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Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation

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Executive summary Forests have multiple roles, but the role of forests in climate change mitigation has become increasingly important due to the urgent need to reduce climate change impacts. Forests remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, and store carbon in biomass and soil. When forests are harvested, part of the carbon is released and part is stored in woodbased products. In addition to carbon storage in forest ecosystems and harvested wood products (HWP), using wood to substitute greenhouse gas intensive- materials and fossil fuels can have climate benefits. While the positive role of forests in climate change mitigation is generally well perceived, the contribution of wood products to mitigation is much less known and understood. Current national reporting of greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and related processes does not attribute the substitution benefits of wood-based products directly to the forest sector. However, this information is important when developing optimal strategies on how forests and the forest sector can contribute to climate change mitigation. A substitution factor (or displacement factor) typically describes how much greenhouse gas emissions would be avoided if a wood-based product is used instead of another product to provide the same function – be it a chemical compound, a construction element, an energy service or a textile fibre. Overall greenhouse gas substitution effects can be estimated by combining information on the quantity of wood products that are produced or consumed, with product-specific substitution factors. Upscaling to regional or market levels allows us to see impacts from: • The current consumption of wood products – it shows the level of emissions that would occur if alternative products were used in place of wood. • An increase in the consumption of wood products with favourable substitution factors – this would contribute to emissions reduction objectives. • New wood-based products replacing fossil-based ones as part of a future bioeconomy. However, the potential substitution impact is difficult to estimate as commercial scale production processes for many of them do not yet exist. Due to the potentially high importance of substitution factors in climate change mitigation, the number of available scientific papers linked to substitution has increased in recent years. However, there is a lack of studies that provide an overall synthesis of the topic. At the same time, there is active public discussion about the overall role of the forest sector in climate change mitigation. In this discussion, scientists, experts, decision makers and the media also tend to use somewhat different concepts, definitions and interpretations of the scientific results. As a consequence, the discussion is sometimes confusing or even misleading. This study aims to help us to better understand what is the most updated knowledge on greenhouse gas effects of various wood products compared to alternative materials, and what are the limitations. We also identify important research gaps that should be covered to have a better understanding of the substitution effects: • Most studies in the literature focus on construction and significantly less information exists for other product types such as textiles. • Very limited information exists on the associated emissions and potential substitution effects for biochemicals, which are considered an important product in the future bioeconomy. • Most available studies focus on North America and the Nordic countries in Europe, and very few studies consider cases from Asia, South America, Africa, or from south or east Europe. More studies are needed for better geographical representativeness. Key messages • Our review analysed 51 studies, which provided information on 433 separate substitution factors. The large majority of studies indicate that the use of wood and wood-based products are associated with lower fossil and process-based emissions when compared to non-wood products. Overall, the 51 reviewed studies suggest an average substitution effect of 1.2 kg C / kg C, which means that for each kilogram of C in wood products that substitute non-wood products, there occurs an average emission reduction of approximately 1.2 kg C. • The substitution factor is as such important, but does not provide sufficient information to guide policy making. A more holistic analysis is necessary, which also considers forest and forest soil sinks, harvested wood products carbon storage, permanence of forest sinks and forest disturbances, and potential carbon leakage effects. • The fundamental aim is not to maximize substitution factors, but to minimize emissions. Tools, means and policies to enhance e.g. recycling and resource efficiency often imply smaller emissions for both wood and non-wood based products. Resource-efficiency and minimizing material waste should be a simultaneous policy target with climate mitigation. • There is a lack of knowledge on climate impacts of emerging forest products. The use of wood is expected to increase in the future, for example in textiles, packaging, chemicals, biofuels and a large variety of downstream niche markets. In general, the research literature does not yet capture sufficiently these new and promising areas. Research funding should be targeted to this area e.g. in the EU. • Climate mitigation is only one major policy target. When considering the impacts of different materials and products, it is also important to consider all sustainable development goals (SDGs), aiming to find synergies between the different goals and policy targets, and minimizing trade-offs.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Substitution effects of
wood-based products in
climate change mitigation
Pekka Leskinen, Giuseppe Cardellini, Sara González-García, Elias Hurmekoski,
Roger Sathre, Jyri Seppälä, Carolyn Smyth, Tobias Stern and Pieter Johannes Verkerk
FROM SCIENCE TO POLICY 7
2
From Science to Policy 7
ISSN 2343-1229 (print)
ISSN 2343-1237 (online)
ISBN 978-952-5980-69-1 (print)
ISBN 978-952-5980-70-7 (online)
Editor in chief: Lauri Hetemäki
Managing editor: Rach Colling
Layout: Grano Oy / Jouni Halonen
Printing: Grano Oy
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this publication are those
of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the
European Forest Institute, or of the funders.
Recommended citation: Pekka Leskinen, Giuseppe Cardellini,
Sara González-García, Elias Hurmekoski, Roger Sathre, Jyri
Seppälä, Carolyn Smyth, Tobias Stern and Pieter Johannes
Verkerk. 2018. Substitution effects of wood-based products
in climate change mitigation. From Science to Policy 7.
European Forest Institute.
Authors
Pekka Leskinen is Head of Bioeconomy Programme and Professor at the European Forest Institute.
Giuseppe Cardellini is Researcher in the Resource Flow Management group at the Technical University of
Munich.
Sara González-García is a Researcher at the University of Santiago de Compostela.
Elias Hurmekoski is Researcher at the European Forest Institute.
Roger Sathre is Chief Scientist at the Institute for Transformative Technologies in Berkeley.
Jyri Seppälä is Professor and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production at the
Finnish Environment Institute.
Carolyn Smyth is Research Scientist at Natural Resources Canada.
Tobias Stern is Professor at the University of Graz and Key Researcher at Wood K plus (Kompetenzzentrum
Holz GmbH).
Pieter Johannes Verkerk is Principal Scientist at the European Forest Institute.
Acknowledgements
The report benefited from the helpful comments from external reviewers, Kim Pingoud, VTT Technical
Research Centre of Finland (retired), Sebastian Rüter, Thünen Institute of Wood Research, and Peter Weiss,
Environmental Agency Austria. We also gratefully acknowledge the comments from professor Leif Gustavsson,
Linnaeus University. We wish to express our thanks for their insights and comments that helped to improve
the report, and acknowledge that they are in no way responsible for any remaining errors.
This work and publication has been financed by EFI’s Multi-Donor Trust Fund for policy support, which is
supported by the Governments of Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania,
Norway, Spain and Sweden. In addition, authors Leskinen, Hurmekoski and Seppälä also wish to acknowl-
edge financial support from the FORBIO project (no. 14970) funded by the Strategic Research Council at the
Academy of Finland.
3
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
Contents
Executive summary ....................................................................................................................................4
1. Forests, wood products and climate change mitigation ................................................................6
2. Mitigation effects of wood products ............................................................................................... 8
2.1 What are substitution factors and how can they be assessed? ................................................ 8
2.2 What do we know about substitution effects by wood-based products? ...............................10
2.3 Variability and uncertainties of substitution factors ..............................................................13
3. Substitution impacts on regional and market levels .................................................................... 15
3.1 Upscaling product-level GHG benefits to regions or markets ............................................... 16
3.2 Market level substitution benefits ........................................................................................... 17
3.3 Substitution as a part of a broader system ............................................................................. 20
4. Substitution effects of using wood products: summary of results .............................................. 21
5. Policy implications ......................................................................................................................... 23
Glossary ................................................................................................................................................... 24
References ...............................................................................................................................................25
4
From Science to Policy 7
Executive summary
Forests have multiple roles, but the role of forests
in climate change mitigation has become increas-
ingly important due to the urgent need to reduce cli-
mate change impacts.
Forests remove carbon dioxide from the atmos-
phere via photosynthesis, and store carbon in bio-
mass and soil. When forests are harvested, part of
the carbon is released and part is stored in wood-
based products. In addition to carbon storage in
forest ecosystems and harvested wood products
(HWP), using wood to substitute greenhouse gas in-
tensive-materials and fossil fuels can have climate
benefits.
While the positive role of forests in climate change
mitigation is generally well perceived, the contribu-
tion of wood products to mitigation is much less
known and understood. Current national report-
ing of greenhouse gas emissions to the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) and related processes does not attribute
the substitution benefits of wood-based products di-
rectly to the forest sector. However, this information
is important when developing optimal strategies on
how forests and the forest sector can contribute to
climate change mitigation.
A substitution factor (or displacement factor) typi-
cally describes how much greenhouse gas emissions
would be avoided if a wood-based product is used in-
stead of another product to provide the same func-
tion – be it a chemical compound, a construction el-
ement, an energy service or a textile fibre. Overall
greenhouse gas substitution effects can be esti-
mated by combining information on the quantity of
wood products that are produced or consumed, with
product-specific substitution factors.
Upscaling to regional or market levels allows us to
see impacts from:
The current consumption of wood products – it
shows the level of emissions that would occur if
alternative products were used in place of wood.
An increase in the consumption of wood products
with favourable substitution factors – this would
contribute to emissions reduction objectives.
New wood-based products replacing fossil-based
ones as part of a future bioeconomy. However,
the potential substitution impact is difficult to es-
timate as commercial scale production processes
for many of them do not yet exist.
Due to the potentially high importance of substitu-
tion factors in climate change mitigation, the num-
ber of available scientific papers linked to substitu-
tion has increased in recent years. However, there is
a lack of studies that provide an overall synthesis of
the topic. At the same time, there is active public dis-
cussion about the overall role of the forest sector in
climate change mitigation. In this discussion, scien-
tists, experts, decision makers and the media also
tend to use somewhat different concepts, definitions
and interpretations of the scientific results. As a con-
sequence, the discussion is sometimes confusing or
even misleading.
This study aims to help us to better understand
what is the most updated knowledge on greenhouse
gas effects of various wood products compared to al-
ternative materials, and what are the limitations. We
also identify important research gaps that should be
covered to have a better understanding of the substi-
tution effects:
Most studies in the literature focus on construc-
tion and significantly less information exists for
other product types such as textiles.
Very limited information exists on the associated
emissions and potential substitution effects for
bio chemicals, which are considered an important
product in the future bioeconomy.
Most available studies focus on North America
and the Nordic countries in Europe, and very few
studies consider cases from Asia, South America,
Africa, or from south or east Europe. More stud-
ies are needed for better geographical represent-
ativeness.
5
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
Key messages
Our review analysed 51 studies, which provided
information on 433 separate substitution factors.
The large majority of studies indicate that the use
of wood and wood-based products are associat-
ed with lower fossil and process-based emissions
when compared to non-wood products. Overall,
the 51 reviewed studies suggest an average substi-
tution effect of 1.2 kg C / kg C, which means that
for each kilogram of C in wood products that sub-
stitute non-wood products, there occurs an aver-
age emission reduction of approximately 1.2 kg C.
