Nature and Biodiversity

5 startups making the billion-dollar mass timber construction market sustainable

Sustainable timber is a growing market, and could provide a green alternative to the carbon-intensive construction techniques that prevail today.

Sustainable timber is a growing market, and could provide a green alternative to the carbon-intensive construction techniques that prevail today. Image: Bates Smart

Stephanie Burrell
Community Lead, Forest Economy Program, World Economic Forum
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  • The global mass timber construction market is projected to be worth $1.5 billion by 2031.
  • This growth provides an opportunity for “ecopreneurial” start-ups.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Forest Economy UpLink challenge has identified 5 of the most exciting sustainable timber innovators.

The global mass timber construction market was valued at $857.1 million in 2021, and is projected to be worth $1.5 billion by 2031, according to a report by Allied Market Research.

This rapid growth provides opportunities for innovators working in the nature-based materials sector to ensure that mass timber is being used in the most sustainable ways.

Far from being a nostalgic nod to the past, these strategies integrate modern technologies and sustainable practices, highlighting wood's potential as a versatile, eco-friendly and aesthetically pleasing alternative.

Sustainably sourced and biobased materials, such as wood, have the potential to unite innovation and sustainability and reshape our cities for the better.

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The UpLink Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge

To this end, the UpLink Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge sought out ecopreneurial start-ups that provide innovative and scalable models for sustainable forest management, the production and application of different wood products and enabling technologies.

UpLink has identified five of the winners of the challenge, all of which helping to advance the movement to incorporate more natural materials into the construction of the built environment.

Recycling fallen trees

Cambium Carbon saves fallen city trees from landfills. They build local regenerative supply chains and partner with millers, architects, cities and businesses to upcycle fallen trees into Carbon Smart Wood, which locks carbon dioxide in green building projects. They are currently focused on furniture and interior and exterior design elements, and are looking to expand into structural timber in the future.

Circular housing solutions

Easy Housing creates affordable, climate-resilient timber homes in the Global South. They source local sustainable timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and invest in long-term collaborations with forestry partners to jointly increase sustainably managed forest coverage and biodiversity. This way, deforestation is avoided and demand for sustainably managed forests increases the planting of new sustainable forests. The buildings do not use glue or nails, only screws, so that each part of the building can be taken apart again for repair or recycling.

Modular construction

Juno designs and builds sustainable homes with mass timber. Mass timber uses state-of-the-art technology to glue, nail, or dowel wood products together in layers. The results are large, strong and versatile structural panels, posts and beams that can be used in place of steel and concrete. Juno is a pioneer in construction that sequesters rather than emits carbon. They also use a combination of repeatable architectural components and proprietary software to accelerate the development process, minimize material waste and maximize on-site productivity.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Investing in timber

The Timber Finance Initiative generates investment by creating new timber-related financial products and educating the finance sector about sustainable timber construction and forest management. It is currently developing a global, open-source methodology under a leading climate standard to enable the creation of impactful carbon removal certificates for mass timber construction. Carbon removal certificates have the potential to place a financial value on stored carbon in timber making it a more financially attractive option.

Recycling robots

Urban Machine uses robots to collect and recycle waste wood which can be used in new construction. The robot separates nails with an AI pincer, cleans the wood surface with wire brushes, and checks its suitability for reuse. By facilitating the reuse of wood in construction Urban Machine is enabling more low carbon new construction and reducing pressure on forests to supply new wood.

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