B.C. Premier Commits to Mass Timber for Zero-Carbon Future

British Columbia is looking to use mass timber to address housing supply and hospital infrastructure.

Fri 30 Jun 23


British Columbia Premier David Eby has committed to growing its mass timber industry as the province looks to scale production to meet the housing supply and a new surgical tower at the University Hospital in Northern B.C.

As reported in Quesnel Observer overnight, Eby commented following a tour of central B.C. 

“The government has a specific strategy around mass-timber construction in the province,” Eby said.

“We have been prioritizing the use of wood, and engineered wood products, in government buildings.”

“Our goal is to create that base economy for factories to be able to build up, to be able to provide those products to other projects across the province.”

In 2021, the B.C. government announced its commitment to the “CleanBC” 2030 carbon roadmap, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the next seven years. 

In October 2021 the British Columbia government released its 2030 carbon roadmap (‘CleanBC’). Footage provided by @ProvinceofBC

The provincial government has acknowledged the significance of low embodied timbers in accomplishing this objective.

The premier visited a range of locations, including Prince George, Quesnel and Williams Lake and mass-timber construction was a topic close to the service at every stop.

In March 2023, Wood Central reported that British Columbia Minister for Trade, Jagrup Brar, headed a mission to the International Mass Timber Conference in Portland, Oregon with the minister meeting with industry leaders, investors and government officials to showcase the province’s mass-timber industry.

“Mass-timber construction plays an important role in advancing ‘CleanBC’ climate goals by providing a smaller carbon footprint that lasts throughout the life of the building, compared to using concrete,” Mr Brar said at the conference.

B.C. Minister Jagrup Brar attended the Mass Timber International Conference in Portland, Oregon.

According to the B.C. government, there are three components to revving up the mass-timber solution: fibre (trees) to make it, factories to process the fibre, and workforce to put it to use. The latter two are moot if the wood isn’t from the forest to the factories.

“The message that I’ve been sending to tenure-holders, the people who hold the licenses to harvest the trees, is they need to prioritize and make sure that there is access to that lumber for companies doing this value-added work, and feeding that part of the industry for our province.”

“It’s part of our solution to climate change, it’s part of our solution to the housing crisis, it’s part of our employment solution, and it is a public good: our forests.”

In November 2022, Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation – Government of British Columbia, spoke about the state’s Mass Timber Action Plan launched in April 2022. Footage courtesy of @buildingtransformations
The government’s policy has been subject to controversy

In May, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported that the government stifled fire safety concerns to promote mass timber buildings.

The CBC reports that B.C. created the Office of Mass Timber Implementation (OMTI), the world’s first government office with a broad and strong mandate to make it easier to build with mass timber.

However, documents obtained by CBC News through an access to information request show the OMTI was so concerned about public discussion of so-called “tall wood” buildings — those higher than six storeys — that it barred municipalities from building them unless they guaranteed their local fire officials would be aligned with planning and building departments regarding any concerns they might have, including fire risks.

  • A copy of the briefing note can be viewed here.
Brock Commons Tallwood House is an 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia. It was built outside of code, using site-specific regulations that met engineering, construction and fire safety inspections. (Photo credit: Steven Errico Photography/UBC)

The note explains the policy was instituted to “preclude mixed messages about the advantages and trade-offs” of building with mass timber. But the OMTI appears to have been trying to muzzle any messages that didn’t align with the ones it was putting out.

“This strategy was based on experience when B.C. increased the allowable height of wood construction from four to six storeys in 2009,” the briefing note explained.

“In that case, media coverage featured some conflicting opinions about wood, perhaps even from staff within the same jurisdiction, with planning department staff welcoming a more affordable means of urban densification whereas fire departments were sharing concerns about fire risk,” the document said. 

In 2020, when the briefing note was written, the OMTI tried enticing municipalities to construct 12-storey mass timber buildings, double the height that had raised firefighting concerns a decade earlier. 

The CBC News special report, filed by Curt Petrovich, strongly supports greater research in fire safety in mid-rise and high-rise mass timber buildings.

Earlier this month, Wood Central reported on a report presented by Boris Iskra from Forest and Wood Products Australia, who presented the findings at the World Conference on Timber Engineering (WCTE) in Oslo, Norway.

“In support of this code change, research was undertaken to investigate the post-fire decay and cooling phase behaviour of lightweight structural timber-frame or massive fire-protected timber elements for which there is currently limited research and publicly available data,” Mr Iskra said.

The WCTE is the world’s most prestigious timber engineering conference.

Australia has the largest contingent at the conference with 41 delegates attending the conference in Oslo, Norway.
The World Conference on Timber Engineering was held in Oslo, Norway, earlier this month. The next conference is scheduled for Brisbane, Australia in 2025.

More than 30 presentations at the conference focused on fire engineering, with ETH Zurich among a growing number of research institutions investing in new fire simulators to test mass timber’s response to varying fire conditions.


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