The substitution factor is as such important, but
does not provide sufficient information to guide
policy making. A more holistic analysis is neces-
sary, which also considers forest and forest soil
sinks, harvested wood products carbon storage,
permanence of forest sinks and forest disturbanc-
es, and potential carbon leakage effects.
The fundamental aim is not to maximize substi-
tution factors, but to minimize emissions. Tools,
means and policies to enhance e.g. recycling
and resource efficiency often imply smaller emis-
sions for both wood and non-wood based prod-
ucts. Resource-efficiency and minimizing material
waste should be a simultaneous policy target with
climate mitigation.
There is a lack of knowledge on climate impacts
of emerging forest products. The use of wood is
expected to increase in the future, for example in
textiles, packaging, chemicals, biofuels and a large
variety of downstream niche markets. In general,
the research literature does not yet capture suffi-
ciently these new and promising areas. Research
funding should be targeted to this area e.g. in the
EU.
Climate mitigation is only one major policy target.
When considering the impacts of different materi-
als and products, it is also important to consider
all sustainable development goals (SDGs), aiming
to find synergies between the different goals and
policy targets, and minimizing trade-offs.
6
From Science to Policy 7
1. Forests, wood products and climate change mitigation
Forests provide multiple benefits to society, includ-
ing biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as
CO2 sequestration, forest products, water and rec-
reation. The maintenance and improvement of
these functions is an integral part of sustainable for-
est management (SFM) (FAO, 2010). Forest prod-
ucts supply a range of economic and social bene-
fits, including contributions to the overall economy
via income, tax and employment generation. Forest
products also provide economic incentives for for-
est owners to replant, manage and maintain forests
against disturbances such as forest fires.
In recent years, the promotion of a bioeconomy
based on renewable resources has received much
political attention, because it is expected to contrib-
ute to climate change mitigation, help to replace
non-renewable resources, as well as environmental
and energy security (Purkus et al. 2018). Hetemäki
et al. (2017) argued for a circular bioeconomy as a
new economic paradigm that is necessary to achieve
the globally agreed Paris climate agreement and
sustainable development goals (SDGs). Following
this need there is expected to be increasing demand
in the future for renewable and low emission prod-
ucts. However, while the bioeconomy is seen as one
pillar for more sustainable production, changing
current fossil fuel-based production to a low emis-
sion production based on renewable sources is chal-
lenging (Siebert et al. 2018). The solution requires
structural changes in production and consumption,
with businesses and consumers becoming increas-
ingly aware of the environmental impacts of their
behaviour.
Forests have multiple roles, but the role of forests
in climate change mitigation has become increas-
ingly important due to the urgent need to reduce
climate change impacts. Forests remove carbon di-
oxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, and
store carbon in biomass and soil. When forests are
harvested, part of the carbon is released and part is
stored in wood-based products. In addition to car-
bon storage in forest ecosystems and harvested
wood products (HWP), using wood to substitute
more greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive materials
and fossil fuels can have climate benefits by reduc-
ing fossil GHG emissions from other sectors. While
the positive role of forests in climate change miti-
gation is generally well perceived, the contribution
of wood products to mitigation is much less known
and understood by the general public (Ranacher et
al. 2017).
Overall GHG substitution effects can be estimated
by combining information on the quantity of wood
products that are produced or consumed with prod-
uct-specific substitution factors. A substitution fac-
tor (or displacement factor) typically describes how
much GHG emissions would be avoided if a wood-
based product is used instead of another product to
provide the same function - be it a chemical com-
pound, a construction element, an energy service or
a textile fibre. In the literature, the terms substitu-
tion factor and displacement factor are often used
interchangeably, but in this study we use substitu-
tion factor (SF).
Current national reporting of GHG emissions
to the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC) and related processes
is based on emissions from five major emission sec-
tors: energy; industrial processes and product use;
agriculture; land use, land-use change and forest-
ry; and waste. This sector-based reporting accounts
for GHG substitution effects through reduced
emissions from, for example, the energy or indus-
try sectors, but it does not attribute these substitu-
tion benefits of wood-based products directly to the
forest sector. However, this information is impor-
tant when developing optimal strategies on how for-
ests and the forest sector can contribute to climate
change mitigation.
Existing studies (e.g. Sathre & O’Connor 2010)
suggest that substitution can provide significant
climate mitigation benefits through the substitu-
tion of products with higher GHG life cycle emis-
sions. Yet the quantification of these substitution
benefits is not straightforward and involves many
uncertainties. For example, substitution effects de-
pend on the type of wood product being consid-
ered, the type of non-wood product that it substi-
tutes, the different operating life as well as the
end-of-life management of wood and non-wood
products, and the use of harvest and processing
residues. Analyses are also complicated by the use
of integrated wood production systems that pro-
duce multiple products and the interdependencies
between these. For example, the sawmilling indus-
try produces wood for construction materials and
7
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
sawmilling residues serve as raw material for en-
ergy and paper products. Estimating future substi-
tution benefits is challenging because new produc-
tion technologies, product developments and the
development of bioeconomy markets are likely to
change the GHG emissions.
Due to the potentially high importance of substi-
tution factors in climate change mitigation, the com-
plexity and uncertainties in estimating such factors,
and rapidly emerging new wood-based products in
areas such as textiles and plastics, the number of
available scientific papers linked to substitution has
increased in recent years. However, there is a lack
of studies that provide an overall synthesis of the
topic. A much cited review study was published al-
most a decade ago (Sathre & O’Connor 2010) so
there is clearly a need to update our knowledge.
At the same time, there is active public discussion
about the overall role of the forest sector in climate
change mitigation. In this discussion, scientists, ex-
perts, decision makers and the media also tend to
use somewhat different concepts, definitions and
interpretations of the scientific results. As a con-
sequence, the discussion is sometimes confusing
or even misleading. We need to better understand
what are the most updated GHG effects of various
wood products compared to alternative materials
and what are the limitations.
This study seeks to fill the gaps in knowledge, and
reviews the current understanding of GHG substi-
tution effects from the use of wood-based products.
Specifically, it looks at the following questions:
How can the GHG substitution factors of wood
products be defined and assessed?
What are the magnitudes of the GHG substitu-
tion effects of wood-based products?
What are the key sources of variability and uncer-
tainty, which affect the GHG substitution effects
of wood-based products?
What are the wood products or product groups
that generally show the highest potential in terms
of avoided emissions?
How can substitution factors from the product
level be upscaled to the market level?
What is the scale of overall substitution benefits
for wood-based product markets, and how can
these substitution benefits be realized?
How should we interpret substitution factors in
climate change mitigation, and apply them in de-
cision making and policy planning?
8
From Science to Policy 7
2. Mitigation effects of wood products
A SF is a unitless ratio, when the GHG emissions are
expressed in mass units of C, and the wood use is ex-
pressed in mass units of C contained in the wood.
If the value of the equation is positive, this indi-
cates that using a wood product causes less GHG
emissions than using the non-wood product (assum-
ing, as is typically the case, that the wood product
contains more wood than the non-wood product).
There are two approaches to calculate the wood
used (WU) in the denominator. In one approach,
WU includes only the wood contained in the end-
use products. In the second approach, WU includes
all the harvested wood (including forest and wood
processing residues) used for producing a wood
end-product. Both approaches are acceptable, but
they lead to different overall calculation rules in the
assessment of substitution impacts.
A SF should ultimately consider all significant
fossil GHG emissions to the atmosphere from the
wood and non-wood product systems. This should
include emissions from raw material extraction,
processing, transportation, manufacturing, distri-
bution, use, re-use, maintenance, recycling, and fi-
nal disposal. In case not all processing stages are
considered, the system boundaries need to clearly
define what emissions are included in the substitu-
tion factors and what has been disregarded.
Net CO2 emission is typically the most important
emission for climate effects, while emissions of oth-
er GHGs (e.g. methane emissions from landfilling,
nitrous oxide from fossil fuels used in transport) can
also have a significant influence. By using the con-
cept of global warming potential (GWP), the different
GHG emissions can be converted to a commensura-
ble unit, expressed as CO2 equivalents of the differ-
ent gases for a given timeframe (typically 100 years).
Standards are increasingly formulated or improved
to guide life cycle assessments. The global standards
14040 and 14044 by the International Organization
for Standardization (ISO) are key in this respect; they
specify the overall requirements and provide guide-
lines for life cycle assessments. For some sectors –
especially the construction sector – additional stand-
ards exist; for example, ISO standard 21930 provides
methodological guidelines on how to assess the en-
vironmental impact of buildings and civil engineer-
ing work, along their entire life cycle. In addition to
these global standards, related standards are being
2.1 What are substitution factors
and how can they be assessed?
A starting point
The potential of forests and wood biomass to mit-
igate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions is widely recognized, but chal-
lenging to quantify. Capturing the mitigation ben-
efits through the use of forest products requires in-
formation on carbon storage in forest ecosystems
and wood products, as well as substitution benefits
where emissions are avoided by using wood prod-
ucts instead of other fossil-intensive products or fos-
sil energy. Thus, we need a way to quantify the dif-
ference between the GHG emissions resulting from
the use of wood and a predominantly non-wood al-
ternative, relative to the amounts of wood used in
the wood product and non-wood product. The meas-
ure used for this quantification is called the substi-
tution factor (or displacement factor).
Substitution factors are used to assess the substi-
tution impact of wood-based products by multiply-
ing product volumes by their corresponding sub-
stitution factors. However, the substitution impact
(i.e. avoided fossil GHG emissions) is only one com-
ponent in climate change mitigation and the GHG
emission balance related to wood use. In order to
estimate the overall climate impact, one should also
consider carbon stock changes in trees and soil, and
harvested wood products sink (HWPs) over time.
The assessment of the biogenic carbon balance in
forests can be made with the help of forest simula-
tion models.
Computing the substitution factor
The SF can be formally expressed as an equation
(Sathre & O’Connor 2010).
Equation 1
GHGnon–woodGHGwood
WUwood–WUnon–wood
SF =
GHGnon-wood and GHGwood are the GHG emissions re-
sulting from the use of non-wood and wood alter-
natives.
WUwood and WUnon-wood are the amounts of wood used
in wood and non-wood alternatives.
9
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
developed that are regionally relevant (for example,
the European standard EN 15804 on the sustainabili-
ty of construction works).
The comparison of life cycle GHG emissions for
a product requires that a wood product and a non-
wood product have the same functionality, and that
the products have the same functional unit (ISO
14040 and 14044). The functional unit provides a
reference to which the inputs (raw materials and
land use) and outputs (emissions) are calculated.
