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Growing Environmental Concerns over Concrete

Now, a quiet contest in constructing tall wooden buildings, from Amsterdam to Tokyo, underlines growing environmental concerns over concrete

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Environmental, Concrete, Countries
In this Nov. 15, 2016, file photo, engineer Eric McDonnell shows diagrams of skyscraper construction using cross-laminated timber in Portland, Oregon. City officials have approved a construction permit for the first all-wood high-rise in the nation. VOA

For more than a century, countries have raced to build the world’s tallest buildings with concrete and steel. Now, a quiet contest in constructing tall wooden buildings, from Amsterdam to Tokyo, underlines growing environmental concerns over concrete.

With rapid advances in engineered wood, and authorities relaxing building codes, wooden structures are sprouting across Europe, Canada, the United States, and in the Asia Pacific region.

At 73 meters (240 ft), Amsterdam’s Haut building is said to be the world’s tallest wooden residential tower.

Vancouver plans a 40-storey building it says will be the world’s tallest, a title also claimed by Sumitomo Forestry’s 350-meter (11,150 ft) skyscraper in Tokyo.

Environmental, Concrete, Countries
Visitors enter the Wood Hall building featuring its geometric patterns at downtown Tokyo, Aug. 22, 2017. VOA

“The interest is definitely being driven by environmental concerns — the amount of damage we’re doing with concrete is unbelievable,” said John Hardy, a sustainability expert in Bali, Indonesia.

“Bamboo and wood are carbon sequestering materials. So the other advantage of building with them is that you will look better to your children and grandchildren,” he said.

Construction of office towers, bridges, airports and highways is booming in developing nations across the world.

The manufacture of steel, concrete and brick accounts for about 16% of global fossil-fuel consumption — and up to 30% when transport and assembly of the materials is considered, according to the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

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Concrete is also blamed for rampant sand mining, which has damaged the environment and hurt livelihoods in Southeast Asia.

In addition, an abundance of concrete has worsened urban flooding, and made cities hotter, environmentalists say.

In contrast, wood requires fewer fossil fuels to transport and assemble, and also effectively stores large amounts of carbon — trapped as the trees grew — for years, helping curb emissions, said Andy Buchanan, professor of timber design at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

More attractive 

Environmental, Concrete, Countries
For more than a century, countries have raced to build the world’s tallest buildings with concrete and steel. Pixabay

Each cubic meter of timber used in construction stores a carbon equivalent of over 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) of CO2 emissions, meaning a reduction of 135 kg-360 kg of CO2 emissions per square meter of floor area, said Buchanan.

Innovations such as glue-laminated timber, laminated veneer lumber, and cross laminated timber — strips of wood glued together to make beams — are creating more uses for structural timber in residential and commercial projects, he said.

Structural timber is much lighter than concrete, cuts risks in earthquakes and can “create far more attractive interiors,” he said.

“As tall timber buildings become more popular, the perceived disadvantages — fire safety, durability and the supply chain — are being overcome with good design, excellent case study buildings, and technology for engineered-wood products.”

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Examples are easy to find, from London’s nine-story residential Stadthaus to Melbourne’s 10-storey Forte apartment building.

A 54-meter (177 ft) wooden building in Vancouver that was thought to be the world’s tallest was quickly overtaken by an 85-meter (280 ft) tower in Norway.

Amsterdam’s 73-meter Haut will begin handing over its 55 apartments from 2021. Vancouver’s planned 40-story building will include 200 flats, while the 70-story Tokyo tower is slated to be completed by 2041.

“New technology, combined with accurate computer fabrication, now enables a wooden building to be assembled incredibly fast, like a giant piece of flat-packed furniture,” said Andrew Lawrence, a timber specialist at Arup, which designed Haut.

“Wood is ideally suited for lower rise buildings, but it is really exciting that engineers and architects worldwide are experimenting with the use of wood for taller structures,” he said.

