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Wood As a Sustainable Building Material 
Choosing Sustainable Wood

Founding Mission

Sustainable Wood for Cities is a user-driven platform that presents a full range of complementary options for sourcing sustainable wood, all in one space and geared towards decision-making. It aspires to be the most effective and user-friendly global guide for the procurement of sustainable wood in order to realize the full potential of this resource in built environment applications and as a climate-solution. Platform effectiveness is measured in three ways: 1) comprehensiveness of “pathways” for achieving sustainable wood. 2) usability and incremental improvement for users through comparison of alternative strategies, 3) capacity-building and long term systems transformation through communications assets and recommended policy improvements. The SW4C platform is designed to be constantly improving and expanding as users apply it to real-world sourcing challenges from quick cycles to deep dives. 


Click here to learn more about the history. 

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Is Wood a Sustainable Building Material? 

Wood is emerging as a climate-friendly replacement for carbon-intensive materials like concrete, steel and aluminum, in large urban buildings and smaller-scale infrastructure. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which remains stored in wood for as long as the material remains intact. Using sustainable, responsible sourced wood can help conserve forests and produce massive climate and biodiversity benefits.

Wood production can also drive deforestation and emit carbon if it is harvested unsustainably, used wastefully, disposed of improperly, or if its production causes forest degradation or permanent deforestation. For wood to be considered “sustainable” in terms of climate, biodiversity and human well-being, it should address four areas: forest impact, socioeconomic integrity, carbon storage, and life-cycle comparisons. Engaging with the complete forest ecosystem and production system of wood products must be the foundation of a sustainable sourcing strategy.

Learn more by reading the World Resources Institute article on the Sustainable Wood for Cities Guide

Choosing Sustainable Wood

“Sustainable wood” provides net benefits to the global climate, and supports long-term sustainability of the forest systems and social systems that supply the wood from forest to city. The term "sustainable" is used to bridge many other terms such as “climate-smart”, “responsible”, and “good”, which, while represented in the guide, are not differentiated.

Strategic sourcing is the key to the climate and environmental benefits of building with wood. Sustainable Wood for Cities combines the latest insights from research and practice to assist cities in choosing and sourcing wood products – through specifications, procurement criteria, and policies – that have a measurable impact on climate and forests. Cities can and should integrate the benefits of these choices into their larger environmental goals and climate action plans.


The Four Pillars of Sustainable Wood

For wood to be considered sustainable, it should address four impact areas:
1.  Conserve forests, mitigate or reverse degradation and deforestation.
2. Net carbon storage benefits after all life cycle inputs are considered.
3. Replace more carbon-intensive materials on a life cycle basis (LCA).
4. Reflect and support sustainable economies and communities.

The Sustainable Wood Pathways

Sustainable Wood “Pathways” represent the diverse approaches to sourcing sustainable wood, each with different methods, tools, criteria, and representatives.  Th
e eight Pathways can be used – independently, or layered together – as a qualitative framework for decision-making to create more powerful wood sourcing strategies that match a city’s sustainability goals, and build capacity within agencies. 

Four pillars of sustainable wood.
Four pillars of sustainable wood.
  1. Forest Certification

  2. Social Forestry

  3. Species and Grade

 4. Strategic Geography

 5.  Local & Urban Wood

6. Reuse & Long Life

7. High Efficiency Production

8. Net Carbon Accounting /LCA


During the first six months of the Cities4Forests initiative, data was collected from cities, architects, NGOs and other related initiatives (such as WRI’s own Sustainable Procurement of Wood Products). The research found that only a few city-level policies address sustainable wood, and even fewer resources exist for cities to support the creation or strengthening of such policies. Naturally, Pilot Projects stepped in to not only create this resource, but to build the case for the widespread adoption of sustainable wood in cities.

After approximately one year, which included an extended review process from our Wood at Work community of practice, the Sustainable Wood for Cities Guide was born. Since its conception, there have been several rounds of testing and refinement with a variety of stakeholders. Two cities – Portland (Oregon) and Georgetown (Guyana) – are using the guide in their sustainable wood procurement policy development, with a further two cities – Vancouver (British Columbia) and Utrecht (Netherlands) – using the resource to implement sustainable wood sourcing in zoning bylaws and influence future council mandates.


Additionally, cities have embraced the guide through arm’s-length municipal organizations, such as in Glasgow through the Glasgow Heritage Trust. The continued work with these cities will deepen their engagement with sustainable wood over the coming months. 

Sustainble Wood Pathways
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