The calculations of GHG emissions are based on
the rules of life cycle assessment (LCA) (ISO 14040
and 14044). The result of the SF depends on the
quality of input data and assumptions used in the
LCA (see section 2.3).
Components of a substitution factor
SFs include the effects of different life cycle stages
of products. Figure 1 shows system-wide integrated
material flows of wood products. Fossil GHG emis-
sions related to those material flows should be tak-
en into account in the determination of SFs. These
GHG emissions will occur at different points in
time during the life cycle.
To increase the transparency of the calculations,
and to facilitate comparison of the avoided net fossil
GHG emissions of wood utilization between differ-
ent life cycle stages, different components should be
included in the assessment of SFs:
• SFproduction is the difference in fossil GHG emis-
sions during the production stages of wood-based
Figure 1: System-wide integrated material flows of wood products (Dodoo et al. 2014) causing GHG emissions.
These should be taken into account in the calculation of SFs. In addition, specific material flows related to non-
wood products with similar functionality and their GHG emissions should be assessed.
products and functionally equivalent non-wood
products. SFproduction includes the fossil GHG
emissions allocated to an end-product caused by
forestry and harvesting practices, mining and pro-
cessing of minerals and metals, transportation of
raw materials, product manufacturing, and trans-
portation to customers. Forest residues and wood
processing residues used for energy for end-prod-
ucts should be taken into account in the determi-
nation of SFproduction.
• SFuse is the difference in fossil GHG emissions
during the re-use and maintenance stages of
wood and non-wood end-products.
• SFcascading includes the GHG effects of recovery of
materials from end-of-life products.
• SFend-of-life is the difference in fossil GHG emis-
sions during the end-of-life management stages
of wood and non-wood products.
The substitution factor is dynamic, not static. Thus,
in the future, the emissions of different life cycle
stages from raw material extraction to the facto-
ry gate caused by wood and non-wood alternatives
may change, which could also change the SFproduction
values of wood products. In addition, in a future cir-
cular economy efforts to reuse and recycle will in-
crease the lifespans of different raw materials. Most
wood products at the end of their service life will
be combusted with or without energy recovery, or
will be placed in landfill, and these effects are in-
cluded in SFend-of-life. However, the EU directive on
wood
materials
Forest harvested
roundwood
Wood
Processing
Energy
recovery
Wood
Product
forest
residue
co-produced
material
processing
residue
recycled
material
product
re-use
post-use
incineration
wood
ash
CO2
10
From Science to Policy 7
landfilling of waste requires that landfilling should
not be a future option.
2.2 What do we know about
substitution effects by wood-based
products?
Literature review
Numerous studies have been published to date
that have estimated substitution factors for wood
and wood-based products. Existing reviews (e.g.
Petersen & Solberg 2005; Werner & Richter 2007;
Sathre & O’Connor 2010) focused mostly on the
construction sector and generally found that SFs
critically depend on the type of wood product, the
type of non-wood material that is replaced and the
post-consumer treatment of the wood.
To improve the understanding of the substitution
effects of all wood and wood-based products, we
conducted a systematic review of studies published
before April 2018. The review included only studies
that provided original substitution factors, or stud-
ies that contained emission data for a wood prod-
uct and a functionally equivalent non-wood product
that could be used to calculate substitution factors.
Studies that relied on substitution factors from pre-
vious studies were excluded from the review, un-
less they provided new information by e.g. expand-
ing the system boundaries of the previous studies.
In total, the review focused on 51 individual studies
(see the online materials).
Most of the studies reviewed focused on North
America and the Nordic countries in Europe (i.e.
Finland, Sweden, and Norway). Very few studies fo-
cused on Asia or South America and no study fo-
cused on Africa. Very few studies focused on south
or east Europe. All studies provided information
on the production stage of the product life cycle.
Seventeen studies focused only on the production
stage, while all other studies included two or three
life cycle stages, but no study included four stages.
Figure 2: Studies providing information on the sub-
stitution effects of wood-based products.
Asia
Austria
Australia
Brasil
Canada
Switzerland
China
Germany
European Union
Europe
Finland
Italy
Japan
Norway
New Zealand
Sweden
Taiwan
United States
Study area
Number of studies
0
2
4
6
8
10
Life cycle stages considered
Number of studies
0
10
20
30
40
50
Production
Use
Cascade
End−of−life
Non peer−
reviewed
Peer−
reviewed
Publication type
Number of studies
0
10
20
30
40
50
Asia
Austria
Australia
Brasil
Canada
Switzerland
China
Germany
European Union
Europe
Finland
Italy
Japan
Norway
New Zealand
Sweden
Taiwan
United States
Study area
Number of studies
0
2
4
6
8
10
Life cycle stages considered
Number of studies
0
10
20
30
40
50
Production
Use
Cascade
End−of−life
Non peer−
reviewed
Peer−
reviewed
Publication type
Number of studies
0
10
20
30
40
50
11
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
In addition, very few studies provided information
on the substitution effects of the product use and
cascading stages. The majority of studies (78%)
have been published in peer-reviewed literature.
However, due to the large amount of substitution
factors derived from a few non-peer reviewed stud-
ies (e.g. Rüter et al. 2016; Valada et al. 2016), only
45% of the substitution factors are from peer-re-
viewed literature.
Overall substitution effects derived from the
literature
The 51 studies that were reviewed provided informa-
tion on 433 separate substitution factors. Most of the
substitution factors (79%) related to the construc-
tion sector and substantially fewer substitution fac-
tors were available for other product types (i.e. furni-
ture, packaging, and textiles) and especially for paper
and chemicals (Figure 3a). Approximately one-third
of the substitution factors was for wood substituting
for cement, concrete, ceramics or stone. A quarter
of all the factors was for wood substituting for met-
als and alloys, mostly steel and aluminum (Figure
3b). Approximately 20% of the factors related to
plastics, for example polyethylene, polypropylene,
polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride. Some factors did
not relate to one specific non-wood material being
replaced by wood, but to various materials instead
(e.g. a range of materials used to construct a build-
ing). Finally, approximately 5% of the substitution
factors related to wood substituting other materials
such as glass, rock wool, asphalt, cotton, etc.
To enable comparison of the substitution factors,
we applied Equation 1 and expressed the values in a
common unit of mass of C in the final wood prod-
uct. We did this by calculating the GHG emission
reduction due to using a wood product (expressed
in mass units of carbon) per unit of additional wood
used in the wood product compared to the non-
wood product (expressed in mass units of carbon).
Where necessary for unit conversions, we used
IPCC default values and assumed an air-dry mois-
ture content of 15%. Carbon impacts in forest eco-
systems (biomass, soil) were excluded from the cal-
culated substitution factors.
Overall, the 51 reviewed studies suggest an av-
erage substitution effect of 1.2 kg C / kg C, which
means that for each kilogram of C in wood prod-
ucts that substitute non-wood products, there oc-
curs an average emission reduction of approximate-
ly 1.2 kg C. However, this overall substitution factor
is subject to large variability, as 95% of the values
range between -0.7 and 5.1 kg C / kg C. An impor-
tant reason for this is that these values are based
on many different product types, non-wood mate-
rials that are substituted, production technologies,
number of life cycle stages considered, and end-of-
life management practices. However, over 90% of
the substitution factors that include two or more
life cycle stages have a value greater than zero. This
Figure 3: Summary of information available for substitution factors for (a) different sectors, and (b) non-wood
materials being substituted.
Construction
(structural)
Construction
(non-structural)
Chemicals
Furniture
Packaging
Paper
Textiles
Other
a) Sector
Cement,
concrete,
ceramics
and stone
Metals
and alloys
Plastics
Various
Other
b) Material substituted
12
From Science to Policy 7
implies that the use of wood products from a sus-
tainably managed forest in the long-term general-
ly provides GHG climate benefits over functional-
ly equivalent products made from other materials.
Substitution effects of life cycle stages
Various studies provided information on the substi-
tution effects during the life cycle stages of a prod-
uct (i.e. production, use, cascading and end-of-life;
see Figure 2). The substitution benefits from using
wood over alternative non-wood products are largely
gained from reduced fossil GHG emissions during
the production stage of the wood product. The aver-
age of all reported substitution factors for the pro-
duction stage was 0.8 kg C / kg C wood product. In
addition, substantial substitution benefits are also
often obtained from energy recovery at the end-of-
life stage; the average of all reported substitution
factors for this life cycle stage was 0.4 kg C / kg C
wood product. Most studies did not quantify emis-
sions during the product use stage and often as-
sumed these emissions to be equal for the wood
product and its non-wood equivalent. The very
few studies that did report on emissions from the
product use stage suggest that emissions of wood
product use are slightly higher when compared to
non-wood products. The average of all reported sub-
stitution factors was -0.05 kg C / kg C wood product,
as they assumed that wood products require more
maintenance. Few studies considered the cascading
stage, but the information available from the liter-
ature suggests that cascaded use of wood provides
minor climate benefits. The average of all reported
substitution factors with regards to cascading was
0.01 kg C / kg C wood product.
While substitution factors are expressed per unit
of C in final wood products, there are numerous as-
sociated flows of biomass by-products such as har-
vest and processing residues. Modern wood process-
ing industries commonly use sawmill residues as an
energy source, which contributes – through avoided
fossil emissions – to the production stage substitu-
tion benefits of wood products. Several studies have
assessed the climate benefits of utilizing biomass res-
idues from timber harvest, finding that using harvest
residues for bioenergy increases SFs by about 0.4 -
0.8 kg C / kg C, depending on the fossil fuel replaced
(Gustavsson & Sathre 2006; Eriksson et al. 2007).
Stump harvesting can provide an additional substitu-
tion benefit of 0.2 - 0.5 kg C / kg C.
The substitution benefits from the end-of-life
stage (0.4 kg C / kg C wood product) are primari-
ly due to energy recovery from post-use wood ma-
terials instead of fossil fuels. Based on information
provided in the reviewed studies, benefits are high-
er (up to 1 kg C / kg C) when recovered wood is used
to substitute carbon-intensive coal, and lower when
it substitutes gas or oil. Several studies considered
landfilling as the end-of-life for wood products,
which generally reduced the substitution benefits
due to both the formation of methane in landfills
and the reduction in fossil fuel substitution by re-
covered woody biomass, but also introduced high
variability. In addition to the substantial uncertain-
ties regarding biophysical landfill processes, there is
also a diversity of assumptions used in the studies,
leading to contradictory conclusions of landfill ef-
fectiveness. In contrast, energy recovery from post-
use wood is found to provide reliable climate bene-
fits relative to fossil fuel burning.
