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Why the US Army’s Building Policy Could Fuel Mass Timber Boom

The Department of Defence has been allocated $15 billion to manage real estate assets, with the US Army looking to CLT for military construction


Sat 14 Oct 23

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The US Army is close to publishing a new resilient building policy, which will, for the first time, decide if and when sustainable materials and technology can used in military installations.

In 2022, US Congress gave the Department of Defence US $15 billion for “facilities sustainment, restoration and modernisation (FSRM)”, with the new policy assessing how “higher costs of materials might be balanced against the climate.”

Wood Central understands that the new policy will fall within the US Army’s “Climate Strategy” released last year and will guide the agency’s “decision making in response to threats from the climate that affects installation and unit sustainability, readiness and resilience.”

“The strategy will direct how the Army will maintain its strategic advantage through deliberate efforts to reduce future climate impacts and risks to readiness and national security,” the US Army said in a statement.

A key policy pillar will be the greater utilisation of mass timber products to drive decarbonisation across military assets.

In 2021, the US Department of Defence published a groundbreaking report on using mass timber products (specifically cross-laminated timber) in military construction projects. 

The Department of Defense has directly facilitated the construction of five medium-size CLT buildings totalling over 100,000 square metres. The four Army hotels were constructed by Lendlease, the Army’s Privatized Army Lodging (PAL) program partner and construction firm. (Photo Credit: Department of Defence)

The report highlighted its potential uses for on-base and Forward Operating Base/Contingency Operating Base Facilities operations and supported blast tests in 2016 and 2017 to test durability under heavy fire.

It found that CLT’s “sweet spot” is mid to high-rise buildings, “where it competes with heavier steel and concrete”. Still, it acknowledged that light-gauge metal stud construction is advantageous in low-rise military bases “due to its load capacity limitations.”

Regarding specification, the Department of Defence leads the way in mass timber and updates top-level wood specifications to include CLT.

“A policy prioritising sustainability attributes over metal and masonry could tip the scales toward using CLT for military construction.”

Wood Central understands that the new building resilience policy could provide that push.

The US Army is already using low-carbon concrete and mass timber to develop three new projects, including two bases at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington and a total retrofit of the Fort Liberty barracks.

Blast Tests have demonstrated the durability of mass timber under fire. Footage courtesy of @WoodWorksWoodProductsCouncil.

The push to mass timber is backed by the World Economic Forum, which claims that the development of the material “is arguably the first major structural innovation since the invention of reinforced concrete more than 150 years ago.”

According to Rachel Jacobson, the push to use mass timber is part of developing climate resilience plans tailored to specific vulnerabilities based on climate assessments for the region.

“These installations are going to be the smart cities of the future. They need to be resilient and sustainable,” according to Ms Jacobson, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and the Environment.

On Tuesday, the US Army secured a contract with Lend Lease, which already manages more than 40,000 dwellings for military personnel, to construct 135 new “affordable and convenient accommodations” for personnel.

The Department of Defence has previously flagged that mass timber could be a suitable solution for mid-rise military housing projects, with the construction giant participating in the US Army’s Privatised Army Lodging program.

According to Ms Jacobson, “the Army has focused a great deal on preparing soldiers coming into the force to be resilient and to understand the effects of climate change.”

Last year, the US Army spoke to NBC about their new climate change policy. Footage courtesy of @NBCNews.

The Army wants to grow the number of soldiers and civilians serving in headquarters with advanced credentials in climate change issues.

“By 2028, all Army operational and strategic exercises and simulations will incorporate climate change risks and threat considerations.”

However, it faces a more immediate challenge of keeping up with training needs as climate change gets more extreme. 

With more hot or polluted days in 2023, efforts to avoid cancelling training due to hazardous climate conditions continue; Jacobson said commanders are working on solutions.

Additionally, because of climate-triggered disasters like wildfires, National Guard training days are diverted to responding to fight wildfires. 

“You multiply that all over the place; hurricanes and floods and other sort of disasters, the National Guard is just being stretched thin,” Jacobson said.

The Army “should be vigilant in collecting data on statistics so that we can remind Congress of the toll it’s taking.”

President Joe Biden admires the trees with University of Washington Forest Ecologist Susan Prichard, Friday, April 22, 2022, at Seward Park in Seattle. (Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
The Biden administration is pushing US government agencies to decarbonise to meet climate commitments.(Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The pivot to climate comes as the Biden Administration introduces new legislation mandating that ‘accounting for ecosystem services’ be considered in all US Government cost-benefit decisions.

In August, the US Government released the first-ever guidance on accounting for ecosystem services in benefit-cost analysis. 

This guidance will advance and strengthen analyses of regulations and government investments – including Department of Defence spending.

Author

  • 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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