The Wood Institute Blog

Three career path tips for young architects

by Wood Institute -

Three career path tips for young architects

Three accomplished architects share their professional journeys.

After being inspired to become an architect at the age of 11, Kimberly Dowdell thought the path to her goals would be a straight line. The reality was more like an adventurous obstacle course filled with potential pitfalls and hills to climb.

Dowdell was one of three architects to share her story in a panel discussion for Architectural Record’s Forum for Emerging Professionals and Students. 

Each of the architects’ stories illustrated the importance of networking, ambition, and even serendipity in navigating a career in architecture. Here are three insights the accomplished architects passed along to help emerging professionals chart their own paths.

1. Find your mission statement.

Throughout her career, Dowdell has been guided as a professional by a mission: “To improve the quality of people’s lives, by design.” Dowdell encouraged young architects to think about their own mission.

“What inspired you to pursue architecture?” she asked. “How does that factor into your mission? That’s a great way to help you make those decisions.” Another strategy from the corporate world that applies to careers in architecture: Having an advisory board of mentors who can help you navigate your career decisions. “Hopefully you have a diverse array of people that have different perspectives and can just help you evaluate what’s ahead of you,” she added.

For architects with a passion for sustainability and climate change solutions, their mission statement might involve advancing the pursuit of materials such as mass timber that help reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment. Check out Think Wood’s profile of Dowdell and other women in AEC for inspiring examples of mission-driven careers.  

2. Tap into your network.

Whether you call it an advisory board or a network, don’t be afraid to call on the connections you make in each step of your career. Dowdell recounted landing multiple jobs through the alumni network at Cornell University and through connections she made at NOMA—including an early internship at Washington, D.C. architecture firm McKissick & McKissick. “Your network is your net worth,” she said. “Think about ways that you can leverage those connections and be shameless about it”—while, of course, remaining respectful and thankful for the assistance.

It’s not just your alumni network that can help, but also the larger network of your faculty, Goldstein noted. “Getting a good letter of recommendation from your faculty can really just help open the door,” he said.

Rhee recommended staying in touch with both your professors and your former employers. “The world of architects is very small,” she said. “Everyone seems to know each other, and they will also recommend good people to each other. You never know when you might return to that employer.”

3. Know when to stay—and when to leave.

What if you have your first architecture job, but it’s not exactly what you pictured for your career? Give it a fair chance before you move on, Rhee recommended. “Oftentimes it takes three to six months to get a sense of what an office is like and for the people there to get a sense of what you are like,” she said.

Ultimately, though, your career should provide more than just a paycheck. “If you’re not excited almost every day, then you should think about what you’re doing and question where you are,” Goldstein said. “You should feel like you’re growing, like you’re learning. It’s not always joyful, but you should be feeling like you’re being challenged, you’re doing important work, and you’re learning a craft.”

Check out the on-demand webinar, Architects’ Career Paths Post-Graduation, to learn lessons from each of the three architects that will help emerging professionals navigate their own paths to rewarding, impactful careers.

Watch the webinar

How sustainable forest practices affect green building

by Wood Institute -

How sustainable forest practices affect green building

See why designers can help spur healthy, resilient forests by specifying renewable wood products.

When it comes to environmental benefits, not all forestland is equal. Left to the wilderness, forests can emit carbon as trees die from insects, disease, or wildfires. That’s why specifying wood products from sustainably harvested forests can be an important green building tool—not just to improve the stored carbon performance of our buildings, but also to encourage healthier forests.

“Climate change requires actively managing our forests for mitigation and adaptation, as well as to maintain healthy, growing trees needed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” writes Nick Smith, executive director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities. “When timber is sustainably harvested, much of that carbon stays in the wood, lumber, and other timber products indefinitely. Removing dead and dying trees after a wildfire, and processing them into durable wood products, can help reduce the post-fire emissions that are contributing to climate change.”

Architects can enhance their authority as sustainable design professionals by becoming educated on the true environmental impact of their product specifications. The Forests and Forest Products CEU answers many of the questions design professionals frequently have about wood building products, including how forests are managed, why wood is an environmentally friendly choice, and how life cycle analysis and carbon accounting can be used to quantify those choices.

