The use of wood leads to a reduction in CO2 emissions of between two and 3.1 million tonnes per year, a study in Switzerland has revealed. It recommended using wood more widely as a source of energy.
The study “Resource Wood” conducted by the National Research Programme examined the environmental impact of wood in Switzerland – from cutting down trees to recycling wood and the manufacture of products such as paper.
It revealed that sustainable use of wood could contribute to meeting needs in terms of energy and raw materials – and with a smaller footprint than other resources.
Replacing gas or oil with wood accounts for two thirds of the estimated total reduction of between two and 3.1 million tonnes per year. The remaining portion is linked to construction and furniture production, where wood replaces materials with a high carbon footprint, such as cement or steel.
“We considered different environmental impacts, in particular in relation to climate change, energy consumption, air pollution and loss of biodiversity,” explained Florian Suter, first author of the study, in a statement.
One of the disadvantages of wood is the particulate matter emitted when it is burned: it contributes to air pollution and has adverse health effects.
However, the researchers recommended the use of wood where it brings the greatest comparative benefits – in construction materials and energy, for example, or where it mitigates negatives, such as the emission of particulate matter.
They also highlighted that wood’s climate benefits have not been sufficiently exploited, saying it is easy to forget that wood is one of the very few renewable materials available.
In the very long term, the climate footprint of forests is neutral, according to Suter. He explained: “All the CO2 absorbed during the growth of a tree is returned into the atmosphere when it naturally decomposes or is burnt. The use of wood as a construction material means that this CO2 is stored for decades, which is a mitigating factor in these times of global warming.”
Photo credit: Jean-Daniel Echenard/ CC BY-ND 2.0