Building a vision for the future exports of Finnish industrial wood construction

Global megatrends, such as climate change, urbanization and environmental degradation, have increased the need to develop and scale up green or sustainable building globally, especially in the cities. These trends are associated with growing opportunities and potentially higher demand for wood construction solutions and other products that are based on renewable materials and low-carbon technologies. On Wednesday, the 13th of February, around 35 experts of industrial wood construction from the Finnish public and private sector organizations gathered in a workshop at University of Helsinki. The workshop was organized by the Wood Vision 2025-project, with the aim to paint the ideal image of industrial wood construction-related exports from Finland in 2030 and identify the steps needed to reach the settled goal. In his opening speech, the Minister of the Environment, Energy and Housing Kimmo Tiilikainen stressed the potential of wood construction as a means to tackle the climate change challenge by providing low-carbon building solutions for the growing urban populations in Finland, and globally.

Minister Kimmo Tiilikainen  (Photo: Ritva Toivonen)
(Photo: Heini Vihemäki)

In the ideal future situation, which type of objects or entities from the industrial wood construction value chain will be exported from Finland in 2030? Which will be the most important application type of these products, projects and/or services? Where will we be exporting them? In the workshop, the Wood Vision 2025-project team challenged the experts to think about these questions and the steps needed to occur between the present and the ideal future situation in 2030 in groups, using the back-casting method. The main results of the workshop and the more general discussions in the seminar are shortly considered in this post.

The suggestion of raising the added value of the exported wood construction products, especially by increasing the share of so-called engineered wood products such as LVL and CLT, and entire building project/solutions, gained prominence in this future vision. In addition, hybrid construction was highlighted as an important area to focus on in many speeches and discussions. One of the key messages related to hybrid construction was its ability to increase the public awareness of the benefits of using wood in construction. In addition, it will help to gradually reduce or remove the juxtaposition of cement and wood. Various types of care and service sector buildings, including kindergartens, schools, hospital and so on, were seen as having the highest potential as export targets, not forgetting wooden multi-storey houses, by 2030. Geographically, Asia, especially China, and our neighbouring markets, including the Nordics, were mentioned by many as the most promising market areas.

Liisa Saarenmaa, Tuukka Kyläkallio and Petri Heino. (Photo: Heini Vihemäki)

One of the key messages from the participants was that there is a need to increase co-operation and knowledge sharing between the companies, education and research organisations in the industrial wood construction field. This could be done, for instance, by creating and using new digital or other kinds of co-operation platforms. Moreover, creating opportunities for novel collaboration between companies from different sectors, with complementary products or services, would be important. For instance, the export of wooden schools or kindergartens together with school concepts, might offer interesting opportunities for Finnish companies in the future.

In the workshop, education was strongly emphasized as one of the areas that needs more resources to enable the growth of industrial wood construction. There is a need to invest in the education on both wood products and wood construction.  Raising the attractiveness of the field and increasing the knowledge base among the new generation would also support the growth of trade and export opportunities. In addition to education, marketing would also require additional resources to help the Finnish products and solutions to reach better domestic and international markets.

Finally, customer orientation and flexibility in production were identified as important issues. Flexibility in production gives the possibility to produce products or services with different standards, thus meeting the requirements of various geographic areas and markets. Also, the firms operating in the industrial wood construction value chain should improve their customer orientation and start to better cater to the customers, and their needs. A key message from the workshop was that all the actors involved in the business, research, and development of this field, and related sectors need to work together and establish partnerships by sharing ideas and knowledge. These partnerships will help to build a more sustainable world, based on advanced technology and innovative, low-carbon solutions.

Seminar participants . (Photo: Heini Vihemäki)

The outcomes of the workshop will feed into a Master’s thesis project of Ms. Anna Lilja (Dept. of Forest Sciences), and other research conducted in the Wood Vision 2025-project on the prospects of WMC and wood construction related exports. The final results of the project, including the analysis on the workshop outcomes, will be presented in the final seminar planned for autumn 2019.

Published 26.2.2019

By Anna Lilja & Heini Vihemäki (project researchers)

Toimijat ja tarinat puurakentamiseen liittyvän politiikkakehityksen taustalla: Alustavia tuloksia Wood Vision 2025-hankkeesta esillä Leedsissä (Story a conference presentation in Finnish)

Arvoverkostot metsästä puurakentamiseen kansainvälisessä vertailussa, eli tuttavallisemmin Wood Vision 2025-hankkeen tutkija, Heini Vihemäki, osallistui syyskuussa Leedsin yliopiston Kestävyystutkimuksen instituutin järjestämään CRR-konferenssiin. Yritysvastuun ja liiketoiminnan kestävyyteen keskittyvän kolmipäiväisen, monitieteisen konferenssin teemana oli Engaging business and consumers for sustainable change eli yritysten ja kuluttajien osallistuminen ns. kestävyysmuutokseen. Konferenssissa paneuduttiin kestävän kulutuksen ja tuotannon problematiikkaan ja esiteltiin tuoretta teoreettista ja empiiristä tutkimusta aihepiiristä.

Konferenssi tarjosi hyvän tilaisuuden esitellä Wood Vision 2025 -hankkeen alustavia tuloksia kansainväliselle tiedeyleisölle yhdessä konferenssin työpajassa. Esitykseni ”Building sustainability? Actors and their networks in promoting institutional changes towards Wooden Multistory Construction in Finland” perustui kolmentoista asiantuntijahaastattelun analyysiin ja puurakentamisen tilaisuuksissa toteutettuun osallistuvaan havainnointiin sekä kirjallisuuskatsaukseen.

