Minister of the Environment Ville Niinistö: Increasing wood building necessary for the sake of natural resources

The Minister of the Environment, Mr Ville Niinistö, who is in charge of Finland’s climate policy, considers it necessary that new, more material efficient and energy efficient solutions are found in construction. Using concrete in construction has a large carbon footprint in terms of natural resource consumption and is coming to the end of its path, says Niinistö. Bearing in mind climate goals, the construction industry, too, must move on to low-emission materials. Niinistö sees wood building as a good example of the possibilities in the green economy and a step towards sustainable consumption. Increasing building with wood has significant influence not only on reaching the climate goals, but also on product development, export and employment. Finland has a chance to showcase wood building as one of its expertise areas in urban planning and to thus promote its export in the field of construction know-how, says Minister Ville Niinistö.

The Programme of the Government, led by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, has set the goals of improving energy efficiency in construction and of reaching all but zero energy construction by the year 2020. The government’s intention is to identify the possibilities of decreasing emissions and to promote education and research in energy efficient construction and repair. In addition, a comprehensive plan on how to increase the repair of the existing building stock will be drafted, and new practices and innovations in repair will be promoted.

Wood building to become Finland’s urban planning showcase

A report called ”Materiaalinäkökulma rakennusten ympäristöarvioinnissa” (SYKEra 16/2011) published earlier this year by the Finnish Environment Institute, estimated that building materials have great impact on reaching the climate goals. In the coming decades the overall environmental effects of construction will be primarily influenced by changes in the volume of building stock; new construction and repair; the annual drain; the development of building regulations, especially energy efficiency requirements; changes in heating systems; and overall economic development, which affects both energy prices and investment costs.

- In order to reach the climate goals we must be able to find more cost-efficient and emission-low solutions in construction also, Niinistö says. Until now, the concrete industry, which has a larger carbon footprint, has been allowed to practically dictate Finnish building regulations. This monopoly must now be taken down, as when it comes to natural resource consumption and resource efficiency, concrete construction is coming to the end of its path, Niinistö states.

According to the Finnish Environment Institute report, using wood as a building material requires far less energy and resource consumption and emits less greenhouse gases compared to concrete and steel. The report compared various building materials based on their environmental effects.

According to Niinistö, using more wood in construction would have a remarkable influence on product development, export and employment. – It can be seen as a good example of the possibilities of the green economy and a step towards sustainable consumption, says Niinistö. What we need now is innovative concepts in industrial production related to wood building and to steer building into better architectural directions. Finns need resident-oriented living environments, modern-day garden cities, where a small ecological footprint is an essential criterion in urban planning. This is Finland’s chance to showcase wood building as one of its expertise areas in urban planning and to thus promote its export in the field of construction know-how, suggests Minister Niinistö.

Wood building promotes green economy

Minister of the Environment, Ville Niinistö, sees many new innovations in construction that are able to promote moving into a new, sustainable economic system on a wider scale.

- I see wood building as a possibility for reaching the global goals. In the preparations leading to the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012, a special goal has been set to separate economic growth from the consumption of natural resources.

This trend must be further strengthened to ensure we have enough resources, water and food on a global scale in the future. Therefore, going for energy and material efficiency in construction serves the bigger global goal as well, Minister Niinistö explains. Lengthening the life-span of building materials and introducing the life-span thinking into construction is inevitable. The current production, centred around concrete and asphalt use, will come to the end of its path. As a renewable material, wood possesses a great ecological competitiveness in the green economy.

More resource awareness in public purchasing

- I have been following what goes on in wood building in Växjö, Sweden with great interest, says Niinistö. Now that we, too, in Finland have been able to renew our building regulations and clear away some of the obstacles of wood building, next we should make developers, decision makers and builders interested in using wood.

- Municipalities play a major role as public purchasers and we are just starting an information service on public purchasing directed to them, which at a wider scale is aimed at promoting the guidance and development of the green economy, Niinistö says. We have allocated 2.5 million Euro to a project directed at municipalities to promote sustainable consumption and production. Public purchasing has great significance in moving towards a green economy and in increased consideration for material and energy efficiency.

- The purchasing know-how in municipalities should be improved and the kind of quality criteria set so that material and energy efficiency improve, Niinistö suggests. In many fields, we have highly skilled and innovative companies with better chances of succeeding against the big, international ones if the tenders were not decided based on price alone. The criteria should include, among others, resource efficiency and assessment of environmental effects.

The opinion of Finland’s Minister of the Environment is that it’s now time to look far into the future. Finland will have to be one of the forerunners in reaching the EU goals on energy and resource efficiency set for the year 2020, Niinistö emphasises.

 

Written by Markku Laukkanen, Finnish Timber Council

Translated by Kielipalvelu Kauriin Kääntöpiiri OY / Capricorn Translations Ltd.

Further information: to book an interview, please contact secretary

Kristina Tamminen, tel. +358 9 1603 9301

kristina.tamminen@ymparisto.fi