by Hans D. Stroo on May 26, 2016

Four major challenges facing Washington State might be linked by a common solution: an urban planning revolution towards tall wood buildings.

  • First there’s our booming population growth. The Seattle Metro Area, among the fastest growing in the United States, is expected to gain one million additional residents by 2040. That will require a lot of building to accommodate those new Washingtonians.  
  • The second challenge is climate change. The state’s political system is consumed by competing carbon reduction proposals.
  • Third comes rural poverty. The prosperity enjoyed by many in the Seattle area belies rampant poverty and unemployment in the state’s less populous counties.
  • And finally there’s the wildfire issue. With 1.1 million acres burned, over 200 homes destroyed, and three firefighters killed, 2015 was the worst fire season on record for our state.

What’s the one solution that can help Washington address all four of these issues? It’s a new building material that looks anything but space age to the casual observer: cross-laminated timber (CLT). It’s a wood product made from layers of timber planks oriented at 90 degrees to one another and then glued together.  Originally developed in Europe, CLT can be used as an alternative to concrete, masonry and steel because of its high strength and dimensional stability.

Economic development experts have long sought a mechanism to link the prosperity in our cities with extraction-based rural economies in a sustainable manner. Shifting towards mass timber structures built in cities with product produced in our rural timberlands is a way to establish that linkage. Analysts estimate that domestic CLT manufacturing could become a $4 billion industry. Washington is well-positioned to claim a major piece of that.

“CLT and other advanced wood product technologies are an incredible opportunity for a win-win,” said Colleen McAleer, President of the Washington Business Alliance and a Commissioner at the Port of Port Angeles. “Washington State’s timber industry has been in decline for over 20 years. A sustainable wood product revolution across the US will create an economic opportunity for Washington’s struggling rural communities.”

McAleer, whose Business Alliance has been a leading voice in the carbon reduction policy dialogue, spoke enthusiastically about the positive environmental impact of using wood products in multi-story buildings. “Washington’s working forests are a huge asset in the effort to protect our environment by lowering greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.”