The course’s presenter, forestry expert and executive director of Dovetail Partners, Katie Fernholz, delves into the elements of sustainable forestry. She notes as an important element of context that 90% of U.S. timber harvests comes from private forests, the majority of which are held by family landowners. 

Understanding what motivates those families to keep growing their forests is key to improving their sustainability. “When we buy the things that forests give us, it sends a market signal to those private landowners to keep growing trees and to have more forests in this country,” Fernholz says.

While making forests healthier is a positive outcome on its own, it’s also part of a cycle that leads to reduced carbon emissions and climate benefits. Using forest products in buildings allows designers to avoid emissions from materials that have a larger carbon footprint. With this CEU, architects can learn about the data available on the carbon footprint of various building materials to make more informed choices on sustainable design.

Explore the Forest and Forest Products CEU

A blueprint for understanding mass timber

by Wood Institute -

A blueprint for understanding mass timber

Learn why mass timber buildings require an interdisciplinary approach—and how you can ensure your skills are a fit for the team.

With more than 1,300 projects using mass timber completed or in design in the United States, mass timber has emerged as a compelling construction option for low- and mid-rise buildings of various typologies. In this transitory time when the design and construction industry is still learning how to best use mass timber products and codes to build taller buildings are being adopted around the country, collaboration between different design disciplines is key to creating successful mass timber projects.

Architects will bring forth their experience specifying structural and appearance materials that reduce a building’s carbon footprint and make the building texturally rich and elegant. Structural engineers will share solutions that ensure occupant safety from fire or structural hazards and optimize material efficiency. Throughout the design process, it’s important that every member of the team is up to date on the latest mass timber research and best practices.

The Mass Timber Design Manual is an ideal place to start. First published in 2021 as a collaboration between Wood Institute course providers, Think Wood and WoodWorks, the manual is a comprehensive introduction to the basics of mass timber design. Conceived as a living document that will be continuously updated with new projects, research, and insights, Vol. 2 of the manual was recently published, featuring more than 30 pages of new content, including cutting-edge case studies, expert Q+As, and downloadable resources on construction management, CLT diaphragms, and more.


Of course, the Mass Timber Design Manual is just one step for design professionals on the path to working with mass timber, says Tom S. Chung FAIA, LEED BD+C, principal at Leers Weinzapfel Associates and a member of the WoodWorks Board of Directors.

“And that’s where resources like this Mass Timber Design Manual come in. It represents years of research and collaboration among the WoodWorks staff and its industry collaborators.” Chung states. “It is the blueprint to understanding the basics of mass timber—from product research, engineering and design, system assemblies, code implications, construction, and life cycle evaluation.”

Whether you’re just starting to learn about mass timber design or you’re looking for answers about system assemblies, code implications, or life cycle evaluation, the Mass Timber Design Manual and the Wood Institute’s mass timber continuing education courses provide research-rich resources to support you in your next mass timber project.

Of course, the Mass Timber Design Manual is just one step for design professionals on the path to working with mass timber, says Tom S. Chung FAIA, LEED BD+C, principal at Leers Weinzapfel Associates and a member of the WoodWorks Board of Directors.

“And that’s where resources like this Mass Timber Design Manual come in. It represents years of research and collaboration among the WoodWorks staff and its industry collaborators.” Chung states. “It is the blueprint to understanding the basics of mass timber—from product research, engineering and design, system assemblies, code implications, construction, and life cycle evaluation.”

Whether you’re just starting to learn about mass timber design or you’re looking for answers about system assemblies, code implications, or life cycle evaluation, the Mass Timber Design Manual and the Wood Institute’s mass timber continuing education courses provide research-rich resources to support you in your next mass timber project.

Download the Mass Timber Design Manual, Vol. 2

How Georgia Tech is educating tomorrow’s mass timber experts.

by Wood Institute -

How Georgia Tech is educating tomorrow’s mass timber experts.

The future of mass timber architecture might be sitting in Russell Gentry’s classroom. Gentry, a professor at Georgia Tech’s schools of Architecture and Civil Engineering, leads a mass timber studio where student teams are developing designs for a Georgia Forestry Foundation mass timber exhibition. The studio brings together students in architecture, engineering and construction for a hands-on experience designing with and fabricating mass timber.

