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Wood a 'hero' product

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity, Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health,
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education,
Minister Responsible for Public Trust

Progressive Leader

17th November 2006 Press release

Wood a 'hero' product

Wood used for construction is cheaper and results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than steel and concrete alternatives. This is true for both construction costs and over a 50 year lifecycle. These are the findings released today by Forestry Minister Jim Anderton from a study by the Building Research Association of NZ (BRANZ) into the economics of building government buildings in wood compared to concrete and steel.

Mr Anderton said, "Forestry is a business of the future. And we are building that future right now. Forests will provide many of the raw materials for human development over the next century and probably for many centuries to come. Why? Because wood is truly a hero product."

Wink Sutton, a notable forestry visionary, has said wood is such a wonderful material that if it was invented today it would be heralded in all the media as the find of all times.

It is made of little more that sunlight, carbon dioxide and a little water. Wood provides building and manufacturing materials that require very little energy to process.

"Compare that with steel, concrete and aluminium, all of which produce large amounts of CO2 during their manufacture. That’s why the technologies to replace concrete and steel in multi-story buildings are so exciting, said Jim Anderton.

For more than five years the Government has been looking to work in partnership with the forestry sector to improve the sector’s performance in providing wood for construction uses.

"We invested $7 million to create a training centre of excellence in wood processing – the RADI centre.

We invested in getting radiata pine accepted into the Chinese building code.

And, under the Forest Industry Development Agenda, we are investing in two professorial positions in wood design and engineering at the universities of Auckland and Canterbury.

Many of these investments have additional industry contributions.

I am keen for the Government to help get more wood-based products into non-traditional uses, especially in commercial buildings."

He said that the reason wood is not being used more in commercial buildings has a lot to do with the perception of wood by specifiers, builders, and building owners.

"I believe this BRANZ report makes a good start at turning those perceptions around and provides a good platform for what we – government and industry – can do to see that wood is used more."

The study, “Timber in Government buildings - cost and environmental impact analysis: BRANZ report E408 July 2006", was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry,



The Government is a major player in the domestic building sector through its provision of residential housing stock and development of buildings to provide services in sectors such as education, health, defence and justice.

Wood can substitute for other building materials in half of the buildings in those sectors, primarily in education and health.

In two typical buildings in the health and education sectors (a health centre and a school gymnasium) building in wood is cheaper both in initial cost (up to 10%) and over a 50-year life cycle analysis (up to 6%) than either steel or concrete.

The actual figures are in the following table:

Government timber buildings and environmental impact analysis
Type of building / Initial cost / 50-year LCA cost
/ / 10% discount rate

School gymnasium / Wood is 10% cheaper than concrete and 3% cheaper than steel / Wood is 6% cheaper than concrete and 3% cheaper than steel

Health centre / Wood is 8% cheaper than concrete and 7% cheaper than steel / Wood is 6% cheaper than concrete and 5% cheaper than steel

Both this study and a previous companion one in 2004 show that there does not appear to be any real reason, either technically or financially, for not using more wood in commercial buildings. One of the major barriers to this happening seems to be the conservatism of building owners, who in turn are influenced by conservative quantity surveyors and building designers.

The situation is probably compounded by there being few examples of commercial and/or public buildings constructed predominately with wood products, although it might be a Catch-22 situation.

Another barrier to the uptake of wood in commercial buildings that became apparent in the 2004 research is a significant shortage in New Zealand of building design practitioners who are trained and experienced in the use of wood as a construction material for commercial buildings.

It was this shortage of wood building design practitioners that led to the Excellence in Wood Design project funded under the Forest Industry Development Agenda (FIDA). It establishes two professorial positions, one each at Auckland and Canterbury universities, to increase the number of engineers trained in using wood as a construction material for commercial buildings.

If the 50% increase in buildings using wood was actually achieved it would mostly be high value-added products (e.g. Laminated Veneer Lumberbeams) so the extra income for wood processors could be around $64 million per year, or an extra $4 million or so of logs per year for forest growers. It could also save the building owners over $16 million per year.


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