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(c)Sabine Hoffmann
(c)Kurt Hoerbst
(c)Kurt Hoerbst
(c)Kurt Hoerbst
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Mayr-Melnhof Holz Holding, 09. May 2023

MM TIMBER LOG: Wood as key material against the climate crisis

As a sustainable raw material, wood plays a central role in the Green Transition. DI Richard Stralz, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Mayr-Melnhof Holz Holding AG, talks about new possible applications for one of mankind’s oldest and most time-tested construction materials.

Mister Stralz, let us talk about wood. It is one of mankind’s oldest and time-tested construction materials. For millennia, it was indispensable both as construction material and fuel. What is it used for today?

Well, basically for the same purposes and actually to an even greater extent. Over the past 10 to 20 years, we have seen a rising demand driven by efforts to use more climate-friendly, sustainable resources, which has lead to a true renaissance of this type of material. In today’s building construction we use solid timber in the form of glued-laminated timber and cross-laminated timber, but it is also used as construction timber and for veneering. Not only is it easy to process, it is also renewable and regionally available. It is an essential component of solving our climate issues. Let’s not forget: One cubic metre of wood is able to bind one ton of CO2 – in the form of trees, wooden furniture, wooden windows, timber construction buildings or even wooden toys.

So you could say that using wood creates sort of a second “forest” made of wood products, since the carbon remains stored in the processed material. At the same time, reafforestation creates new wood that also binds carbon and supplies oxygen to the environment. In addition, we have an important substitution effect: wood replaces other CO2 -intensive, non-renewable materials and thus prevents the CO2 –emissions their production would cause. Here we have the greatest leverage for climate protection. Products made in Austria and made of Austrian wood save about eight million tons of CO2. This is about one tenth of all greenhouse gas emissions in Austria over the period of one year.

Evidently, wood is unrivalled as construction material and raw material when we speak about its CO2 -balance. This is an enormous potential that we can use for our future.

Theoretically speaking, could wood replace all other construction materials?

Not in every single case, but certainly for a whole host of applications. You would not use timber to construct a basement, for example. Every construction material has its pros and cons and should be used where it best meets the requirements. Wood has many compelling arguments on its side, one of which is its low net weight and yet very high level of rigidity. If you want to add additional floors to an existing building, for example, wood is an excellent alternative. You don’t need to use more valuable land that is always scarce in urban areas by putting up a new building. In nearly all cases you can add one or two floors by using wood. Structurally, this is no problem at all.

Do we use enough wood in construction?

When it comes to using wood in construction, I call on the competent political decision-makers and public entities to join forces. We know that about one third of the world’s CO2 output is caused by cement and steel production. This is where we can really make a difference. If we want to do something for the climate, we must ensure that more wood is used. It should be promoted in public buildings such as kindergartens, schools, nursing homes etc. One thing is fore sure - there is no shortage of available wood to achieve this. In Austria alone, enough new wood grows every 30 seconds to build an entire single-family home. Over the last 25 years, forest resources here have grown by 23 percent. This value is even higher in the rest of Europe. Sometimes Scandinavia is criticised for its forestry, but even there wood is growing, not dwindling. Sweden, for example, only harvests 90 percent of its annual, renewable growth.

Do you see any novel areas of application of wood in the future?

Certainly, yes, because wood has not only become exactly calculable in terms of fire protection requirements but also in terms of its mechanical properties. The project Wood.C.A.R. by the Styrian Wood Cluster has been an essential contribution. Today we are able to precisely predict the behaviour of wooden components in the automotive area by using simulation models, so much so that we are able to minimise the use of expensive and complicated crash tests. This computability will enable many more applications for wood and wooden construction materials.

Does wood have a future as fuel? After all, it is climate-neutral if it is used this way.

Wood is proven to be CO2 –neutral. The use of its thermal energy has a long-standing, successful tradition. However, we have a duty to maximise the use of our raw materials as long as possible along the value-added chain to achieve true sustainability and use them efficiently and ecologically, no matter what type of raw material we choose to employ. This means that we must start with the most high-value product possible, and then recycle this valuable material prudently until we reach the end of the line and use its thermal energy potential. This process would normally take several decades and involve many different products.

Our domestic timber industry is often criticised for importing too much wood, especially from Eastern Europe...

Well, the Austrian timber industry procures logs from neighbouring countries, but our domestic forests are our raw material sources number one with an approximate 65 percent share in all processed round wood. You also have to keep in mind that about 80 percent of the Austrian sawmill capacity is located near our national borders. So, including purchases on both sides of the border comes natural, because sawmills routinely have a procurement radius of about 100 to 150 km. In turn, the same holds true for foreign sawmills near our borders, of course. Due to the current EU sanctions, no wood or wooden products are imported by the EU from Russia. Before the Ukraine crisis, about 10 percent of the European demand for all types of wood products was covered by imports from Russia and Belarus.

Recently, the EU has taken a critical stance towards wood. Is that a reasonable approach?

The EU wood and biodiversity strategy is not well thought out. On the one hand, the use of wood is promoted, and on the other hand timber harvesting is being restricted drastically. Yet, the responsible actors know very well how important it is to cultivate our forests.


Only cultivated forests are climate-resilient forests and will be able to deliver their much needed contributions to the solution of our climate change-related problems. Leave a forest unattended for merely 50 years and you will have turned a once CO2 –saving depot into an active source of net CO2 –emission, because of natural rotting processes. Timely timber harvesting and usage for long-term wood products as well as reafforestation of harvested areas keep our forests safe as carbon stores and oxygen producers. Young forests between 40 and 60 years absorb the most CO2. Sustainable forestry and wood processing combined get the best results for climate protection, because you get both maximum CO2absorption by the forests and extended carbon retention in the wooden products. In addition we support the biodiversity of our forests, a resource our woods need in order to be able to adapt to climate change.

So climate change also changes the timber industry?

Current climate models clearly indicate that global warming and a re-distribution of precipitation already put a high level of stress on many of our forests. The enormous challenge for our forestry is to make our woods fit for the future and fit for the climate, by using suitable harvesting and reafforestation strategies. We cooperate with universities and forest research institutions to find the best distribution of tree species, based on the soil conditions, volume and distribution of rainfall as well as climate prediction models to make forestry possible in the years and decades to come. In Austria the economic basis of about 300,000 people and in Styria of roughly 55,000 people either directly or indirectly depends on our forestry and timber industry.

The interview was conducted by Sonja Hiebler-Liebminger and Anton Kolb, first published on 12 April 2023 on the website of SFG 

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