Construction sector
Many studies report that the use of wood for con-
struction purposes results in climate benefits when
compared to non-wood products. Substitution fac-
tors are generally available for structural (e.g. a
building, internal or external wall, wood frame,
beam) and non-structural (e.g. a window, door, ceil-
ing cover or floor cover, cladding, civil engineering)
construction products. The substitution factors de-
rived from the literature showed substantial varia-
bility; the average SF for structural construction was
1.3 kg C / kg C wood product, with 95% of the val-
ues ranging between -0.9 and +5.5 kg C / kg C wood
product. Similarly, the average SF for non-structur-
al construction was 1.6 kg C / kg C wood product,
with 95% of the values ranging between +0.2 and
+4.7 kg C / kg C wood product.
The large variability in these estimates can be ex-
plained by differences in assumptions, data and
methods. In general, substitution factors are often
estimated for a particular wood product and com-
pared to a certain functionally equivalent, non-wood
alternative and it is not straightforward to generalize
the results from such comparisons. However, using
wood or wood-based products in many cases results
in lower emissions during the production stage, com-
pared to most other products. At the end-of-life stage,
wood-based products can be easily used for energy
production, while metals and alloys can be recycled,
13
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
giving smaller end-of-life stage substitution benefits
for wood products. In contrast, cement, concrete, ce-
ramics and stone have limited end-of-life utility, lead-
ing to higher substitution factors for wood products.
Textiles
Based on the existing literature, using wood for pro-
ducing textiles may to lead to a substitution effect of
2.8 kg C / kg C, thereby providing the largest substi-
tution benefits across all product types considered.
The two existing studies (Rüter et al 2016; Shen et
al. 2010) report that the production of wood-based
fibres such as viscose, lyocell and modal results in
lower levels of CO2 emissions than the production
of cotton or synthetic fibres. The production tech-
nology and resource base that is used could have a
significant effect on the estimated substitution ef-
fects. For example, an integrated textile fibre and
pulp plant using modern technology and factory
bio mass for process energy was found to give lower
levels of GHG emissions compared to convention-
al textile production technology using market pulp
instead of integrated own pulp (Shen et al. 2010).
Other products
Other product categories, such as wood-based chem-
icals, packaging and furniture, generally result in
moderate substitution benefits with average factors
ranging between 1 and 1.5 kg C / kg C wood prod-
uct. However, these results are based on only a few
studies and are limited to a few product comparisons
only. For example, only one study (Rüter et al. 2016)
reported on substitution effects related to a chemical
product by comparing adhesives made from lignin
with adhesives made from phenol. Obviously, find-
ings from a single comparison for a specific product
cannot be generalized to other chemical products.
Similarly, only one study exists that compares the life
cycle emissions of a printed magazine and an elec-
tronic tablet version. The study highlights that the
substitution factor may be a positive or negative val-
ue, strongly depending on the number of readers for
the tablet edition, number of readers per copy for the
print edition, file size, and degree of use of the tab-
let for other purposes (Achachlouei & Moberg 2015).
2.3 Variability and uncertainties of
substitution factors
Estimating the substitution benefits of wood prod-
ucts is a challenging task, and many factors con-
tribute to the variation of the SFs results. For exam-
ple, there is large variability in the SFs obtained for
wood-use in construction and the SF estimates con-
tain a certain degree of uncertainty. Variability is due
to the inherent heterogeneity of the wood and non-
wood products considered, the production technolo-
gies used, as well as the methodological differences
between the studies. This variability cannot be re-
duced, but can only be characterized. Uncertainty re-
fers to the degree of precision with which the SFs
are estimated, and it can be reduced by generating
and collecting more and better data.
Methodological choices can greatly affect the es-
timated SFs. For example, system boundary defi-
nitions (Rivela et al. 2006; Werner et al. 2007),
Table 1. Summary of the average substitution factors by broad product categories. The reported averages includ-
ed are based on studies considering at least two life cycle stages. Note that there is large variability around the
averages, and some of these numbers are based on only one or few studies. Therefore, these numbers cannot
be generalized and should be interpreted with care.
Product categories Average substitution effects
kg C / kg C wood product
Structural construction (eg building, internal or external wall,
wood frame, beam)
1.3
Non-structural construction (eg window, door, ceiling and floor
cover, cladding, civil engineering)
1.6
Textiles 2.8
Other product categories (e.g. chemicals, furniture, packaging) 1 – 1.5
Average across all product categories 1.2
14
From Science to Policy 7
temporal boundaries (Demertzi et al. 2017; Edwards
& Trancik 2014) and the choice of allocation method
when dealing with multi-functionality (Cherubini et
al. 2011; Jungmeier et al. 2002; Sandin et al. 2015;
Taylor et al. 2017) can greatly affect the estimated
SFs and their variability. A difficulty encountered in
the meta-analysis is the lack of detailed information
on how the emissions from wood products and their
substitutes are modelled. Often crucial information
like the allocation procedure used is missing and,
in several cases, the studies are not transparent con-
cerning the assumptions made.
A source of variability is the inconsistency between
studies in terms of GHG considered and how they
are accounted for. Most of the studies consider only
the fossil CO2 emissions and, in some cases, other
GHGs, e.g. methane and nitrous oxide. Usually, the
biogenic CO2 exchanges are not included in the SFs
and they are either ignored or taken into account by
separate calculations and/or assumptions.
One additional reason for increased variability of the
estimated SFs is the difference between the types of
energy production systems in different countries and
regions. For example, the estimated substitution effect
can substantially change based on the assumed type
of energy to be replaced (Gustavsson & Sathre 2006;
Cherubini et al. 2009; Cherubini & Strømman 2011).
While the meta-analysis of SFs attempted as much
as possible to differentiate by life cycle stage compo-
nents, also within each stage the assumptions used
in the studies can contribute to variation in the re-
sults. A prominent example is the end-of-life phase,
where the assumption on the final fate of wood (e.g.
landfilling vs. incineration) and the methodologi-
cal approach used to account for it (e.g. allocation
vs. system expansion) increases the variability of the
results (Cherubini & Strømman 2011; Sandin et al.
2015; Werner et al. 2007).
In addition, the reviewed studies are essentially
based on current product design, technologies and
energy supply. While the past and current situation
is well known, future product design and changes in
technologies and energy supply are difficult to pre-
dict and depend on many factors including future
policy instruments. It is thus challenging to esti-
mate how these future changes will impact substitu-
tion benefits. All these aspects contribute to the un-
certainty in the substitution factors.
Cascading is seen as a way to better use resourc-
es and contribute to climate change mitigation. The
results of our review indicate that the direct climate
benefits due to cascading use of wood are margin-
al when compared to the other life cycle stages.
Nevertheless, the issue has been addressed in only
one study (Rüter et al. 2016), and to fully under-
stand the climate mitigation potential of wood prod-
uct cascading further studies are needed.
Both wood and non-wood production can have
important geographical differences in terms of tech-
nological efficiency and energy production systems.
The reviewed studies are geographically restricted to
mostly industrialized countries, in particular North
America and Nordic European countries, which are
areas that generally have a high technological devel-
opment level. Many other areas of the world are lit-
tle or not covered at all, despite their relative impor-
tance in the global wood markets (UNECE 2018).
Thus, the results here are not likely to be globally
representative. In addition, most of the studies as-
sume domestic production of roundwood, while
this is not always the case due to the international
trade of wood (Bais et al. 2015).
While in the meta-analysis we included studies as
coherently as possible, there are unavoidable differ-
ences which contribute to increased uncertainty and
variability, reduce the representativeness of the re-
sults, and make their interpretation more difficult.
The variation in the results could be reduced by im-
proving the quantity and quality of data available in the
future, and by following a harmonized, agreed-upon
methodology to derive the SFs. Reflecting this, in re-
cent years a number of international standards have
been developed to assess the sustainability of wood
in the construction sector, and these harmonization
efforts are still ongoing (Passer et al. 2015). These
standards aim to provide methodological guidelines
on how to assess the environmental impact of build-
ing products along their entire life cycle. The adher-
ence to these standards in the future will undoubt-
edly facilitate a more systematic comparison of the
environmental performance of wood products.
Last but not least, it must be stressed that while
calculating the SF provides information on the cli-
mate benefits of the products, it does not deliver
information on how efficiently the wood resource
is used, i.e. it does not tell us the amount of raw
wood necessary to produce the product. This effi-
ciency of the wood processing along the produc-
tion chain is also an important aspect that should
be considered.
15
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
3. Substitution impacts on regional and market levels
Chapter 2 compared the GHG emissions of wood-
based products with alternative products that pro-
vide the same function. The resulting technical
concept, a substitution factor, can be upscaled to
estimate the substitution impacts at a regional or
market level. In this section, we highlight factors
that should be considered in a full analysis of mar-
ket-level GHG substitution impacts, and introduce
markets where significant gains from product sub-
stitution could be expected, on account of the in-
creasing use of wood in major global markets.
Using the substitution factor for wood products
to upscale the GHG benefits to regional or market
levels provides at least three relevant perspectives:
• The current consumption of wood products indi-
cates the level of emissions that would occur if al-
ternative products were used in place of wood.
• An increase in the consumption of wood products
with favourable substitution factors would con-
tribute to emission reduction objectives.
New wood-based products replacing fossil-based
ones as a part of a future bioeconomy. In contrast
to the first two perspectives, the potential sub-
stitution impact of emerging products remains
highly speculative, as the commercial scale pro-
duction processes for many of them do not yet ex-
ist, or substitution studies have not yet been car-
ried out.
Current consumption
Industrial roundwood production was 355 million
m3 in the EU in 2016 (FAOSTAT). This is main-
ly used by traditional forest industries, which con-
sist of solid wood products industries, pulp and
paper industries, and their downstream manufac-
turers (Figure 4). Some of the most important uses
of wood relate to communication papers, construc-
tion, packaging, fuels, and emerging uses for tex-
tiles and chemicals.
The consumption of forest products has tradition-
ally been primarily driven by population, income,
and prices, and is heavily influenced by policies,
institutions and culture (Toppinen & Kuuluvainen
2010). However, recently the consumption of
emerging products, such as cross-laminated tim-
ber (CLT) solid wood products and dissolving pulp,
has increased rapidly, which traditional demand fac-
tors fail to explain (Hetemäki & Hurmekoski 2016).
Figure 4: Most typical wood utilization paths.
Tall oil
Ethanol
Technical Lignin
Apparel
Home textiles
Technical textiles
Non-wovens
Etc.
Intermediate
products
Applications Construction Furniture Packaging Paper
Chemical, textile
and other technical
applications
Application
examples
Windows
Doors
Floors
Curtain panels
Railroad ties
Fences
Shuttering panels
Etc.
Chairs
Tables
Kitchens
Garden
furniture
Office furniture
Solid wood
furniture
Etc.