Such buildings are particularly suited to cities, where buildings are constantly being adapted and refurbished for new uses, said Eleena Jamil, a Malaysian architect who has designed residential and commercial structures with bamboo and wood.

“Cities go through fast-paced changes. The advantage of using bamboo and timber is that they are easy to dismantle, reuse and adapt, compared to concrete,” she said.

But with excessive logging and deforestation already a problem in many Southeast Asian countries, it is important to balance demand for wood with “tighter regulations and more efficient management of forests,” she cautioned.

Wood first 

Under pressure to act on a material that produces 7% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, cement manufacturers also have been experimenting with lower-carbon concrete.

Authorities in several U.S. states are exploring the use of carbon-injected concrete that will use less cement while trapping carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, policy initiatives are hastening the move to wood from steel and concrete.

In New Zealand’s Christchurch, where authorities have encouraged a more environment-friendly approach after a 2011 earthquake that flattened much of the central business district, timber is a favored material.

The city, which creates about 600,000 square meters of new buildings each year, has the opportunity to store the equivalent of 30,000-200,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year if all new buildings were made of wood, said Buchanan.

Regions including British Columbia and Tasmania have adopted a “wood first” or “wood encouragement” policy that requires building designers to show that they have considered wood as an option.

Japan has a law to promote use of wood in public materials.

Such policies are “probably the most effective to encourage greater use of wood as a construction material, especially if supported through a carbon encouragement grant,” Buchanan said.

But the decision to use wood must be a considered one, said Amy Chow, a designer in Hong Kong who curated a show on wood, paper and bamboo.

“You can’t start off saying: let’s build this out of wood,” she said.

“It has to be the culmination of a process to determine what works best in that context, what is most sustainable, cost effective and efficient,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s How E-Commerce Can Become a Driver of Growth Across South Asia

Small and medium enterprises in the region reported that removing regulatory and logistical challenges to e-commerce would increase their exports

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South Asia
A survey of over 2,200 firms in South Asia showed that the top concerns on cross-border e-commerce sales included e-commerce related logistics, e-commerce and digital regulations, and connectivity and information technology infrastructure. Pixabay

E-commerce can become a driver of growth across South Asia and boost trade between the region’s countries, but its potential remains largely untapped, a new World Bank report said on Monday.

The report, titled “Unleashing E-Commerce for South Asian Integration” launched in the Capital, said that although e-commerce has grown significantly in South Asia, online sales accounted for a mere 1.6 and 0.7 per cent of total retail sales in India and Bangladesh — compared to 15 per cent in China and nearly 14 per cent globally.

“E-commerce can boost a range of economic indicators across South Asia, from entrepreneurship and job growth to higher GDP rates and overall productivity,” said Sanjay Kathuria, World Bank Lead Economist and co-author of the report.

“By unleashing its online trade potential, South Asia can better integrate into international value chains, increase its market access, and strengthen commercial linkages between countries across the region,” He added.

Increasing the use of e-commerce by consumers and firms in South Asia could potentially help increase competition and firm productivity, and encourage diversification of production and exports.

A survey of over 2,200 firms in South Asia showed that the top concerns on cross-border e-commerce sales included e-commerce related logistics, e-commerce and digital regulations, and connectivity and information technology infrastructure.

South Asia
E-commerce can become a driver of growth across South Asia and boost trade between the region’s countries, but its potential remains largely untapped, a new World Bank report said on Monday. Pixabay

“These barriers are significantly higher when trading with other South Asian countries. The main international e-partners of firms in South Asia are China, the UK, and the US and not other South Asian countries,” the findings showed.

Small and medium enterprises in the region reported that removing regulatory and logistical challenges to e-commerce would increase their exports, employment, and productivity by as much as 20-30 percent.

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“Some practical steps to strengthen online transactions include leveraging the reputation of large e-commerce platforms to offer consumer protection, return and redress, and data security as an initial substitute for robust contractual and consumer protection mechanisms, and permitting cross-border e-commerce payments,” said Arti Grover, World Bank Senior Economist and co-author of the report. (IANS)