Washington gathers its forces for cross-laminated timber


Cross-laminated timber has long been a promising wood product in Washington, but now all the various stakeholders – from timber leaders and academics to architects and environmental groups – are formally getting together to hash out ways to promote CLT.

This was on full display this month in an op-ed in the Puget Sound Business Journal. Anson Fatland, the associate vice president for economic development for Washington State University and Gene Duvernoy, the head of the conservation group Forterra, wrote that the movement is in full swing.

With former timber towns in our state looking for new revenue, and with our forests in need of restoration, Washington has the opportunity to be a leading force in this emerging industry.

We can do this through collaboration between public institutions, conservationists, timber industry and contractors and developers. This collaboration, in fact, has already started with Washington State University and Forterra, a nonprofit land stewardship and community building organization.

Since 2011, researchers at WSU’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center have been working with local companies, governments and economic development groups to improve the performance and manufacturing process of cross-laminated timber, as well as analyzing cost effectiveness and logistics of a rural to urban supply chain.

WSU is already working with milling and manufacturing partners to launch a supply chain in Eastern Washington and to identify other Western Washington opportunities.

In October, Forterra convened a leadership summit of 100 stakeholders, including WSU researchers, to discuss developing cross-laminated timber and other mass timber products in our Pacific Northwest region.

The biggest takeaway from the event: agreement that there are near-term opportunities for catalyzing a market. And now we need a broad coalition to make it happen.

Promoting cross-laminated timber in Washington is about much more than just wood products, Fatland and Duvernoy say. CLT’s potential is broader than that.

We want the design community to imagine the possibilities of using this material. We want to design buildings and usher them through the code process. We want to showcase the economic and environmental benefits that come with establishing a CLT market.

Developing a CLT and mass timber pipeline in Washington is one step toward advancing our region as a leader in the movement for great cities and sustainability.

It also serves as an example of how public-private partnerships can make change for the greater good.

CLT’s profile continues to rise nationally and internationally as well. A columnist at Canada’s Globe and Mail recently wrote about the extraordinary CLT structures that architects have built in Europe, including a stunning structure in Seville, Spain, called the Metropol Parasol.

(The Metropol Parasol shows) I was wrong to think that CLT construction is doomed to be boring. As the technology catches on, and as production becomes cheaper, we can expect to see CLT deployed more and more imaginatively, even in a mid-rise condo building.

A writer in Builder magazine said this month that CLT’s time should be now, not the least of which because of the environmental benefits.

Modern adhesives allow for stress-rated products like glued-laminated beams and columns or cross-laminated timber panels. These massive timber beams, columns, and panels are the building blocks for the skyscrapers of the future.

We now know that using wood substitutes for other construction materials can save up to 31% of global CO2 emissions. As such, if we’re able, we are morally obligated to use more wood in creating our built environment.

With bio materials in place of fossil fuels, we have the ability to help transform our planet into a healthy environment. Whether it is cellulose insulation, homes, bridges, wooden skyscrapers, or cellulosic jet fuel, our future depends on growing our understanding and sustainable use of the global forest resource.