Pallets
Boxes
Crates
Barrels
Etc.
Printing paper
Tissue paper
Packaging
paper
Books
Newspapers
Cardboards
Cartons
Etc.
Sawn Wood
Wood
Pulp Energy
Wood-Based
Panels
16
From Science to Policy 7
Income and prices predominantly determine short-
term business cycles. However, structural drivers
such as technological change, environmental con-
siderations and changes in consumer preferences
typically cause changes on a timescale of decades,
although the recent developments in CLT and dis-
solving pulp indicate that this can take place also in
the short-term.
On a global level, the consumption of most forest
products is generally expected to grow along with
the population and GDP growth. In the EU, the con-
sumption growth of many forest products - in the
absence of major policy changes - is expected to re-
main modest for the next decade (Figure 5), due to
an ageing population, assumed sluggish economic
growth and increasing global competition.
3.1 Upscaling product-level GHG
benefits to regions or markets
The substitution factors reviewed in Chapter 2 are
based on comparing two specific products that pro-
vide interchangeable values and services. To ana-
lyze substitution at the market level, it is necessary to
compare the overall mix of forest products to a mix of
competing products, and to multiply the respective
volumes of the products by the substitution factors
(e.g. Knauf, 2016; Soimakallio et al. 2016; Braun et
al. 2016a; Suter et al. 2017; Smyth et al. 2017).
Considering that the SF ought to be associat-
ed with very specific substitution processes for
each and every end use of wood, the unavailabili-
ty of statistical data necessitates making a number
of approximations and assumptions, which may
lead e.g. to overestimation of substitution impacts.
Importantly, it makes a difference whether the up-
scaling refers to the amount of wood contained in
the final product, or the amount of wood harvest-
ed to produce the given product. Both of these ap-
proaches can be valid, but here we apply only the
former approach.
Figure 6 summarizes the production for some of
the most important forest products in the EU and
their respective substitution factors. Overall, sawn-
wood—around 50% of which is used for construc-
tion—would seem to create the largest substitution
benefits because of the large market volume and
relatively large substitution factor. This is consistent
with results from earlier literature (e.g. Kayo et al.
2015; Braun et al. 2016b).
Due to their large volume, printing and writ-
ing paper as well as packaging paper could have a
Figure 5: Development of traditional products wood consumption within the EU until 2030 based on data pub-
lished in Jonsson et al. (2018). Total industrial roundwood harvest production for the EU in 2016 was approxi-
mately 355 Mm3, and 1900 Mm3 globally (FAO).
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
conif.
sawnwood
non-conif.
sawnwood
plywood particle
board
fibreboard
newsprint printing +
writing
packaging
paper
household
+ sanitary
wood
pellets
Consumption in the EU, million tons
2015 2020 2030
17
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
significant impact on the overall substitution im-
pact of industrial wood usage, yet there is insuffi-
cient information available on substitution factors
to assess the substitution impact of these product
categories. Graphic papers (printing and writing pa-
pers and newsprint) are increasingly being substi-
tuted by electronic media, yet there is currently only
one study quantifying the substitution impact. The
possible substitution impact of packaging paper is
even less known due to the variety of alternative ma-
terials. For example, from environmental perspec-
tives (not only climate mitigation) some of the most
promising substitution possibilities seem to be in
replacing plastic packages with wood fibre-based
packages (Hurmekoski et al. 2018).
The body of literature providing a weighted sub-
stitution factor is fairly small, and it mostly focus-
es on solid wood products and energy. On a region-
al level, two recent comprehensive studies report
weighted SF of around 0.5 tC / tC for the produc-
tion stage (Suter et al. 2017; Smyth et al. 2017).
However, several precautions are required when
interpreting a regional SF. Information on wood
product production is generally available, but it
is often difficult to determine the exact end uses
of wood, and the alternate non-wood product that
could have been used. Intermediate products such
as sawnwood and panels can be used to make a
wide range of final products with potentially very
different substitution factors, and this makes it
difficult to weight the substitution factors by the
volume of each end use product. Previous stud-
ies have compensated for missing information by
making assumptions, modelling specific process-
es, or using statistical databases (see online mate-
rials).
3.2 Market level substitution
benefits
Here, we look at the marginal changes caused by in-
creased market share of wood products in selected
global markets, and the consequent additional cli-
mate benefits when compared to the current state.
The marginal increase can be influenced by, for ex-
ample, innovation (technology push), policy (regula-
tory push) or changes in relative prices or consumer
preferences (market pull), or a combination of sev-
eral or all of these.
We present three illustrative case studies that pro-
vide quantitative estimates of avoided emissions in
the construction and textiles markets. Table 2 sum-
marizes the main assumption and outcomes of the
cases.
Figure 6: Annual production volume (bars) of selected forest products in the EU28 in 2015 and respective
weighted substitution factors (dots). Substitution factors were weighted by end uses for coniferous sawnwood
and dissolving pulp (cf. Table 2). Substitution factors for paper categories are not shown – there were insuffi-
cient data available for these categories.
-1.0
-0.5
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
-30
-20
-10
0
10
20
30
40
50
Coniferous
sawnwood
Printing and writing
paper
Packaging
paper
Dissolving
pulp
18
From Science to Policy 7
Construction
The construction sector is one of the largest users
of natural resources and energy. Data on the mar-
ket share of wood construction is scattered, but it
can be assumed to be below 10% globally, although
with significant regional variation (Hildebrandt et
al. 2017). It is well known that the construction sec-
tor is characterized by regional differences in lo-
cal building practices created from differences in
building cultures, regulations and infrastructures
(Hurmekoski 2016). The sector is highly culture-de-
pendent, with significant institutional and techno-
logical lock-in in local building practices.
Research literature suggests that despite the iner-
tia in institutional and technological building prac-
tices associated with the construction sector, the
market share of wood in construction could be grad-
ually increasing (Phelps, 1970; Solberg & Baudin,
1992; FAO 2016). Over the past decade, cross-lam-
inated timber and laminated veneer lumber mar-
kets in particular have grown rapidly (Espinoza et
al. 2015). The main comparative advantage of wood
in construction can be argued to be the relative
lightness of the material, allowing efficient industri-
al prefabrication and consequent productivity ben-
efits.
Assuming the production of coniferous sawn-
wood were to increase at an annual rate of 1.8% to
2030 (cf. Hildebrandt et al. 2017), and if some of
the incremental harvest is used to substitute steel,
concrete and bricks in construction, there is a po-
tential substitution benefit of around 89 million
tons (Mt) of CO2eq in 2030. In contrast, focusing on
multi-storey residential construction and assuming
a 1% increase in global markets for wood use in res-
idential multi-storey construction by 2030, the re-
sult would be a modest substitution benefit of 4.4
Mt CO2eq. These values compare to total global con-
struction-related emissions of 5,700 Mt CO2 includ-
ing the use of buildings (Huang et al. 2018), result-
ing in a 1.5% emission reduction in the construction
sector. Indeed, Peñaloza et al. (2018) found that in
the case of construction, the priority ought to be to
substitute high-impact building types simultane-
ously with several different approaches to gain op-
timal climate change mitigation results.
According to the literature, the overall impact of
increasing the use of wood may remain modest
compared to the overall regional GHG emissions.
One of the few EU-level upscaling studies found
that a strong increase in material use of wood for
construction would result in avoided emissions of
Table 2. Market level substitution benefits for three illustrative cases.
Product / functional unit Sawnwood Multi-storey wood buildings Dissolving pulp
Market assumption Production of sawnwood increases
at an annual rate of 1.8% to 2030
(Hildebrandt et al. 2017)
Wood products gain a 1%
increase in the annually
built floor area of multi-sto-
rey residential buildings by
2030
The production
of dissolving
pulp grows at
an annual rate
of 3.9% to 2030
(Pöyry 2015)
Substitution case Around 50% of coniferous sawn-
wood substituting steel (40%),
concrete (40%), and masonry and
other (20%) in construction, and
around 50% used e.g. in packaging,
joinery and carpentry and furniture,
substituting various materials
Coniferous sawnwood
(50%) and engineered wood
products (50%) substitut-
ing steel (40%), concrete
(40%), and masonry and
other (20%) in residential
multi-storey construction
Viscose (50%)
and Lyocell
(50%) replac-
ing polyolefins
(75%) and
cotton (25%) in
apparel
Weighted substitution
factor (production stage)
1.11 tC / tC 1.39 tC / tC 1.52 tC / tC
Substitution impact
(production stage)
88.7 Mt CO2eq 4.4 Mt CO2eq 11.3 Mt CO2eq
Additional roundwood
demand (for the specified
end use)
174.8 Mm38.4 Mm331.0 Mm3
19
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
10 Mt CO2e/yr on average, when compared to a
business-as-usual reference scenario (Rüter et al.
2016). Eriksson et al. (2012) estimated that an ad-
ditional one million apartment flats per year be-
ing built out of wood instead of non-wood materi-
als in Europe by 2030, would reduce annual carbon
emissions by 0.2–0.5% of the total 1990 European
GHG emissions (15.8–35.6 Mt CO2eq). Only an ex-
treme scenario of an average wood products con-
sumption of 1 m³ per capita throughout Europe –
compared to the current level of 0.15 m3/capita in
Europe in 2017 (FAOSTAT) – would result in large
substitution benefits (605 Mt CO2eq). Sathre and
Gustavsson (2009) presented similar scales for the
EU-25, ranging between 0.03–1.2 % for total emis-
sions reduction by using more wood in multi-sto-
rey construction. Kayo and Noda (2018) also arrive
at similar scales with a maximum substitution ben-
efit of 0.7% of Japan’s emissions in 2050 (9.6 Mt
CO2eq/year) for civil engineering, including piles,
check dams, paved walkways, guardrails, and noise
barriers. These values compare, for example, to the
global concrete industry’s share of global emissions
of around 5%. Of note, these values only refer to
substitution impacts and disregard, for example, the
carbon storage of HWP.
Textiles
In addition to wood construction, the wood-based
textile market has gained interest recently in indus-
try and academia. The textile sector is one of the
largest industries in the world with a global raw ma-
terial consumption of close to 100 million tons. The
market is still rapidly growing, mainly driven by in-
creases in population, average income and fashion
cycles (Antikainen et al. 2017). The textile market is
dominated by synthetic oil-based fibres. The textile
industry does make extensive use of natural fibres,
notably cotton (25–30% of the textile fibre market)
and man-made cellulosic fibres (7%), as well as wool
and silk. Even though the production of cotton is
stable or even slightly increasing, its relative share is
clearly decreasing (Hämmerle 2011). Together with
the increasing demand for textiles, there is an op-
portunity for wood-based textile fibres to gain grow-
ing markets (Hurmekoski et al. 2018). Man-made,
or regenerated cellulose fibre segment is dominat-
ed by wood-based viscose, whose initial production
dates back for more than a century. New process-
es based on alternative solvents are currently being
developed to overcome the use of harmful chemi-
cals (carbon disulphide) associated with contempo-
rary viscose production and simultaneously reduce
the embodied energy of the production process.
