Story | 02/05/2024 12:48:09 | 9 min Read time

How EU regulation impacts wood construction

Sara Steensig

Editor, Tulus

How do the European Union’s decisions affect the wood construction industry? Here’s a run-down of the most important rules, regulations and initiatives, so you can understand how they impact your daily wood building-related business.

A great variety of EU rules apply to wood-based construction throughout the different phases of the value chain – from the forest to the end of life. To comprehend which EU regulations, directives and initiatives are most important for the wood construction industry, we asked two experts to guide us through the many policies, processes and rules.  

Read on to get an overview of the current state of wood construction in Europe, understand where we are headed and what to look out for to stay ahead of the game! 

Great variety between EU countries 

Looking at the European continent from a bird’s eye-view, the amount and state of wood buildings vary heavily from country to country. The differences are concerned with for example climate, experience and traditions but also with politics.  

An example of a wood construction-promoting policy can be found in France, where half of all materials used in public construction should be wood or other sustainable materials. In the Nordic countries, a strong focus on a minimal carbon footprint from construction also indirectly boosts the use of wood materials.  

“In Denmark, you won’t get a building permission, if your emissions will be too high,” explains Chief Advisor at the Federation of the Finnish Woodworking Industries Aila Janatuinen. “When the carbon footprint is monitored and limited, then wood – as an existing, low-carbon construction solution – generally benefits.” 

Petri Heino from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment draws attention to the European Wood Policy Platform (WoodPoP), launched by Finland and Austria. The platform is joined by 27 European countries, who exchange experiences and best practices regarding wood-promoting policies.  

“This is very important because wood construction is at very different stages in different European countries,” notes Heino, who, as a Programme Director for the Finnish Government’s Wood Building Programme (2016-2023), has followed the development of the sector closely. 

As a result of the cultural, geographical and political differences between European countries, laws specifically regarding wood construction are made on a national level. The EU does however make rules aimed at the sector in general that have an impact on wood building. The EU’s climate initiatives also affect the attractiveness of using wood as a building material, as do many other EU efforts.  

Let’s have a look at some of the most important. 

 
 

Towards carbon neutrality by 2050 

Initiatives and legislation from the EU are made to support greater policy goals, reminds Heino. “Among the most important goals right now is becoming carbon neutral by 2050.”  

To reach the carbon neutrality target by the mid-century, the Commission approaches emission reductions with a variety of initiatives, including the European Green Deal, Fit for 55 and New European Bauhaus.  

While the Green Deal focuses on the great green transition needed to reach the 2050 goal, Fit for 55 aims at revising EU legislation to reach the EU’s target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030​. A related initiative, the interdisciplinary New European Bauhaus, focuses on building enriching, sustainable and inclusive spaces for all Europeans. 

“New European Bauhaus is a strong signal of support from the Commission for the use of renewable and natural materials especially in the construction sector,” says Heino.  

Wood buildings as carbon storage 

Another interesting proposal is the EU’s Carbon Removal Certification Framework, a voluntary EU-wide mechanism to certify carbon removals generated in Europe.  

“Wood products from the construction sector can end their life as carbon sequestrating biochar, and the Commission also suggests that long-lasting products, such as wood-based construction materials are a form of carbon storage,” says Heino, who generally sees the Carbon Removal Certification as positive news for wood construction.  

“It is however important to keep an eye on what the exact requirements and calculation methods will be. It would be best to look at the carbon storage potential of the entire building stock instead of focusing on each product. Like we do with forests; the focus is not on each tree, but on the carbon that the total area of forests can sequester,” Heino says.  

“To make sure these things are done wisely, the wood construction industry needs a strong representation in the EU, just like the concrete and steel industries have.” 

 
 

Low environmental impact as CE marking criteria

The Construction Products Regulation (CPR) is among the EU regulations that directly impact wood-based building businesses in all member countries and beyond. 

CPR concerns all construction products, not just those made of wood. Now, it is being revised to make sustainable products the norm in the EU and boost circular business models.  

An important point of the revised CPR is to include the environmental properties of construction products in the CE marking criteria. The CE mark indicates that a product complies with essential EU requirements, allowing it to be freely marketed and sold in the European Economic Area (EEA).  

“The most crucial environmental property of construction products is the carbon footprint,” notes Aila Janatuinen. “Because the climate impact of wood products is smaller than other products’, this regulatory revision will encourage the use of wood-based products in construction.”  

Focus on the energy performance of buildings 

Another EU law worth noting, is the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), “the construction-related sister to the Energy Efficiency Directive,” as Janatuinen puts it. This legislative framework, which is currently also being revised, is meant to boost the energy performance of buildings.  

“Only about two per cent of the building stock consists of new buildings, so this directive is very much directed at increasing the energy efficiency of existing houses,” Janatuinen explains.  

With the revision, the focus is also shifting towards examining the energy consumption of buildings throughout their life cycle, including the energy used in the manufacturing of building products, known as embodied energy, she stresses. 

“This enhances the position of wood products because the energy consumption in the manufacturing of other materials is higher than that of wood products.”  

 
 

Stay ahead with a sustainable supplier

How can professionals in the wood-based construction business best prepare themselves for the rules and initiatives coming from the EU in the near future?  

Janatuinen and Heino are positive that the EU will continue to favour low-emission construction, which first and foremost means wood, and they both stress the importance of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD). These declarations are internationally comparable, third-party-approved documents that help building contractors and designers better understand the environmental impact of the products and materials used in their projects.  

Until now, EPDs have been voluntary, but UPM Plywood already provides EPDs for WISA plywood products.

“It would be a good idea for everyone in the business to learn to understand the terminology: There’s the carbon footprint, and then there's the carbon handprint, which is a positive impact. These are visible in the EPDs that can be found on responsible companies' websites," says Janatuinen. 

Petri Heino reminds us that the effort to lower the climate footprint of already highly sustainable wood products is ongoing and never-ending.  

“The direction from the EU is clear: we are going towards carbon neutrality. This means that all companies need to know the footprint of the products they manufacture, sell or use. So, the EPDs must be in order, but plans for lowering the emission must also be in place,” Heino points out.  

“You have to be proactive and better than the legislation requires.” 

 

Types of EU law

Regulations: Legal acts that apply directly and are binding in their entirety in all EU countries. 

Directives: Require EU countries to achieve a certain result but leave them free to choose how.  

Recommendations and opinions: Views and suggestions from the EU institutions without any legal obligations. 

Source: Europa Commission

 

Key EU policies, initiatives and legislation to watch

European Green Deal: A package of policy initiatives to reach the EU’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. 

Fit for 55: EU legislation revisions and initiatives to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030​.  

New European Bauhaus: Initiative that connects the European Green Deal to our living spaces. 

EU Taxonomy: A common classification system for sustainable economic activities. 

Carbon Removal Certification: A voluntary EU-wide framework to certify carbon removals. 

Construction Product Regulation: Harmonised rules for the marketing of construction products in the EU. 

Energy Performance of Buildings Directive: Policies and support measures that will help national governments boost energy performance. 

 
Plywood packaging with recycled plastic cuts waste, carbon and costs
Story | 5 min

Plywood packaging with recycled plastic cuts waste, carbon and costs

Read more
Implementation of the EU Regulation on Deforestation-free Products at UPM Plywood
Story | 3 min

Implementation of the EU Regulation on Deforestation-free Products at UPM Plywood

Read more
Beyond fossils with biofuels-powered log yard machinery
Story | 5 min

Beyond fossils with biofuels-powered log yard machinery

Read more