Konferenssipaperin keskeistä antia on puukerrostalorakentamisen politiikkaohjaukseen osallistuvien toimijoiden ja heidän toimija-asemiensa erittely. Toisena teemana on tyypillisten tarinalinjojen (narratiivien) identifioiminen, joita toimijat käyttivät puhuessaan alan politiikkaohjauksesta. Näiden alustavien tulosten perusteella alan toimijaverkostossa on tiivis ydin, jossa muutamilla toimijoilla on suhteellisen vahvat vaikutusmahdollisuudet. Narratiivien analyysissä taas nousee esiin neljä tyypillistä, jossain määrin kilpailevaa tarinalinjaa suhteessa teollisen puurakentamisen nousuun. Kolme näistä narratiiveista tukee ja yksi ei tue puurakentamisen kasvua. Ne eroavat toisistaan mm. siinä, millaiset tavoitteet ja politiikkakeinot nähdään tavoiteltaviksi, ja millaisten toimijaryhmien edustajat niitä tyypillisesti käyttävät. Erityisesti puukerrostalorakentamista koskevien tarinalinjojen analyysi, ja niiden kytkökset toimijuuteen, herättivät kiinnostusta työryhmän osallistujissa.

Konferenssi ja sen työryhmät oli onnistuttu rakentamaan ilmapiiriltään hyvin keskusteleviksi ja kannustaviksi. Konferenssin laajapohjaisuus – osallistujat tulivat eri tieteenaloilta ja eri tutkimusorganisaatioista – toi työryhmäkeskusteluihin moniäänisyyttä. Toki monitieteiseen keskusteluun liittyi omat haasteensakin, mm. eri tutkimusalojen käsitteellisten ja metodologisten työkalujen eroista johtuen. Keskusteluissa nousi parhaimmillaan esiin uusia näkökulmia, aiheita ja kysymyksiä tulevaa kestävyysmuutosten tutkimusta viitoittamaan. Ajatuksenvaihto muiden kestävyyskysymyksistä kiinnostuneiden tutkijoiden kanssa oli kaiken kaikkiaan hyvin innostava kokemus.

Metsämiesten säätiön, Maa- ja metsätalousministeriön ja MTK:n sekä Helsingin yliopiston rahoittama Wood Vision 2025-hanke jatkuu vuoden 2019 puoliväliin. Seuraavaksi Wood Vision 2025 hankkeessa on tarkoitus syventää puukerrostalorakentamisen politiikkaprosesseihin osallistuvien toimijoiden ja toimijaverkostojen analyysiä. Toimija-analyysissä tutkitaan tarkemmin toimijuuden eri muotoja, ja kytköksiä institutionaalisiin puitteisiin, kuten alan kehitystä sääteleviin normeihin ja standardeihin. Vertaileva analyysi Suomen ja Itävallan politiikkaympäristön ja ohjauskeinojen tehokkuuden välillä on toinen keskeinen jatkotyön osa-alue. Vertailua on jo pohjustettu yhteistyössä luonnontiedealan yliopiston eli BOKUn tutkijoiden kanssa.

Heini Vihemäki

Nordic workshop on Wood in Construction in Stockholm, March 2018

The workshop’s faciltator, Anders V. Jensen and some output from the group work.

I had a chance to participate in the Nordic workshop on Wood in Construction in Stockholm, earlier this month. The event was a third meeting in a project that seeks to pave the way for increased use of wood in the building sector in the Nordics, coordinated by the EIT Climate-KIC Nordic. The organisation is hosting the Nordic Secratariat for Wood in Construction, since the beginning of this year, with funding from the Swedish Government and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The Nordic project and the secretariat aims to produce a road map for how to address challenges and barriers to increased industrial use of wood in construction. The roadmap will be submitted to the Nordic Council of Ministers in June. The underlying idea of the project is to help the Nordic countries achieve the goals set forward in the Agenda 2030, especially those linked to sustainable cities as well as sustainable production and consumption. The five- hour-workshop in central Stockholm offered a good opportunity to exchange views and learn from a diverse set of stakeholders active in this field, especially in Sweden.

The workshop format was very participatory, which was a positive thing in the sense that it created a lot of interaction and discussion. The participants were mostly from Sweden and a few from Helsinki, with the majority representing research and business sectors. We were first asked to identify diverse trends that play a role in how much wood is used in buildings and construction, for instance related to urbanization and higher density of population, role of sustainability values among consumers/policies and technological advancement. In terms of identifying the barriers of increased use of wood in construction, and the best strategies to overcome them, the participants also came up with various suggestions and food for thoughts. Among those that were ranked as important to work on further, were economic valuation (e.g. identifying the added value of wood to end-users), research and education (including collaboration with companies), as well as knowledge and experience sharing among the business and other actors.

A key observation from the workshop is that there seems to be a need to study and compare further the policies, strategies and other interventions used so far in promoting the use of wood in the Nordic contexts, and the gaps in them. Moreover, mapping and comparing the outcomes of these measures, and the dynamics involved, would help to make well-informed decisions on the future strategies.

The next step in this collaborative process will be to conduct interviews among the stakeholders in the Nordic countries, and to organize another workshop in Helsinki, tentatively in early May. We learnt that the secretariat seeks to engage more stakeholders in the next workshop, and to discuss with policy makers further the policy barriers. It will be interesting to see the final recommendations from the process, and especially how they will be adopted by the Council of Ministers in the meeting, which is scheduled for June, in Helsinki.

By Heini Vihemäki (project researcher)