Timber buildings can shrink construction’s carbon footprint

Tall timber buildings, made entirely of mass timber (layers of wood bonded together) or steel-timber and timber-concrete hybrid construction, are gaining popularity worldwide. Every couple of months a yet taller timber building seems to pop up somewhere.

Last month for instance, an Australian developer, Thrive Construct, announced the world’s tallest steel-timber hotel in the country. However, for timber construction to have a significant sustainability impact, emphasis has to be placed on building regular buildings with timber.

Timber is a sustainable, renewable material. It stores carbon while in use, and the appeal of using it in skyscrapers is clear. But focusing only on the tall means we overlook the normal apartment buildings, hospitals, schools and shopping centres. Buildings like these are dominated by concrete, steel and brick, all of which are carbon- or energy-intensive materials.

In Africa, IIED says that if the continent substitutes steel and concrete for wood in half of its new buildings it will save up to 5-10 giga tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050.

Mining of raw materials for cement and steel, as well as processing and manufacturing, leads to high carbon emissions. In contrast, forests absorb CO2 and regrow sustainably after timber harvest. Manufacturing using wooden products locks carbon into long-term storage to expand the carbon sink.

Worldwide, building and construction accounts for 39% greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), 28% of which (11% of total GHG emissions) is down to the materials used. With a fast-growing population and an expanding middle class, sub-Saharan Africa will account for a huge amount of construction in the 21st century. At 4.1%, sub-Saharan Africa’s annual urban population growth rate is more than twice that of the global percentage.

Change is challenging. Developers and designers favour familiar construction materials and methods where cost estimates are straightforward. Timber requires a change of thinking and early contractor involvement to be cost-competitive.

But if we truly want to do something about our nation’s carbon footprint, the whole construction industry urgently needs to shift.

It is on this background that Climate KIC and KCIC Consulting launched the Wood Architect Rockstars Program in Kenya.

The main goal of the program is to increase the local demand for timber in construction by working with engineers and architects. In addition, it will give momentum to the burgeoning, sustainable timber industry so that it can supply the future demand.

Program design


The Journey is a 2-week training program scheduled for October 24th – November 4th targeting graduates and young professionals. Participants of the program will be equipped with skills and tools to transform the engineering systems through contextualized and experiential learning and prototyping.

The two weeks will feature architects and varied expert speakers tackling timber as a construction material, carbon monitoring, the wider timber industry, cultural challenges and good practices.

Participants’ eligibility criteria

  1. Master or Ph.D. students, entrepreneurs, or young professionals in the field of architecture, design, engineering, social science, construction, and policy.
  2. Citizen or permanent resident of an eligible sub-Saharan African country.
  3. Passionate about climate change action. – Interested in the field of use of timber in construction
  4. Good team player, and Initiative-taker.
  5. Proficient level of English (B2 equivalent).
  6. Available to take part during the two-week Journey as a full-time program: Oct 24th – Nov 4th, 2022.
  7. Active participation in the Journey program.
  8. Available to fully cover the travel costs to and from Nairobi. Accommodation and meals will be provided for all the journey participants from 23rd Oct to 4th Nov 2022.

If this sounds like you, click here to learn more and apply.

Prizes are given for the most innovative, practical, impactful and considered responses to the Journey Challenge.


Climathon is a global climate action campaign connecting cities and citizens of all age groups to engage in changing their area for the better. The event will take place in Nairobi on 22nd October 2022.

Focused on raising awareness about timber, strengthening local construction ecosystems, and inspiring future climate action in cities and regions, Climathon is an opportunity for citizens and innovators to co-create ideas that address local climate challenges with a global impact.

To attend, please register here. Registration deadline is 25th September 2022.

The program is sponsored by Good Energies Foundation through Climate KIC and implemented by KCIC Consulting,

Timber practically grows by itself, stores carbon in durable wood products, can be cascaded into other timber products, and used as fertilizer for sustainable forests at the end of its life. Programs like the Wood Architect Rockstars are hope for a carbon free world.

This article is written by Pamela Okutoyi, a development communication expert passionate about climate action and sustainability.