“If we’re going to make mass timber ubiquitous, it’s going to require the contributions of all three disciplines,” Gentry says in a video about the studio. “It’s important for the outcome of the project to have all of them represented, and it’s also important for students to learn to work with one another.”

Gentry sees mass timber ubiquity as a goal due to mass timber’s sustainability advantages. His work is helping students graduate with an appreciation of wood’s aesthetic, carbon-reducing, and health benefits.

“Seasoned professionals have not grown up with the expertise to design with mass timber,” Gentry says. “With these new students, they’re going to be in a position to understand and have tactile experience with mass timber.” As mass timber grows increasingly common in projects designed by AEC firms in Atlanta and the southeast, Gentry foresees many of those buildings being designed by Georgia Tech’s own engineers.

Georgia Tech is also leading by example through its construction of the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design. Built to Living Building Challenge standards and winner of a WoodWorks Wood Design Award in 2021, the Kendeda Building is the first timber structure built at Georgia Tech since the 1880s. Architects at the Miller Hull Partnership, in collaboration with Lord Aeck Sargent, designed the building with an array of wood products, including NLT decking, glulam beams and columns, and salvaged wood.

With the support of the Softwood Lumber Board (who fund and operate the Wood Institute), Georgia Forestry Foundation is on a mission to advance mass timber in Georgia, and especially to educate the next generation of architecture and engineering students. In turn, the students’ work on the educational mass timber pavilion will help raise awareness about the benefits of Georgia’s important timber resources as the exhibition travels to locations throughout the state.

Video about the mass timber studio

Video about the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design

Telling a story with wood architecture.

by Wood Institute -

Telling a story with wood architecture. 

How two cutting-edge projects use a combination of reclaimed wood and mass timber to root the buildings within the history and context of their sites.

In the right hands, materials can tell a story. They can celebrate the history of a building or the legacy of its site, connecting the occupants to a larger narrative. In Advances in Wood Construction and Sustainability, an on-demand webinar at Hanley Wood University, Architect magazine editor Paul Makovsky interviewed two architects about projects that reimagined the way materials could be specified and reused in the built environment.

From the beginning of its life as a metal foundry, the building that now houses the Mercury Store was built around beautiful wood features. Its large wood trusses and double A-frame structure are constructed from longleaf pine, a tree that once covered the southern United States. Ruth Mandl, principal at CO Adaptive, designed an adaptive reuse project for the theatrical and studio space that reuses and celebrates those wood materials while adding a new floor structure with cross-laminated timber.

“The reason we were interested in using mass timber was for its carbon negative qualities, but also the amazing warmth that it would lend to the space,” Mandl says in the webinar. The project also exposes and honors the building’s original heavy timber trusses while deconstructing other pieces of original lumber to use as architectural features. “It was the best way to keep all that carbon that’s stored in these old logs on-site and to honor those old trees.”

The award-winning Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design makes similarly inspiring use of both reclaimed wood and mass timber materials. Joshua Gassman, sustainable design director for Lord Aeck Sargent, explained that the project was intended not only to be sustainable itself but also to change the way design, engineering, and construction are thought about at a fundamental level.

The building is created from a series of trusses, glulam beams, and nail-laminated timber (NLT) decking chosen to reduce the embodied carbon footprint of the building—and to draw attention to the importance of embodied carbon as a concept.

Like the Mercury Store, the Kendeda Building also makes thoughtful use of reclaimed wood throughout. The fluted ceiling uses alternating 2x4s and 2x6s connected to the NLT decking to help with acoustics and create beauty, rhythm, and biophilia. Because they aren’t structural, the 2x4s were collected from reclaimed sources by a local nonprofit to ensure the carbon they store would remain sequestered. Treads on the stairs in the atrium are constructed of invaluable heart pine salvaged from Tech Tower, one of the campus’s original buildings dating back to 1888.

“Not only does that reuse the wood and sequester the carbon, but it also ties the project back to the site,” Gassman says. “It ties it back to the history of the campus. When people understand where these treads came from on campus, there’s a lot of excitement and a lot of story that goes with them that’s really important.”

Learn what new research says about the sustainability of U.S. timber supply.

by Wood Institute -

Learn what new research says about the sustainability of U.S. timber supply.

