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  • Writer's pictureLuis Morgado

Charter for Wood – How Germans value wood

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

We are in trouble!

The pressure of additional 2,5 billion people will increase resource consumption. We will need more energy, more food, more water, more construction, and more healthcare. The world will have to support 10 billion in 2050. We have been depleting the resources, and a significant part of them are not being renewed. The climate is changing. It looks like we are in trouble.

In the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, almost all the world decided on keeping global temperature rise below 2ºCelsius. The challenge we face is about changing habits and procedures: we have to shift from a fossil-based economy to a bio-economy grounded on renewable energy and resources. And yes, we think, sometimes, that this is just talking the talk. We feel like we are doing nothing to change. But the thing is: “we are”, or at least Germans are. They are not just talking the talk, they are walking the walk.

How are Germans dealing with the goal of Climate Change Mitigation? They outlined a series of objectives and actions where the Charter for wood is an important protagonist. I chose to write about this Charter because it is related to architecture, construction and…Wood.

The importance of wood in Germany

Apparently, Germans believe that wood is the most important renewable material. They think that it is important to use sustainable wood from sustainably managed forests. They want to replace the current energy-intensive materials with wood because they believe in materials substitution. They rely on forests and wood for the roles of Carbon sequestration and Carbon storage. After all, they seem to accept that smart use of wood can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The “Charta fur Holz” or the “Charter for Wood” is here to testify.

The “Charta fur Holz”

In 2004 the “Charter for Wood” set a national goal of increasing wood consumption by 20%. Germany gave itself 10 years to achieve that objective but, as efficient as only Germans are, they reached the goal before 2014. Later in 2017, there was a renovation, with a new charter edition: the “Charta fur Holz 2.0” was created. It looks like the new objectives were focused on the assurance of a continuous wood offer and on the factors that may help increase its use, efficiency, and recyclability.

Having assumed a good and responsible forest management, Germany wanted to recognize the forest, not only as a resource of raw materials but also as a Carbon storage system. German forest and the wood sectors are responsible for a 14% reduction in the national Green House Gases emissions.

The basis of the Charter for Wood was the German Federal Government’s “Forest Strategy 2020”. The Charter for Wood deals specifically with the subjects of wood uses and its role in the crusade against climate change. Development of rural areas and resource conservation are also targeted by the document. Besides that, it is also one of the tools used to put into practice the “Climate Action Plan 2050”. The background of the Charter’s elaboration process was a series of forums about forests and wood. After gathering all the contributions, a team of experts (politicians, businessmen and scientists) composed the final text. It could sound just like the usual “good intentions soundbite about sustainability”, but this is not the case. The Charter works as a guide for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and the Federal Government. The Federal States are responsible for the implementation of the proposed actions.

The implementation of the Charter is managed by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and is coordinated by a steering committee, connected with various working groups. Each group is assigned with a different subject: 1 - wood in rural and urban construction, 2 - the potential of wood bio-economy, 3 - material and energy efficiency, 4 - forests and wood, 5 - forestry and wood cluster, 6 - forests and resources). The Thunen Institute is responsible for the evaluations of progress and results. The Agency for Renewable Resources supervises and supports its implementation.

The Charter for Wood covers the theme of forests as sources of wealth and employment. It includes subjects like education, the market, competitiveness, the consumer, research and development, information, transparency, and the involvement of important players (the construction sector, industry, banks and insurance providers, the agricultural sector, and the public sector).

German forest

When we say that the original goal of the Charter was to promote the use o wood, the question that you may ask is: “and what about the forest”? Is it being threatened by the pressure of wood consumption? No! The 2014 National Forest Inventory stated that wood reserves had increased by 3.7 billion cubic meters. Moreover, the forest is not suffering from the monoculture temptation that we are witnessing in Portugal. In Germany, “The share of coniferous trees in native forests is now 54 per cent. In young forest cover (trees up to four metres high), they only account for 27 per cent”.

Architectural challenges

For architects probably the most interesting aspects of the Charter are the ones concerning the use of wood in architecture. Construction in Germany uses 19% of mineral resources requiring more energy and emitting more Carbon than wood. The percentage of single-family wooden homes raised from 6% in the 1990s to 18% in the past 25 years. The new challenge is to extend this wave of wood construction to the multifamily housing sector and to projects located in dense urban areas. Other possible markets for wood are mixed material construction types, public buildings, agricultural constructions and temporary buildings. The advantages of wood are, besides the Carbon storage and emissions reduction, the short construction periods, low waste, lightweight, and flexibility. Renovation of existing buildings is an important area where wood can play a fundamental role precisely because of its characteristics of lightness and efficiency.

Other measures

The already mentioned goals shall be associated with other measures like the education and information about wood construction, the adjustment of building codes, the development of assessment systems and, - remember we are talking about Germany – norms and standardization. But in an open economy, without innovation, it will be difficult to win. The invention of lighter wood materials, the search for new hardwood uses, the research on beech cellulose fibres to be used in the clothing sector, the promotion of cascade use of wood, the implementation of wood end-use as an energy source by burning it, and the increase in efficiency of wood combustion plants, are some of the possible areas were innovation can be reached.

Just to give you an idea, the words “efficiency”, “long-term”, “increase” and “ensure” are permanently being used in the “Charta fur Holz”. It says something about its nature.

This is how an advanced country acts. And what about us? Will we ever have a “Portuguese Charter for wood”?

Luis Morgado

Note: The information and images in this post came from the Charter for Wood 2.0 English Version.


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