If we consider a scenario in which the produc-
tion of dissolving pulp would grow at an annu-
al rate of 3.9% up to 2030 (Pöyry 2015), and that
75% of it is used to produce man-made cellulosic fi-
bres, the result would be a possible global substitu-
tion benefit of around 11 Mt CO2eq in 2030. While
the textile case is more straightforward compared to
construction in terms of determining a functional
unit, the lack of data on the emerging regenerated
fibre processes pose issues for upscaling. Here, we
used Lyocell to approximate the environmental at-
tributes of the emerging regenerated fibre process-
es, such as IONCELL-F. No studies could be found
that quantified the potential substitution benefit of
an increased consumption of wood-based textile fi-
bres on a market level.
New products
Within the vision of a future wood-based bioecon-
omy, the use of wood is expected to expand beyond
construction and textiles to new wood-based materi-
als e.g. in packaging applications, bio-based chem-
icals, biofuels and a large variety of downstream
niche markets (Näyhä et al. 2014; Hurmekoski et
al. 2018). For example, in future new wood-based
application of furfural, which can be converted into
more than 80 usable chemicals and could substi-
tute industrial chemicals from petrochemical sourc-
es (Dalvand et al. 2018). Such emerging product
categories have not been assessed in our review be-
cause there are no available studies on substitution
factors, as well as a lack of information regarding
the substitution process. Whether these emerging
products will have lower emissions than alternative
products will depend very much on the embodied
energy of the new production processes relative to
current technology and non-wood innovations.
Increasing demand for single product groups,
such as new packaging materials or biochemicals,
does not necessarily translate to increased har-
vests (Rougieux & Damette, 2018; Hurmekoski et
al. 2018). This could be due to two reasons. First,
digital media development is causing demand for
graphic paper to decline at an annual rate of a few
percent. The second factor is that by-products of
sawmilling and pulping are currently used mostly
20
From Science to Policy 7
as energy. They could be increasingly used as a feed-
stock for other products such as biomaterials, bio-
fuels and biochemicals, if the operating energy for
pulp mills and sawmills would be produced by oth-
er means, or reduced by increased energy efficien-
cy (Stern et al. 2015). Such dynamics may have im-
portant consequences for the overall substitution
benefits of wood use in the future. Given that a lim-
ited supply of biomass feedstock is needed to sat-
isfy multiple demands for products, consideration
needs to be given to the best use of wood to reduce
net GHG emissions.
3.3 Substitution as a part of a
broader system
Calculating the substitution impacts on a market or
regional level only provides one part of the equation
for determining the climate impacts of using wood
for industrial purposes. Understanding whether
changing forest management activities will provide
climate benefits in the short to medium term, i.e.
in a matter of a few decades, requires adopting an
integrated systems approach that considers carbon
stock changes in standing forests, soil, and harvest-
ed wood products (HWPs), as well as the avoided
fossil emissions through substitution. In addition,
how the different uses of forests are connected to
the long-term ability of forests to sequester carbon
and adapt to a changing climate, and how forest
disturbances may impact forest carbon sequestra-
tion, needs to be considered. While a comprehen-
sive analysis is challenging, a systems approach is
required to reveal the potential synergies and trade-
offs in mitigation effects across the components of
the forest sector, and is useful in defining effective
climate change mitigation portfolios (Lemprière et
al. 2013; Smyth et al. 2014; Gustavsson et al. 2017).
Studies using forest ecosystem and wood prod-
uct models suggest that a decrease in the level of
harvest and forest products production in the EU is
likely to result in an increase in harvests and forest
products production in the rest of the world (Rüter
et al. 2016). This “leakage effect” may compromise
the effectiveness of climate policies regulating land
use in the EU (Kallio & Solberg 2018; Kallio et al.
2018) as production emissions could be substan-
tially higher in other locations or other industries.
Ultimately, it is necessary to also consider the im-
pacts of carbon leakage on substitution benefits but
this adds significant complexity. One remedy can be
to focus policies on demand rather than on supply.
21
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
4. Substitution effects of using wood products:
summary of results
Wood products
The large majority of studies indicate that the use
of wood and wood-based products are associated
with lower fossil and process-based emissions when
compared to non-wood products. For example, the
use of wood for construction purposes results in cli-
mate benefits when compared to non-wood prod-
ucts. Average SF for structural and non-structural
construction are 1.3 and 1.6 kg C / kg C wood prod-
uct, respectively. Substitution benefits are largely
gained due to reduced emissions during the pro-
duction and the end-of life stages, particularly when
post-use wood is recovered for energy.
A previous meta-analysis (Sathre & O’Connor
2010) estimated a mean substitution effect of
2.1 kg C / kg C wood product. Based on our review
and more recent studies, our results suggest a lower
substitution effect of 1.2 kg C / kg C wood product.
One likely reason for this difference is that most of
the studies in the earlier meta-analysis focused on
construction materials and covered the full life cy-
cle, while the current meta-analysis contains stud-
ies on a more diverse range of material types, and
many studies covered only the production stage and
excluded other life cycle stages.
The reviewed substitution factors have substantial
variability and uncertainty, which can be explained
by differences in assumptions, data and methods.
The results also show that substitution factors are
context-specific. A difficulty encountered in the lit-
erature review was the lack of detailed information
on how the wood products and their substitutes are
modelled. Often crucial information is missing and,
in several cases, the studies are performed with dif-
ferent levels of transparency. The development and
continuous improvement of analysis methods and
international standards with regards to LCA will fa-
cilitate improved comparison of the environmental
performance of wood products in the future.
We also identified important research gaps that
should be covered to have a better understanding
of the substitution effects. Firstly, most studies in
the literature focus on construction and significant-
ly less information exists for other product types
such as textiles. Very limited information exists on
the associated emissions and potential substitution
effects for biochemicals, which are considered
an important product in the future bioeconomy
(Lettner et al. 2018). Secondly, most available stud-
ies focused on North America and the Nordic coun-
tries in Europe, and very few studies considered cas-
es from Asia, South America, Africa, or from south
or east Europe. More studies are needed for better
geographical representativeness.
Regional and market level impacts
The overall substitution benefits depend not only
on the relative difference in emissions between two
alternative products (substitution factor), but also
on the scale of production and consumption of the
products.
Upscaling the substitution benefits on a regional
or market level requires an understanding of mar-
ket dynamics and detailed substitution processes.
Given the amount of wood already used for various
purposes, it is clear that the total climate benefits
from historical material substitution are very large.
If wood as a renewable raw material would not have
been available, it is likely that other materials would
have fulfilled the demand, with a likelihood of high-
er GHG emissions as a result. However, in order to
work towards climate targets, it is not sufficient to
look at the substitution benefits that reflect the cur-
rent or historical situation. Instead, it is important
to focus on the future changes caused by expected
increases in market shares of wood products, new
wood-based products, technological changes and
the potential additional climate benefits when com-
pared to the current state.
The research literature generally suggests that
an increased use of wood contributes to the mitiga-
tion of GHG emissions particularly in the building
sector. Yet e.g. on the EU level, the relative impact
of an increased use of wood in construction would
remain relatively modest compared to the overall
GHG emissions of the region, unless the overall use
of wood in the markets is much higher compared to
the present volumes.
The use of wood is expected to increase in the fu-
ture, for example in textiles, packaging, chemicals,
biofuels and a large variety of downstream niche
markets. In general, the research literature does not
yet capture sufficiently these new and promising
22
From Science to Policy 7
areas. For example, the possible substitution im-
pacts of packaging paper are not well known due
to the extreme diversity of materials in use and the
consequent complexity of substitution processes.
Holistic view of mitigation potential is
essential
As shown in in this report, the substitution factor
is one necessary, but not sufficient, piece of infor-
mation needed to assess the role of wood-based
products in climate mitigation. In order to inform
policies, one needs also to consider other factors,
such as forest carbon sinks, forest soil carbon sink,
and harvested wood products carbon storage. One
should also consider what is the overall climate
mitigation balance between these factors, through
questions such as “Is it more efficient to store car-
bon in forests instead of using forests for products
and energy”? The mitigation potential of these two
options depends on the magnitude of the substitu-
tion factors and losses in forest carbon sinks due to
harvesting.
However, in addition to substitution and harvest-
ing, one should also take into account how perma-
nent forest carbon sinks would be. The permanence
aspects relate especially to two factors. First, old for-
ests will eventually “decay” and the carbon stored
in the old trees will be lost. Second, the older the
forests, and the less they are managed, the higher
the probability is that they will be affected by distur-
bances (forest fires, storms, bark beetle outbreaks,
etc.). Disturbances may take place also in the very
short-term. For example, forest fires and bark bee-
tle outbreaks are already today an increasing source
of CO2 emissions, sometimes around 10-20% of
a country’s annual emissions (e.g in Canada and
Portugal). Moreover, the climate change mitigation
potential of forests is married with adaptation to cli-
mate change. Tree species, seedlings, and other for-
est management measures are needed to adapt for-
ests to a changing climate. Forest owners need to
have an incentive to implement and fund adaptation
measures. The bioeconomy can be one such incen-
tive and funding source.
Climate policy targets need to be considered
together with SDGs
It should be emphasized that the current study has
focused only on one environmental aspect of wood
products, namely climate mitigation potential. Yet,
it is important to consider also the impacts of for-
ests on the sustainable development goals (SDGs)
in general. The role of wood-based products in help-
ing to phase out plastics and their related environ-
mental problems, or in providing a renewable raw
material that can replace non-renewables, are im-
portant objectives. Moreover, whatever the materials
used in production, resource-efficiency is a key tar-
get to help to reduce emissions and material waste.
Finally, it is important to understand that in prac-
tice it is often not a question of using wood or oth-
er materials, but rather their optimal combination.
There are some cases where it simply does not make
practical sense to use wood, such as for the founda-
tions of buildings, in which concrete has major ad-
vantages. On the other hand, using wood combined
with other materials may in some cases be sensible,
for example, to provide better properties for con-
crete, while also helping to reduce the emissions of
that material.
23
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
5. Policy implications
demand for forest products, limiting production
in a geographical area such as the EU is likely to
lead to increased production in other regions. From
the viewpoint of climate mitigation, this may even
lead to increasing emissions due to differences e.g.
in resource efficiency between different regions.
