projects like these.

Governor Jay Inslee cuts the ribbon with students and leaders in Mount Vernon

On the topic of current barriers to making CLT and mass timber a robust and sustainable industry, Executive Dammeier cited inertia—the perpetuation of the status quo—as a substantial issue, and underlined his motivations for using CLT to uplift struggling rural communities in Pierce County. “We have a sustainable product that can be harvested, and the value-add can be in the communities where the product is grown, and they can benefit from this,” Dammeier said.

Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, emphasized the importance of having government, private, and social sectors working together. This year, the Department of Natural Resources launched a 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan to treat roughly one million acres of Eastern Washington forests in poor health, exploring the use of dead and diseased wood to make CLT. Commissioner Franz pointed out the challenge of ensuring a guaranteed market, not only for placement of the product, but also to fund continued treatment over the next two decades. “This we see as a huge opportunity of being able to show how the environmental challenge we face in our forests, of the poor health that’s leading those fires now has the ability to go to better economic, environmental and social value within our urban, as well as within our rural centers.” She also referenced the Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, as an avenue for collaborative support of local mills.

If we do this right, we have the opportunity to write a new chapter
Congressman Derek Kilmer

Commerce Director Brian Bonlender spoke to the importance of maintaining broad-spectrum dialogue across Washington State, especially with this year’s building code updates, to address the new questions and challenges that will arise: “With the building industry, this is probably the most disruptive technology since the elevator.” He later stated, “Part of the challenge is that we’re building the airplane as we fly it.”

A key theme that emerged throughout the day was the importance of “getting it right.” Earlier in the day, a panel on resilient forests and sustainable sourcing brought together environmental communities and timber industry to examine pivotal factors, such as strategic thinning, avoidance of reduced growth cycles, and an emphasis on byproduct industry—factors that are essential to ensuring CLT serves to aid forest health. CLT is quickly picking up momentum in this region, but if it’s to be all that should, it must be continually steered in its development to meet all the requirements of being a sustainable product. To achieve this equitably, we must continue to foster this broad-spectrum dialogue.

Reflecting back on Forterra’s first CLT summit in 2015, Congressman Kilmer quoted, “If you want to go fast, go alone—if you want to go far, go together.” With immense gratitude for the collaborative power and progress of the CLT Coalition, we celebrate how far we’ve come and look forward to how much further we’ll go in working to secure a sustainable future in Washington State and throughout the Pacific Northwest.