Using more wood and less steel and concrete in building construction would noticeably reduce global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and fossil fuel consumption, according to a new study from Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (F&ES) and the University of Washington's College of the Environment.

Citing research that predicts that the global infrastructure such as buildings, bridges, and other construction projects is expected to triple by 2050, the study's authors sought to examine how an increase in the use of wood in these projects would affect CO2 emissions and global biodiversity. They compared the practice of minimizing forest harvest in order to store CO2 in the forest and protect biodiversity through preservation to the practice of using solid wood products and wood-fueled energy to avoid carbon emissions from substitute materials such as concrete and steel while protecting biodiversity through forest harvest and management.

Currently, about 20 percent of the world's annual wood growth is harvested. The study, "Carbon, Fossil Fuel, and Biodiversity Mitigation with Wood and Forests," asserts that raising this amount to the equivalent of 34 percent or more of annual wood growth would avoid 14 percent to 31 percent of global CO2 emissions, according to a press release from Yale. The reductions would be possible by avoiding emissions related to steel and concrete and storing CO2 (defined as CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) in wood products, among other factors, according to the release.

The study's authors argue that the savings is greater than that which is lost from increased forest harvest, and that the harvest process has added benefits. "Forest harvest creates a temporary opening that is needed by forest species such as butterflies and some birds and deer before it regrows to large trees," Chadwick Oliver, the Pinchot professor of forestry and environmental studies and director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry at F&ES said in the press release. Managed forest harvest also reduces the likelihood of wildfires, according to Oliver.

In addition, the study authors assert that an increased use of wood would decrease global fossil fuel consumption by 12 percent to 19 percent, as scrap wood and unsellable materials could burned for energy in lieu of fossil fuels.

Click here to read the full study, as published in Volume 33 of The Journal of Sustainable Forestry.

Image courtesy Sander van der Wel under Flickr Creative Commons license.