This article originally appeared in the Puget Sound Business Journal on Dec. 4, 2015.
Written by Anson Fatland, Associate Vice of Economic Development at Washington State University, and Gene Duvernoy, President of Forterra.
Imagine a material that allows us to construct buildings more quickly. Helps to combat climate change. Supports restoration of our forests while also helping revive rural economies.
And, as an added bonus, delivers an interior surface so pleasing that you don’t want to paint it.
That material is cross-laminated timber, or CLT. The massive building panels can be manufactured with lumber from thin trees that are susceptible to pest outbreaks and pose catastrophic fire threats like those that we experienced in our state this summer.
Manufacturing cross-laminated timber in our state would make use of those trees, while supporting local businesses and growing jobs in our rural towns that once depended on the timber industry.
Along with the environmental and rural economic benefits, cross-laminated timber panels are a versatile construction option that is quick to install on site.
Our southern neighbor Oregon has already started to embrace the potential of cross-laminated timber, which has the potential to be a $4 billion industry in the United States.
With former timber towns in our state looking for new revenue, and with our forests in need of restoration, Washington has the opportunity to be a leading force in this emerging industry.
We can do this through collaboration between public institutions, conservationists, timber industry and contractors/developers. This collaboration, in fact, has already started with Washington State University and Forterra.
Since 2011, researchers at WSU’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center have been working with local companies, governments and economic development groups to improve the performance and manufacturing process of cross-laminated timber, as well as analyzing cost effectiveness and logistics of a rural-to-urban supply chain.
WSU is already working with milling and manufacturing partners to launch a supply chain in Eastern Washington, and to identify Western Washington opportunities.
In October, Forterra convened a leadership summit of 100 stakeholders, including WSU researchers, to discuss developing cross-laminated timber and other mass timber products in our Pacific Northwest region.
The biggest takeaway from the event: agreement that there are near-term opportunities to catalyze a market. And now we need a broad coalition to make it happen.
We want the design community to imagine the possibilities of using this material. We want to design buildings and usher them through the code process. We want to showcase the economic and environmental benefits that come with establishing a cross-laminated timber market.
Developing a cross-laminated timber pipeline in Washington is one step toward advancing our region as a leader in the movement for great cities and sustainability.
It also serves as an example of how public-private partnerships can make change for the greater good.