How Estonia is Using Timber to Carve New Green Ties with EU

The tiny Baltic state has committed to carbon neutrality and sees the mass timber as an important step in building stronger ties with German and Danish customers.

Wed 20 Dec 23


A plan to build Estonia’s largest “wooden building” will start next month after the government awards the construction contract. The government has hailed the project as “the future of construction.” 

Known as ‘Environmental House, the €54.4 million net-zero project was designed by local architecture firm Kavakava and will consolidate several Estonian government agencies under one roof.

The project is part of a broader push to construct public buildings out of timber, with the Estonian government pushing to mandate its use in building and construction.

Wood Central understands that mass timber – specifically cross-laminated timber and glulam beams is featured extensively in the building’s three volumes—renders provided by Kavakava Architects.

According to Pärtel-Peeter Pere, the project is essential as the former Soviet country is increasingly pivoting toward German and Danish customers instead of Russia.

Mr Pere is the government’s deputy whip and editor-in-chief of ‘Ehitus teekart’, a 2040 urban plan for the country.

“With the best will in the world, no one orders Estonian products just like that; we have to prove ourselves. The environmental house (Pere refers to it as a Loodusmaja, a nature house) provides this opportunity.”

Estonian Urban Planner and Deputy Whip strongly support timber mandates for government buildings.

Estonia currently ranks third in the world for cumulative emissions per population – having emitted 1,394 tonnes of CO2 in 2021, according to an analysis by Carbon Brief.

The tiny Baltic country’s copious oil shale reserves have been a mixed blessing. They grant it a high degree of energy independence while embedding a deeply carbon-intense legacy.

This is an interior view of the new superstructure, which will house key Estonian government departments and public institutions. Renders were provided by Kavakava Architects.

However, the war in Ukraine has forced the country to embrace renewable energy as it seeks greater alignment with the West.

In September, Estonia began the process of embracing a green economy after introducing a new climate law. The law will come into force in 2025, meaning Estonia will join an increasing number of EU countries that have made firm climate commitments.

It will underpin the country’s most challenging decisions, helping it meet targets around the oil shale phaseout and much-needed investments in housing and transport.

Wood Central understands it will also see significant investment in Estonia’s timber industry, including in plywood production.

Estonian timber companies export various product groups, including sawn and planed timber, pre-fabricated structural details for homes and furniture manufacturers, and modular buildings.

Over the past 25 years, greenfield investments have played an essential role in developing the Estonian wood industry, allowing it to become a high-tech industry that responds very well to the market’s needs regarding the quality of products and security of supply.

According to Kristi Klaas, Estonian Deputy Secretary General for Green Transition, “a huge progress in political ambition” has helped make this possible.

“The past two years have been fascinating in terms of the green transition in Estonia,” she says. 

Prime Minister Kallas took office in early 2021 and promised to stop shale oil production by 2035 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

When completed, ‘Environmental House’ will house the Estonian Museum of Natural History, the Environmental Board, the Environmental Agency, and the Centre for Environmental Investment.

The building, totalling 24,660 square meters, will be built in Tallinn’s Lennusadama neighbourhood at Vesilennuki 12. It will include a massive green courtyard that doubles as exhibition space for the museum. 

Render of the planned ‘Environmental House’ (Keskkonnamaja) provided by Kavakava Architects.

Minister for Climate Kristen Michal said the museum will have more space to display its exhibits and be able to offer a better overall visitor experience in the new building.

“We are grateful that the seeds planted by previous governments are growing,” he said.

It also provides opportunities for the country’s timber and construction industry: ” Today is a challenging time in construction and timber across the region—providing work and a strong example for Estonian champions in the growing market for climate-friendly construction.”

The Estonian Museum of Natural History exhibition spaces are around the courtyard. Half of the museum is an extensively green courtyard. The courtyard is slightly tilted, so it faces south and is protected from the seaside—renders provided by Kavakava Architects.

Michal said moving the agencies under one roof will allow the government to sell several buildings and save between €0.5-0.7 million a year.

The government’s real estate management agency Riigi Kinnisvara’s acting director of real estate development, Tarmo Mändmets, said Nordecon’s proposed work schedule, experience and plan won the “value-based procurement”.

“Planned as an energy-efficient timber building, the ‘Environmental House’ will help reduce the construction sector’s environmental footprint and send out a message that such innovative timber buildings are possible in Estonia,” Mändmets said.

Heidi Jõks, director of the Estonian Museum of Natural History, said: “We aim to become the most modern nature museum in the Nordic countries, with a quarter of a million visitors yearly. That’s five times more than we can take in now.”

Annika Kadaja, CEO of the Estonian Wooden House Association, expressed her hope that ‘Environmental House’ will become a landmark project that will help bring international attention to Estonian wooden architecture and technology. 


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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