In light of the growing popularity of mass timber products to replace steel and concrete, it’s logical to ask if our forests can meet the new demand. Will increased timber production lead to overharvesting and a loss of North American forest land? New research published in Sustainability and summarized in a fact sheet by Think Wood offers a comprehensive answer.

Published by researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for International Trade in Forest Products (CINTRAFOR) and the Natural Resource Spatial Informatics Group (NRSIG), the paper [1] used data from the USDA Forest Service to project forest growth and harvests. Even in the most conservative scenarios (i.e., low growth, high harvest), the researchers found that U.S. forest growth will exceed harvest levels to meet demand for mass timber demand through 2035.

With mass timber products representing an important opportunity to reduce embodied carbon in the built environment, increased market uptake of mass timber would represent a 17% increase in timber demand by 2035 over today’s harvest. Current consumption only consumes 66% of forest growth, however, and even with the projected increase in demand, forest growth exceeds harvest by 18% in the most conservative scenarios.

“Cognitive dissonance related to a desire to use wood building products for their carbon storage capability but concerns about sustainability is understandable,” the authors write. “The results of this research add more evidence that should help allay those concerns. Our analysis clearly shows that the United States can sustainably use more mass timber and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and embodied carbon in our built environment.”

The course, “The Impact of Wood Use on North American Forests,” is an important resource for those seeking to learn more about how U.S. forests are able to accommodate increasing timber harvests. In addition to discussing how responsible forest management in North America has led to more than 50 consecutive years of net forest growth, the course also covers other elements of forest health and sustainability.

For example, the course explores why actively and sustainably managed forests can provide greater carbon mitigation benefits than unmanaged forests. That’s due in part to the fact that after trees are harvested to become timber products that store much of the carbon they’ve absorbed, the younger trees that replace them take up carbon more quickly than older, mature trees. Sustainably managed forests can also deliver a range of environmental and social benefits, including timber resources, jobs and economic opportunities, clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreation.

Although the positive outlook for U.S. forests is well-known in the forestry industry, awareness is lower among the general public. AEC professionals can help support their clients’ sustainability goals by making them aware of the ecological impacts of the materials they specify.

1 “Increasing Mass Timber Consumption in the U.S. and Sustainable Timber Supply,” page 7 (Figure 4 and Table 10).

Check out the CEU

How exactly does building with wood affect climate change?

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How exactly does building with wood affect climate change?

Building with lumber, mass timber, and other wood products has gained attention as a method in addressing climate change. But for those beginning to learn about wood as a building material, the connection between wood and climate change isn’t obvious. If trees are one of the best ways to remove carbon dioxide from the air, why would we want to harvest more of them?

The answer comes from a concept called stored (or sequestered) carbon. As trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the carbon remains locked in the wood as cellulose if the tree is harvested for production – as opposed to decaying on the forest floor and releasing the carbon back to the air. Wood buildings essentially act as large carbon sinks that withhold carbon from the atmosphere for the life of the building—a unique environmental attribute that other structural materials like steel and concrete don’t have.

Stored carbon is a different but related concept to embodied carbon, which refers to the carbon emissions generated from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of buildings and component materialsWith the least embodied carbon of all major building materials such as metals, concrete, or bricks, wood products have lower embodied carbon – and therefore contribute to the reduction of a building’s total carbon footprint.

Using wood to reduce the built environment’s carbon emissions is one of the strategies discussed in the CEU “Architecting Change: Design Strategies for a Healthy, Resilient, Climate Smart Future.” The course examines a paper in the journal Nature Sustainability that analyzes how much carbon could be stored by wood buildings. Depending on how many new buildings are constructed with wood over the next 30 years, the answer could range from 10 million tons of carbon stored per year to nearly 700 million tons.

Standing trees, well managed forests, and wood products are all critical aspects of supporting a sustainable supply chain of natural building materials. Increasing demand for wood products improves incentives for private forest owners to preserve and manage their lands for long-term health and productivity. By growing our forest lands to sequester carbon and producing materials that store them away, building with wood is a positive step that design and construction professionals can take to mitigate climate change.