Ultimately, it is necessary to consider also the im-
pacts of carbon leakages on substitution benefits,
but again, this adds significant complexity, and is
beyond the scope of this study.
Since substitution is only one element in mitiga-
tion, it is important to take into account trade-offs
and/or synergies between substitution and forest
carbon sinks at different timescales. For example, if
global demand for bio-products increases and this
implies higher harvesting levels, it is important to
take into account potential trade-offs between forest
carbon sinks and GHG substitution effects. In this
context, an important question is how well substitu-
tion factors with existing product portfolios can com-
pensate the potential reduction in sinks. And more-
over, how the existing product portfolio could be
changed to improve the mitigation impacts further?
Key messages
Usually wood and wood-based products have low-
er fossil and process-based GHG emissions when
compared to non-wood products.
The substitution factor is important but does
not provide sufficient information to guide poli-
cy making. A more holistic analysis is necessary,
which also considers forest and forest soil sinks,
harvested wood products carbon storage, perma-
nence of forest sinks and forest disturbances, and
carbon leakage effects.
Resource-efficiency and minimizing material
waste should be a simultaneous policy target with
climate mitigation.
There is a lack of knowledge on climate impacts
of emerging forest products. Research funding
should be targeted to this area e.g. in the EU.
Climate mitigation is one major policy target.
When considering the impacts of different mate-
rials and products, it is also important to consid-
er all SDGs, aiming to find synergies between the
different goals and policy targets and minimize
trade-offs.
Substitution factors (SF) assess how much using
wood-based raw materials and products instead of
alternative materials and products can help to mit-
igate climate emissions. Our SF review showed
that in most cases the use of wood and wood-based
products is associated with lower fossil and pro-
cess-based emissions when compared to non-wood
products. However, the substitution factor alone
should not form the basis of policies, since the over-
all climate impacts of forest production depend also
on forest carbon sinks, forest soil and carbon stored
in harvested wood products. It is crucial to consider
that the GHG substitution impact of wood products
is only one component in climate change mitigation
and the GHG emissions balance. Since substitution
factors focus usually only on fossil GHG emissions
in techno-systems, the climate effects of SF should
be considered only as one input, in addition to oth-
er factors that affect the climate mitigation impact.
Forest product markets are expected to become
more diverse in future decades (Hurmekoski et al.
2018). Important markets for emerging wood-based
products include prefabricated engineered wood
products for multi-storey construction, consumer
packaging and other plastic substitutes, textiles and
basic chemicals. These sectors are among the key
sectors when looking for large future substitution po-
tential, due to potentially high market volumes and
potentially high substitution factors. However, since
there is also a considerable lack of knowledge of the
impacts in these emerging areas, it is difficult to es-
timate what the overall mitigation impact could be.
Despite uncertainties and knowledge gaps, it is vi-
tally important to realize that substitution factors are
not constant at the level of products, regions, or mar-
kets. The substitution factors are likely to change due
to factors such as technological development, prod-
uct design, improved resource efficiency, recycling
and improved end-of-life phase of products. But per-
haps even more important is to remember that the
fundamental aim is not to maximize substitution
factors as such, but to minimize emissions. Tools,
means and policies to enhance e.g. recycling and re-
source efficiency often imply smaller emissions for
both wood and non-wood based products.
In order to work efficiently towards climate tar-
gets, potential carbon leakages need to be taken
into account as well. Given the increasing global
24
From Science to Policy 7
Glossary
Allocation: Partitioning the input or output flows of a process or a product system between the product system
under study and one or more other product systems. Used in Life Cycle Assessment to deal with multi-func-
tional processes (i.e. multifunctionality).
Biogenic carbon dioxide emissions: Emissions to the atmosphere from a stationary carbon source directly re-
sulting from the combustion or decomposition of biologically-based materials other than fossil fuels.
By-product (or co-product): Any of the two or more product-outputs coming from the same unit process or
product system.
Carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2eq: a common unit for different greenhouse gases where CO2e signifies the
amount of CO2, which would have the equivalent global warming impact.
Greenhouse gases: A greenhouse gas is a gas that absorbs and emits infrared radiation. The main greenhouse
gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone.
Harvested Wood Products (HWPs) are wood-based materials harvested from forests, which are used for prod-
ucts. Wood products contribute to mitigating climate change e.g. through forming a storage pool of wood-based
carbon.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): Method for analyzing and assessing the environmental impacts of a material,
product or service throughout its entire life cycle.
Multifunctionality: multi-functional processes in Life Cycle Assessment are those that have more than one
function and deliver several products (e.g. the process of sawmilling delivers sawnwood and sawdust).
Product system: System of consecutive and interlinked unit processes (subsystems), which models a product
life cycle.
Substitution factor (or displacement factor): express the GHG efficiency of using a wood-based product to re-
duce GHG emissions to the atmosphere compared to a non-wood based equivalent alternative product.
System boundaries: A concept used to define and integrate or exclude the unit processes, entities or activities
that will be considered in Life Cycle Assessment.
System expansion: Changes in the system boundaries of the studied system to include additional functions
related to co-products. Used in Life Cycle Assessment to deal with multi-functional processes (i.e. multifunc-
tionality).
25
Substitution effects of wood-based products in climate change mitigation
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We are living in a time of accelerated changes and unprece-
dented global challenges: energy security, natural resource
scarcity, biodiversity loss, fossil-resource dependence and climate
change. Yet the challenges also demand new solutions and offer
new opportunities. The cross-cutting nature of forests and the
forest-based sector provides a strong basis to address these inter-
connected societal challenges, while supporting the development
of a European circular bioeconomy.
The European Forest Institute is an unbiased, science-based
international organisation that provides the best forest science
knowledge and information for better informed policy making.
EFI provides support for decision-takers, policy makers and in-
stitutions, bringing together cross-boundary scientific knowledge
and expertise to strengthen science-policy dialogue.
This work and publication has been financed by EFI’s Multi-
Donor Trust Fund for policy support, which is supported by the
Governments of Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, France,
Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Spain and Sweden.
FROM SCIENCE TO POLICY 7
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... Biogenic emissions are not included, as they are accounted for in the ecosystem, as implied emissions to the atmosphere upon harvest of forests. Substitution impacts at the product or functional unit level are measured by a so called displacement factor or DF (Table 4), expressed as fossil emissions avoided when using one unit of a wood-based product in place of an alternative product or energy carrier (Leskinen et al., 2018). ...
... In a global review, Leskinen et al. (2018) derived an average product-level DF of 1.2 tonne C (tC) emissions avoided per tC of wood products used, equal to about 1.1 tonne CO 2 m − 3 of wood product with a density 500 kg m − 3 . The outcome is corresponding with the overall market DF of 0.55 tC avoided per tC of harvested wood, identified by Hurmekoski et al. (2021). ...
... First, there is a trade-off in the near to medium term between enhancing wood-based substitution through increased wood harvests and the use of forests for carbon sequestration, as illustrated by numerous studies (e.g. Valade et al. 2018, Jonsson et al. 2021b Table 4 Example displacement factors across some European countries, derived from our brief survey and literature reviews (Leskinen et al., 2018;Hurmekoski et al., 2021;Myllyviita et al., 2021). Soimakallio et al. 2021, Deng et al. 2022. ...
Article
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Wood is an energy efficient, low carbon construction material that if carefully managed can contribute significantly to European climate policy goals in urban environments. The aim of this study is to assess the current construction wood use intensity ─ the ratio of apparent national consumption of wood for construction (in m3) to the useful floor area of newly finished dwellings (in m2) ─ and to identify when and where additional policy measures are required. Results show that Cyprus/Malta have the smallest use with a ratio of 0.01, Estonia/Romania the greatest use with a ratio of 0.32. The need for additional policy measures, was assessed using the Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) matrix with four product development phases, based on the aforementioned ratio versus future growth. Six, twelve, eight and two countries are in the “Introduction“, “Growth”, ”Maturity” and “Decline” phases, respectively. At the EU level, the European Commission should consider introducing a Renewable Material Directive, in which a Non-biogenic Material Comparator shows the average GHG substitution effect of using wood for construction. At the international level, a new harvested wood product (HWP) category in the IPCC Guidelines is recommended for construction wood with a longer lifespan than the current HWP categories.
... Several papers have quantified the DFs (e.g., Sathre and O'Connor 2010;Smyth et al. 2016;Leskinen et al. 2018). The preferred way, using wood replacing reinforced concrete in buildings as an example, is to use the results of a comparative life cycle assessment (LCA). ...
... This was expected, because many factors can have significant impacts on the results including construction types, building year, building codes, transportation distance, energy mix of different jurisdictions, and whether the study used actual buildings. This range generally agrees with previously published DF reviews (Sathre and O'Connor 2010;Smyth et al. 2016;Leskinen et al. 2018). There did not appear to be a substantial difference between wood substitutions for reinforced concrete or for steel, based on the LCA data that were available to this research, and therefore for the remainder of this paper, these two building materials are discussed collectively. ...
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Globally, efforts to increase land sector contributions to net-zero emissions are pursued. Harvested wood products may retain carbon, and substitute emission-intensive products. The emission reductions achieved through substitution, or substitution benefits, can inform the design of climate-effective wood-use strategies. Mitigation analyses of a wood-based bioeconomy therefore need to include substitution to evaluate the mitigation outcomes across sectors. Substitution benefits can be estimated using displacement factors, which quantify the emissions avoided per unit of wood use. Here, we calculated the displacement factors of timber constructions and wood-derived biofuels to be around 1.03 and 0.45 tCO2e/tCO2e, respectively. Assuming substitution was achieved when changes in human behavior increased the share of wood use relative to the reference market share, we added the substitution benefits to a previous analysis that focused on biogenic emissions in British Columbia, Canada. At projected declining harvest rates, the theoretical maximum reduction that forest products can contribute over the period 2016 to 2050 is 66 MtCO2e·year⁻¹ with an uncertainty range of 45–79 MtCO2e·year⁻¹, relative to the baseline, by focusing on long-lived, high-displacement construction applications. However, because construction uses of wood in foreign markets are not guaranteed, and constrained by market access, the practical strategy that combines construction and biofuel uses can achieve 17.4 MtCO2e·year⁻¹, equivalent to 30% of British Columbia’s 2050 target. Although a transformation of the bioeconomy may help achieve both climate and socio-economic benefits, potential conflict exists between maximizing regional and global benefits. How and where wood will be used can influence the desired mitigation outcomes.
... How is it produced? 3 Based on information available on the websites of organisations involved in the development and manufacture of the fibres 4 The impacts described in this column are based on information freely available and do not represent the full extent of the potential environmental impacts as these technologies are still in development OnceMore Circulose Uses white polyester-cotton blend as main feedstock. The polyester fraction goes for energy production and the cotton fraction is used for new textile fibres. ...
