Using timber for skyscrapers is a more environmentally friendly option— it’s a great way to utilize dead and diseased trees and to reduce the production of nonrenewable materials like steel and concrete.
This Smithsonian piece discusses in more detail the reasoning behind the new giant wooden skyscrapers:
“Steel and concrete don’t grow back. They are not renewable materials,” Green says. “They are not even remotely renewable materials—they use massive amounts of energy in their creation, whereas the most perfect solar power system of making any material on Earth is the making of our forests.”
“Broadly, we are concerned about the fact that there are an extraordinary number of diseased and dead trees in the western United States that represent a severe fire hazard,” Vilsack says. “In order for that wood to remain a store of carbon, we’ve got to figure out a way to use it, otherwise Mother Nature will ignite a forest fire with a lightning strike, and we will lose the carbon that is stored in those trees.”
Vilsack says that it was these dead trees, in large part, which inspired the USDA’s interest in tall wood buildings. If done responsibly, he explains, removing these dead or diseased trees, to be used for making cross-laminated timber that would eventually support tall wood buildings, could be a win-win for both the timber industry and environmentalists—two groups that traditionally have a contentious relationship.
“We’re confronted with an intersection of interests, in which those who are concerned with conservation and the environment think, ‘My god, we can’t continue to have millions of trees,’ and those who are concerned about the logging and timber industry think, ‘My god, we’ve got to be able to figure out what to do with these dead trees so that they don’t just create horrific fire hazards,’” he says. “This is the right time, if we do it in a collaborative and thoughtful way.”