Oct 31, 2022

CO2 from buildings

I became quite fascinated by how eco-friendly wood in new construction is. For one, because we partnered with numerous founders over the years who use technology to make the use of wood in buildings more efficient, for example:

But also because I had chats with people from the wood-processing and forestry businesses.

One chat in particular last week stood out. It came with a European family owning a billion-dollar business in wooden construction materials. They asked me flat out: “Where do you see wood in construction going?”

No one is fully immune to media manipulation and public debate. So my first nano-second reaction was “hey, of course wood is great and steel and cement are dirty, so it must grow in use”. But does it? My interest was piqued.

To answer the question where wood in buildings might be going, we have to start by understanding the CO2 footprint of construction and buildings. That’s what I’m doing this week – and will follow up with part two on wood specifically next week.

We all know that the world population continues to rise. 10 billion people are expected by 2060, which is another +30% vs. 2020. And middle classes in emerging countries are rising, too, which means they have more money to spend on consumption. Just from 2009 to 2020, the middle class almost tripled in 11 years.

And that’s the issue with CO2. The demand. Per capita, CO2 has increased by +55% to 4.7 tons per capita compared to 1960.

CO2 is not just a world population issue. It is driven by consumption per capita !

Meat +85% per capita. Cars + 125% per capita. Oceanfreight + 100% per capita compared to 1960. Per person.

And the most dramatic CO2 per capita increase comes from construction. Take cement: +270% vs. 1960 and +135% in just last 22 years.

The issue is per-capita CO2 consumption.

And construction is a massive consumption driver. 17% of the world’s emissions come from construction. Another 17% from operating residential buildings, and 11% from operating commercial buildings. (side note: this is freaking why we need heat pumps across the Western World – go and buy yours with Lun)

However: If you ANNUALIZE the CO2 demand from constructing and operating a building, the design and construction is a 10x higher CO2 driver than the operations phase – because the construction emissions are set free in first 1-2 years, while the ops emissions are set free over the 30-50 following years.

That’s why the 17% of construction vs. the 17% of residential building ops are not the same. The Construction emissions are a 10x larger and instant lever.

I have a feeling people begin to realize this massive CO2 reduction lever that construction is.

However, I fear it is becoming (again) an emotional and non-scientific debate. Much like energy choices after Fukushima and vaccine choices during COVID – experts do not get heard and lobbyists and politicians lead emotional debates.

I fear the same for the use of wood in construction to decarbonize the construction of buildings.

I will write here next week about why wood will make a great contribution to CO2 reduction, but scaling it massively is not going to be a very healthy choice for decarbonization targets.

The same way scaling gas consumption post 2011 was a very bad choice for the EU.


World Bank 2018 | OECD 2020 | IPCC 2017 | Global Carbon Project 2017 | Oxford 2019 | OICA 2016 | UNCTAD 2018 | Cembureau 2015 | BNP 2018 | UNFCC 2019 | UNFAO 2018 | IEA 2017 | European Commission 2018 | Rocky Mountain Institute 2018 | UN 2017 | Ecoinvent 3.1 2018