... Using engineered wood for constructing buildings helps avoid emissions associated with conventional materials in the short term while also acting as a carbon sink in the long run, as carbon contained in wood is stored over the life of the building [4], [7], [108], [109]. Wood is a renewable resource with one of the smallest carbon footprints of any comparable, newly used building material [110]. ...
... There is an increasing production of innovative wood-based products, such as bioplastics, wood-based composites and cross-laminated timber, which indicates that technologies are improving. Moreover, the use of wood products instead of functionally equivalent non-renewable products might create a positive substitution effect in some cases (Leskinen et al. 2018). ...
Technical Report
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The European Union (EU) uses biodmass to meet its needs for food and feed, energy, and materials. The demand and supply of biomass have environmental, social, and economic impacts. Understanding biomass supply, demand, costs, and their associated impacts is particularly important for relevant EU policy areas, to facilitate solid and evidence-based policymaking. As the European Commission's (EC) in-house science service, the role of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) is to provide EU policies with independent, evidence-based, scientific and technical support throughout the whole policy cycle, thereby contributing to coherent policies. To provide a sound scientific basis for well-prepared EC policy making, the JRC was requested by Commission services to periodically provide data, processed information, models, and analysis on EU and global biomass supply and demand and its sustainability. This report is the 3rd public-facing report under this mandate.
... There is an increasing production of innovative wood-based products, such as bioplastics, wood-based composites and cross-laminated timber, which indicates that technologies are improving. Moreover, the use of wood products instead of functionally equivalent non-renewable products might create a positive substitution effect in some cases (Leskinen et al. 2018). ...
Chapter
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— This chapter presents an ensemble of various EU forest biomass reference datasets, based on best available data, with a higher level of harmonisation and spatial resolution compared to existing data published independently by National Forest Inventories (NFI) or produced for international reporting. — In Europe, National Forest Inventories (NFI) refer to different definitions, spatial scales, monitoring periods and temporal frequency. For this reason, data harmonisation is essential to perform any meaningful pan-European assessment. — The harmonised statistics presented in this report provide unbiased estimates, which partially overcome the limits of official statistics, but they remain limited in their temporal and spatial resolution. Such harmonisation can only be achieved with a long-term acquisition and integration of ground and remote sensing data that are designed and acquired in a way to be highly compatible between EU Member States. — Based on the specific assessment carried out by JRC within the present chapter, the total living aboveground biomass stock of the EU forests estimated for the year 2020 is equal to 18.4 billion tonnes of dry matter, corresponding to an average biomass density42 of 117 tonnes per ha. — The countries with the largest biomass stock are mostly located in central Europe (DE, FR, PL) and in Fennoscandia region (SE, FI). — 89% of the forest area and 92% of the biomass stock of EU-27 is available for wood supply (Section 6.3). — Economic restrictions, mostly linked to low profitability, were responsible for 60% of the forest not available in terms of area but only 42% in terms of biomass, as they affected forests often characterised by low productivity and hence low biomass stock. — EU forests in 2015 produced a Net Annual Increment (NAI) of 770 million m3, or 85% of the gross increment. — The biomass stock in EU forests has continuously increased since 1990, by about 1-2% per year, but its growth has slowed down during the last 5 years, due to different concomitant factors, including ageing processes, an increasing impact of natural disturbances and other climatic drivers. — The harvest level in the EU was relatively stable between 1960 and 1985 and then presented a clear upward trend, with FAOSTAT removals increasing from 3.0 to 4.0 m3 ha-1 yr-1 between 1990 and 2015. Moreover, these values are likely underestimated by up to 13%, mostly because of the lack of data reported for the fuelwood sector (see also Chapter 7). — The fellings rate slowly decreased from 82% to 78% of the NAI between 2000 and 2015, but taking into account that the absolute amount of removals reported by FAOSTAT increased to 4.3 m3 ha-1 yr-1 in 2020 (i.e. +12% compared to 2010), it is estimated to grow and reach the 88% of the NAI in 2020.
... Looking at the normative specifications for LCA [20,21] and carbon footprinting [29], it is undisputed that all GHG emissions directly arising from the production and use phases shall be considered for the GHG accounting of wood products. Furthermore, it is generally accepted that material use of wood not only stores carbon in the technosphere [30], but also that the substitution of non-wood products with wood products can achieve additional GHG savings [31,32]. The total GHG balance of wood products (TBWP) is calculated as: ...
Article
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The global carbon neutrality challenge places a spotlight on forests as carbon sinks. However, greenhouse gas (GHG) balances of wood for material and energy use often reveal GHG emission savings in comparison with a non-wood reference. Is it thus better to increase wood production and use, or to conserve and expand the carbon stock in forests? GHG balances of wood products mostly ignore the dynamics of carbon storage in forests, which can be expressed as the carbon storage balance in forests (CSBF). For Germany, a CSBF of 0.25 to 1.15 t CO2-eq. m−3 wood can be assumed. When the CSBF is integrated into the GHG balance, GHG mitigation substantially deteriorates and wood products may even turn into a GHG source, e.g., in the case of energy wood. In such cases, building up forest carbon stocks would be the better option. We conclude that it is vital to include the CSBF in GHG balances of wood products to assess the impacts of wood extraction from forests. Only then can GHG balances provide political decision makers and stakeholders in the wood sector with a complete picture of GHG emissions.
... The average displacement factor was 2.1, while the ranges were from −2.30 to 15.00. A meta-analysis for structural constructions, performed by Leskinen et al. [54], presents displacement factors ranging from 0.9 to 5.5 tC/tC. A meta-analysis for structural constructions, performed by Myllyviita et al. [55], also presents comparable displacement factors ranging from 0.16 to 9.56 tC/tC. ...
Article
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The European Commission adopted a long-term strategic vision aiming for climate neutrality by 2050. Lithuania ratified the Paris agreement, making a binding commitment to cut its 1990 baseline GHG emissions by 40% in all sectors of its economy by 2030. In Lithuania, the main construction material is cement, even though Lithuania has a strong wood-based industry and abundant timber resources. Despite this, approximately twenty percent of the annual roundwood production from Lithuanian forests is exported, as well as other final wood products that could be used in the local construction sector. To highlight the potential that timber frame construction holds for carbon sequestration efforts, timber and concrete buildings were directly compared and quantified in terms of sustainability across their production value chains. Here the concept of “exemplary buildings” was avoided, instead a “traditional building” design was opted for, and two- and five-floor public buildings were selected. In this study, eleven indicators were selected to compare the sustainability impacts of wood-based and concrete-based construction materials, using a decision support tool ToSIA (a tool for sustainability impact assessment). Findings revealed the potential of glue-laminated timber (GLT) frames as a more sustainable alternative to precast reinforced concrete (PRC) in the construction of public low-rise buildings in Lithuania, and they showed great promise in reducing emissions and increasing the sequestration of CO2. An analysis of environmental and social indicators shows that the replacement of PRC frames with GLT frames in the construction of low-rise public buildings would lead to reduced environmental impacts, alongside a range of positive social impacts.
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Wooden construction materials have two climate benefits compared to non-wooden options: lower lifecycle emissions and a carbon storage potential. This study estimates the implications of replacing concrete buildings with wooden ones for a period of 35 years in Helsinki metropolitan area, Finland. The study has three main steps. First, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions difference between concrete and wooden buildings is estimated. Next, we select the most accurate carbon storage potential of wooden buildings. Finally, we compare future wooden and concrete building scenarios regarding the climate benefits for the metropolitan area. We use data provided by the regional authority of the study area on predicted residential building construction. According to our findings, switching to wooden construction in urban areas can have a significant climate benefit for the studied region. Increasing wooden construction can cut carbon emissions by 0.56 Mt and increase the carbon storage by 1.83 Mt in the study area, an amount that is four times bigger than the yearly emissions from traffic in the same urban area. The findings are not only useful for the city of Helsinki but also to other global cities which have committed to carbon neutral strategies and have sustainable forestry practices available.
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This study identifies new wood-based products with considerable potential and attractive markets, including textiles, liquid biofuels, platform chemicals, plastics and packaging. We apply a mixed methods review to examine how the position of the forest industry in a given value chain determines the respective production value. An assessment is provided as to the degree these emerging wood-based products could compensate for the foreseen decline of graphic paper markets in four major forest industry countries: USA, Canada, Sweden, and Finland. A 1– 2% percent market share in selected global markets implies a potential increase in revenues of 18–75 billion euros per annum in the four selected countries by 2030. This corresponds to 10–43% of the production value of forest industries in 2016 and compares to a projected decline of graphic paper industry revenue of 5.5 billion euros by 2030. The respective impacts on wood use are manifold, as many of the new products utilize byproducts as feedstock. The increase in primary wood use, which is almost entirely attributed to construction and to some extent textiles markets, would be in the range of 15–133 million m3, corresponding to 2–21% of the current industrial roundwood use in the selected countries.
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The effect of changes in round wood harvests in Norway on the harvests in rest of the world is examined using a global forest sector model. 60–100% of the harvest change in Norway is offset by an opposite change in the rest of the world. Such leakage rates vary over time, wood category, background scenario, and the size of the harvest change. Asymmetries between the effects of increasing and decreasing the harvests also exist. Hence the magnitude of leakage rate is case specific, though considerable. Under tightening wood supply there is less need/room to respond to harvest increase/decrease in Norway with incremental/reduced harvests elsewhere. When the use of global forest resources intensifies with increasing wood demand in the future, leakage rates can be smaller than today. It is important to account for harvest leakage in order to avoid overestimating the climate benefits of policies that decrease or increase roundwood harvests. For instance, for full carbon sequestration benefits of increasing harvests for harvested wood products, creating fresh additional demand for these products should be prioritized. Else the origin of raw material and the place of production for these products may change instead of their stock.
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In a panel of European countries, we analyse paper products, sawnwood and wood panels consumption data. With this object, we use a classical demand model where national consumption depends on real GDP and real prices. In contrast to previous panel estimations in the literature, we highlight non-stationarity time series which can lead to spurious regressions. We explicitly take into account the issue by using recent panel cointegration techniques. Cointegration is present for printing paper and fibreboard, though less clear cut for other products. Then we estimate demand elasticities and find that GDP elasticities are significantly lower than estimates from the literature. Finally, we simulate the implications of modified demand elasticities by using a partial equilibrium model of the forest sector. For most products, changes in elasticities would lead to lower projected demand and lower prices over a 20-year time horizon. Lower demand for solid wood and wood fibre would lead to less tensions with fuel wood- and wood-based chemical markets. In a context of rising interest for renewable bio-based products, updated long-term demand models contribute to the analysis of the forest sector’s sustainability.