Check out the CEU

A design approach that leads with natural materials like wood can help create offices that facilitate connection and collaboration

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A design approach that leads with natural materials like wood can help create offices that facilitate connection and collaboration

Even in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, biophilic design for office spaces was beginning to emerge as a way for companies to help their employees reduce stress and become happier and more productive. And now that organizations are adopting hybrid work models, the purpose of the office space and its design are also evolving to take on a more specialized role in enhancing connection and collaboration.

In an article published by IIDA, the commercial interior design association, Upali Nanda, principal and director of research at HKS and associate professor of practice at Taubman College of Architecture, says biophilic design principles can help facilitate the transformation of office spaces to fit their new roles.

“People will be coming into work looking for a sense of purpose, social connection, and collaboration, and designers are going to have to put elements into those spaces that make the workplace a destination for life, not just work,” she says. “We haven’t had that before, but biophilia can help us see the office as a thriving space where life flourishes, a place that fosters connection with nature as well as connection with people and society.”

Significant exposure of wood is one of the biophilic elements that architects are studying. Wood’s potential to confer biophilic benefits—as well as to distinguish the property within the Texas market—was a driving force for the project team’s use of mass timber for The Soto, a 6-story mixed-use development in San Antonio that the CEU “Mass Timber Enables Beauty, Warmth and Functional Design in The Soto” explores in depth.

“It’s beautiful,” says Hunter Kingman of Hixon Properties, the building’s developer, in the course video. “It really is unlike the other office options in the market. [Wood] is something we really resonate with, and I think the beauty stands apart.”

The architect of record, BOKA Powell, brought extensive knowledge of office design and construction, as well as prior predesign experience with mass timber. Mass timber fabricator and engineering firm, StructureCraft, rounded out the project team.

Check out the course to see how the architecture and engineering team used mass timber to provide a unique, beautiful workspace for tenants, along with valuable insights and lessons learned from the design and permitting phases of the project.

Check out the CEU

The multi-millennium history of engineered wood: How modern mass timber building materials are rooted in innovations that date back thousands of years.

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The multi-millennium history of engineered wood

How modern mass timber building materials are rooted in innovations that date back thousands of years.
Given the amount of research today to measure the performance of mass timber products, it’s ironic to recall that engineered wood in some form has existed for thousands of years.

According to a history of engineered wood from APA – The Engineered Wood Association, archaeologists have found evidence of laminated wood in the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Chinese societies glued wood together for furniture more than a thousand years ago, and early modern-era plywood was used to manufacture household items such as cabinets, chests, and doors.

The modern plywood industry was born in 1905 when the Portland Manufacturing Company used paint brushes as glue spreaders to laminate wood panels for a World’s Fair Exhibition. The product gained interest among fairgoers, and within two years, the company was producing 420 panels a day. Advancements in waterproof adhesives, performance testing, and industrialization eventually led to a massive national plywood industry.

Turn-of-the-century builders were also experimenting with tall timber construction. In 1908, the nine-story 500,000 square foot Butler Brothers Building in Minneapolis became the largest wholesale warehouse west of Chicago. The heavy timber post-and-beam construction – built with wood from the developer’s own tree farm – provided the 300-pound-per square-foot loading requirements of the warehouse. In 1974, owners added a central atrium and raised floors to preserve the exposed wood ceilings.

Ongoing innovation by wood product manufacturers has led to the rise of today’s mass timber building materials, including cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail-laminated timber (NLT), glulam, and dowel-laminated timber (DLT). Alongside those developments, engineers and building scientists have studied the performance of these materials to develop standards that allow designers to specify mass timber for ever-larger projects.

The historical context of engineered wood makes the achievements of today’s modern timber towers even more impressive. In the webinar, A Tale of Two Timber Towers, structural engineers dive deep into the design intricacies and the mass timber materials they used in designing INTRO, a nine-story mix of apartments and retail space in Cleveland, and Ascent Milwaukee, a 25-story residential/mixed-use building.

As you learn about the code requirements unique to tall wood buildings—and the data and testing the engineers used to gain approval for these projects—think back in appreciation of the early engineers performing their own laminated wood innovation that eventually led to the advanced materials we use today.

