The house made of wood
Buildings produce a huge amount of carbon. Using more wood would be greener
The second little pig was unlucky. He built his house from sticks. It was blown away by a huﬃng, puﬃng wolf, which promptly gobbled him up. His brother, by contrast, built a wolf-proof house from bricks. The fairy tale could have been written by a ﬂack for the construction industry, which strongly favours brick, concrete and steel. However, in the real world it would help reduce pollution and slow global warming if more builders copied the wood-loving second pig.
In 2015 world leaders meeting in Paris agreed to move towards zero net greenhouse-gas emissions in the second half of this century. That is a tall order, and the building industry makes it even taller. Cement-making alone produces 6% of the world’s carbon emissions. Steel, half of which goes into buildings, accounts for another 8%. If you factor in all of the energy that goes into lighting, heating and cooling homes and oﬃces, the world’s buildings start to look like a giant environmental problem.
Governments in the rich world are now trying to promote greener behaviour by obliging developers to build new projects to “zero carbon” standards. From January 1st 2019 all new public-sector buildings in the European Union must be built to “nearly zero-energy” standards. All other types of buildings will follow in January 2021. Governments in eight further countries are being lobbied to introduce a similar policy.
These standards are less green than they seem. Wind turbines and solar panels on top of buildings look good but are much less productive than wind and solar farms. And the standards only count the emissions from running a building, not those belched out when it was made. Those are thought to account for between 30% and 60% of the total over a structure’s lifetime.