Innovative, Sustainable Wood Building Materials Protect the Environment and Create Jobs

“Wood may be one of the world’s oldest building materials, but it is now also one of the most advanced” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack while announcing a new partnership to train architects, engineers, and builders about the benefits of advanced wood building materials.


Supervisory Research Chemist Alan Rudie tours Secretary Vilsack through FPL’s new Nanocellulose Pilot Plant and shows nanocellulose samples.

The new training program will include a $1 million investment from the Forest Service and will be done in partnership with WoodWorks, an organization that provides technical support, education, and resources related to the design of modern wood buildings to architects, engineers, and developers.

“Building stronger markets for innovative new wood products supports sustainable forestry, helps buffer greenhouse gas emissions, and puts rural America at the forefront of an emerging industry,” Vilsack said. “Presently, the market for wood and other related forest products supports more than one million direct jobs, many in rural America. As these markets expand, so will these economic opportunities.”

These announcements were made during a “Building With Wood: Jobs and the Environment” workshop hosted by the White House Rural Council. They also are part of USDA’s overall strategy to promote the use of wood as a green building material.  USDA’s Forest Products Laboratory has invested over $2 million in research and technical support for emerging wood technologies. The Lab has created additional opportunities for emerging wood technologies to be used in housing developments and other green building demonstration projects.

“This cooperative venture demonstrates the high value of ‘green’ building in terms of environmental sustainability and economic development,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “Through research that connects the forest to the laboratory, where low-value wood is being converted into high value materials such as engineered composites and nanocellulose products, the taxpayer is reaping the rewards of innovation like never before.”

Emerging engineered wood technologies can be used in industrial building projects such as tall buildings and skyscrapers. By some industry estimates, a 3-5 story building made from emerging wood technologies has the same emissions control as taking up to 550 cars of the road for one year. Wood-based designs are also far more efficient insulators than other building materials, thereby reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling.

The Secretary also announced plans to launch a prize competition later this year for developers, institutions, organizations and design teams to demonstrate the architectural and commercial viability of using sustainable wood products in high-rise construction. The Department is planning to invest up to $1 million to launch the competition. One private partner, the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, has committed an additional $1.5 million for the competition and has agreed to match up to $3 million in support. The competition will help spur increased sustainability in construction and will give priority to applicants that source materials from rural domestic manufacturers and domestic, sustainably-managed forests.

When President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill in February he directed his Administration, working through the White House Rural Council, to lead a new “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative. This initiative is charged with bringing together federal resources to help rural businesses and leaders take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new customers and markets both at home and abroad.  White House Rural Council leadership on advanced wood products is an example of how the Administration is moving forward on dual goals of domestic production and sustainability. The Secretary’s announcement also supports President Obama’s Climate Action Plan goal of preserving the role of forests in mitigating climate change.