Check out the webinar

Why “carbon native” architects are essential to our sustainable future

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Why “carbon native” architects are essential to our sustainable future

The next generation of architects and engineers will help transition the industry to carbon-reducing buildings—with wood as the key renewable material.

If 2021 was the year the architectural community got serious about embodied carbon, then the decades ahead will see major changes in the way our buildings are designed and assembled. The impacts of climate change are forcing architects and engineers to grapple not only with the operational emissions their buildings generate, but also with the embodied emissions of the materials they specify. Can the resources we use to construct our buildings also be net zero—or even carbon positive?

In a blog for students and the architectural community at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, instructor Michael Salka says that timber is uniquely positioned to address the embodied carbon challenge as the sole renewable primary building material. “Building with timber empowers architects and designers to create contemporary buildings which lock up more atmospheric carbon than is released for their production,” he writes.

The impacts of that shift can be far-reaching and, for the building industry, disruptive. The adoption of mass timber would complement other trends toward prefabrication and design for offsite manufacturing. Architects, engineers, and designers will play more important roles than ever in that process, finding new ways to use wood’s thermal, aesthetic, and economic benefits to make beautiful buildings that create lasting value for owners and occupants. Emerging professionals will be on the front line of those advances.

The use of wood as a tool for reducing the carbon footprint of our buildings is the central theme of our CEU, Building Sustainably: From Forestland Management to Carbon-Positive, Healthy Buildings. The course is structured as an online workshop with panelists including academics, practicing designers, and sustainable development leaders exploring the increasing demand for healthy buildings and the resulting shifts in the ways our buildings are designed.

Urban Land Institute’s Monika Henn, one of the panelists, discusses the organization’s report on embodied carbon, which includes a simple pathway industry professionals can take to reduce embodied carbon in their buildings. “Something like mass timber is really going to meet a lot of these different recommendations that we have,” she says, such as considering low-carbon structural materials, reducing total materials in the building design, and repurposing used materials as much as possible.

A new generation of architects and engineers, fully immersed in wood building design, is needed to complete the industry’s transition to carbon-positive buildings. Learning from today’s top thinkers in sustainable design is an ideal first step for new architects to join that movement.

Take the Building Sustainably CEU

How does building with wood actually help forests?

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How does building with wood actually help forests?

Learn about the beneficial relationship between wood building products and sustainably managed forests.

Harvesting timber as a sustainability tactic can feel counterintuitive. If forests are the most important carbon sinks we have, why would be intentionally specify more timber in our buildings?

The answer, in short, is that demand for more forest products leads to more forests. “Demand provides revenue and policy incentives to invest in forest planting and management,” said Dr. Edie Sonne Hall, a forestry expert who specializes in forest carbon accounting and life cycle assessment, in a Q&A with Think Wood. “Data shows that global regions with the highest levels of industrial timber harvest and forest product output are also regions with the lowest rates of deforestation. And we can see from empirical data that higher demand leads to more supply (growth).”

Research forester Peter Ince presents that data in a chapter of the book Sustainable Development in the Forest Products Industry, where he notes that an economically vibrant industrial forest products sector has been key to forest policies that support sustainable timber supply and demand. For example, while South America and Africa experienced high rates of deforestation from 1990 to 2005, North and Central American forest area has stayed nearly constant despite being the most productive in the world.

“The global data supports rejection of the simple hypothesis that industrial timber harvest and forest product demands are correlated with global deforestation,” Ince writes.

The most recent USDA Forest Service assessment confirms the sustainability of timber supply: Between 2001 and 2011, forested land cover in the U.S. changed a nominal -2.26% despite a 9.7% growth in population during the same period.

Building designers who are serious about taking an integrated approach to building sustainability can explore the ecological impacts of building with wood in The Impact of Wood Use on North American Forests CEU. The course examines several common misconceptions around forest sustainability, including the idea that using more wood means less forest. 

In fact, the course shows that strong markets for wood products help to ensure that the owners of private forestland derive value from their investment rather than converting it to other profitable uses such as housing development. Demand for timber provides an incentive to not only keep lands forested but also manage them sustainably for long-term health. Check out the course to learn how building designers can ensure that specifying wood won’t have a negative impact on our valuable forest resources.

Take the Impact of Wood Use on North American Forests CEU