Europe’s Use of Wood

I recently had the privilege of traveling overseas to visit some sawmill equipment suppliers. The experience was amazing. I’ve traveled to Europe five or six times now to visit mills, see new and different equipment, and meet influential people in the world of wood. Although I always learn something new about equipment and its applications, there’s something more inspiring that I have come back with each and every time. It’s the way Europeans utilize wood. Especially in the Alps and Northern Europe.

It becomes apparent the moment you walk into some of the world’s busiest airports.

In Reykjavik, Iceland, the floor and wall panels proudly display wood, both to utilize its strength and show off its amazing beauty.

Iceland's Airport has wood throughout
Iceland’s Airport has wood throughout

In Copenhagen, Denmark there are decorative pieces everywhere.

Wood accents on display in Copenhagen's airport
Wood accents on display in Copenhagen’s airport

In Helsinki, Finland there are artful displays of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Glue Laminated Timber (GLT, or Glulam beams as we call them) all around the airport.

Beautiful use of CLT for decorative purposes in Finland's largest airport
Beautiful use of CLT for decorative purposes in Finland’s largest airport

It’s amazing. What’s even more amazing is the fact that many of these places aren’t conservative countries that manage their resources better than we do. Many of them are a number of clicks to the left of the United States when it comes to social policies. How is it that countries that are socially liberal do not get caught up in the environmental movement like we have here?

The fact is that they have been at the forefront of the green movement. The sawmill that I visited in central Austria called Hasslacher has solar panels on all of its roofs and makes pellets, and also has a co-gen power plant.

Hasslacher's integrated sawmill, biomass power plant, pellet plant, planer mill, and glue lam timber facility in Sachsenburg, Austria
Hasslacher’s integrated sawmill, biomass power plant, pellet plant, planer mill, and glue lam timber facility in Sachsenburg, Austria

Hasslacher also makes CLT and GLT for a market that understands that wood is the BEST choice for the planet. So what’s the secret?

It’s my opinion that these environmental issues were never politicized like they were in the United States. No one created a winner and loser when it came to forest management. Sure, the timber companies had to adopt new technologies and embrace doing the right thing as new science emerged, but they have been doing that for decades. It seems to be part of the culture in Northern Europe. They understand the importance of the resource, not just in a financial sense, but also in an ecological sense – and possibly more importantly, in a cultural sense for the people who live and work near the forest.

As we look for solutions to our forest management challenges we need to keep in mind that there are others who deal with many of these same challenges around the world. We can learn from them, both in the way we manage the forests and the way we create the products we need.

2 thoughts on “Europe’s Use of Wood”

  1. Hi It is a bit difficult to answer your question about the differences between northern Europe and the US in terms of attitude to the environment without knowing more about American attitudes. In europe we tend to have a belief that its best to use technologies that are kind to nature. Good environmental practice can be and should be profitable. I believe that in the US you have trouble using say CLT for taller buildings because the building cods limit the height you can build using wood. Here in the UK we have no such limit, our Building Regualtions ( as we call code) say what has to be achieved by way of resitance to collapse, to progressive collapse and to fire resistance. How an Engineer achieves those requirements is his or her affair.
    To us it seems incomprehensible- and probably the result of lobbying congress, that you have codes that favour one material over another. That is not in the public interest- its in one particular set of suppliers’ interest. Code should be about performance not about doing favours to one set of suppliers at the expense of another.

    1. Great points Mark. There are many things about what we do in the US that baffle me. There’s no doubt that lobbying efforts have been effective in stifling innovation and sound management of federally own forests.

      I think things are starting to improve, with much work to become. Thanks for reading.

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