WSU partnership: A path to healthier buildings, forests

Opinion/editorial from the Puget Sound Business Journal
co-written by Anson Fatland, WSU Economic Development

Anson-FatlandSEATTLE – Imagine a material that allows us to construct new buildings more quickly. Helps to combat climate change. Supports restoration of our forests while also helping revive our local rural economies.

And, as an added bonus, delivers an interior surface so pleasing that you don’t want to paint it.

That material is cross-laminated timber, or CLT. The massive building panels can be manufactured with lumber from thin trees that are susceptible to pest-outbreaks and pose catastrophic fire threats like those that we experienced in our state this summer.

Manufacturing cross-laminated timber in Washington would make use of those trees, while supporting local businesses and growing jobs in our rural towns that once depended on the timber industry.

Our southern neighbor Oregon has already started to embrace the potential of CLT. Analysts predict that CLT manufacturing has the potential to be a $4 billion industry in the United States.

With former timber towns in our state looking for new revenue, and with our forests in need of restoration, Washington has the opportunity to be a leading force in this emerging industry.

We can do this through collaboration between public institutions, conservationists, timber industry and contractors and developers. This collaboration, in fact, has already started with Washington State University and Forterra, a nonprofit land stewardship and community building organization.

Since 2011, researchers at WSU’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center have been working with local companies, governments and economic development groups to improve the performance and manufacturing process of cross-laminated timber, as well as analyzing cost effectiveness and logistics of a rural to urban supply chain.

WSU is already working with milling and manufacturing partners to launch a supply chain in Eastern Washington and to identify other Western Washington opportunities.

In October, Forterra convened a leadership summit of 100 stakeholders, including WSU researchers, to discuss developing cross-laminated timber and other mass timber products in our Pacific Northwest region.

The biggest takeaway from the event: agreement that there are near-term opportunities for catalyzing a market. And now we need a broad coalition to make it happen.

We want the design community to imagine the possibilities of using this material. We want to design buildings and usher them through the code process. We want to showcase the economic and environmental benefits that come with establishing a CLT market.

Developing a CLT and mass timber pipeline in Washington is one step toward advancing our region as a leader in the movement for great cities and sustainability.

It also serves as an example of how public-private partnerships can make change for the greater good.


Co-written with Gene Duvernoy, president and CEO of Forterra.