Wooden high-rise building

Wooden buildings for healthy and sustainable living

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Sustainable wood as a construction material is better for the environment than fossil-based materials like concrete and steel, and can also be better for our health and wellbeing.

One of the greatest megatrends of the 21st century is the need to improve overall health and wellbeing. “Health” in this context has a diverse meaning, including healthy people, societies, and the environment. One material can help us become healthier in all these facets: wood.

“I definitely think wood is a healthy material,” says Lauri Linkosalmi, Senior Manager, Product Stewardship at Stora Enso. “It’s a natural material and people enjoy how it looks, smells, and feels. There have been numerous scientific studies which have highlighted the health benefits of wood.”

Wood grain as a texture positively influences creativity. Living, working or learning in wooden buildings can help us focus better, lower stress, and put us in a better mood. It can also do more than just improve our psychological health: wood has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate. Wood can give a better air quality and help keep humidity stable in indoor environments1.

Wood is the material for sustainable construction

Wood is also increasingly important for the health of the planet. About a million people move to urban environments every ten days, so an area of environmental concern is building materials. Steel and concrete can have major carbon footprints, but organic building materials such as wood could help new buildings act as carbon sinks.

There are important developments occurring in steel and concrete, such as carbon-free steel production and carbon-sink concrete, but these new materials are still mostly in the pilot phase. Sustainable wood is available today in great quantities. To help build the sustainable cities of the future Stora Enso joined Build-In-Wood, a European Horizon 2020 project to improve the sustainability of European construction.

“The construction industry is concerned about climate mitigation across their whole value chain, so they are turning to more sustainable construction materials like wood,” Linkosalmi explains.

A building’s carbon footprint includes emissions from a variety of sources. Operational emissions are emissions generated while running a building, such as heating and cooling. Embodied emissions include the emissions to source the material, manufacture the components, and construct the building. The production process of wood tends to have lower emissions and the material itself is a carbon sink, making it an important tool in the fight against climate change.

It is for this reason that wood materials play such a key role in Stora Enso’s new sustainability targets. The ambition is to become a net positive contributor within the defined areas of climate, circularity, and biodiversity by 2050. These targets are not just about corporate operations but providing environmentally helpful solutions and products.

Wood can boost our wellbeing

“Many people choose wooden homes because they want to do something positive for the environment,” says Johanna Pirinen, SVP Sustainability, Wood Products at Stora Enso. “Wood can improve sustainability and wellbeing simultaneously.”

Pirinen points out that people spend about 90% of their time indoors, so it is critical to have indoor home and work environments which contribute to our wellbeing. Biophilic design is used to increase our connectivity to the natural environment. Examples include green walls of plants and natural wooden interiors. It is popular in all types of architecture, but there have been numerous studies on the benefits of biophilic design in hospitals, daycares, and schools2.

“It is becoming more important for building owners to provide healthy spaces, so we will see them more and more,” Pirinen says. “I believe wood plays a major role in helping us reach a sustainable future and improving our wellbeing while doing it.”

1The white paper detailing the scientific studies and sources can be downloaded here.
2 You can learn more about the impact of biophilic design on wellbeing at our podcast here.

More about: Building for sustainability and well-being

Young adults want more wooden buildings:

  • 89 % of young adults in Finland think that wood is the most environmentally friendly building material
  • 75 % think that more public buildings should be built from wood
  • More than 86 % would like to work, study or live in a wooden building

The survey was made in May-June 2021 by Suomen Kyselytutkimus for 1,000 young adults (18-28-year-old) in Finland.

Did you know that:

  • 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from cities.
  • By switching to wood as building material, emissions from buildings could be drastically cut and help mitigate climate change.