Georgia is well known for its variety of outstanding attributes. With a temperate climate and a strong workforce, it offers an appealing place to live and do business, which are just two reasons the state’s forestry industry is thriving.
Georgia is the number one forestry state in the nation, boasting 24.3 million acres of forestland that serve as the backbone to a $41.3 billion part of the state’s economy. The myriad of products and environmental services that are supplied by this rich, renewable resource is astonishing, and innovative wood solutions being rolled out now and planned for the future are breaking even more promising ground.
One of the most exciting recent developments that can actually be seen and touched and appreciated is a product called “mass timber.” Mass timber is a new category of wood product that is comprised of multiple solid wood panels that are engineered together, which gives it exceptional strength and stability. It is a versatile, strong, low-carbon alternative to concrete and steel, used in load-bearing capacities as well as decorative interior finishes.
Mass timber is noted for its warm, natural appearance, which resonates with building occupants who appreciate its “touchable” surfaces and soothing ambiance. Mass timber has already been incorporated into numerous construction projects in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. Pacific Northwest and is now being embraced in our region. Established buildings employing mass timber products locally include the Kendeda Building at Georgia Tech and the T3 office building in Midtown Atlanta.
Mass timber’s proven strength and fire resistance substantiated recent building code changes that allow its use in structures up to 18 stories high. With millions of acres of Southern Yellow Pine flourishing in our own backyard, timber forms the foundation for a “farm-to-table” system with a string of benefits to the economy, the environment, the construction business, and end-users alike.
Trees can be grown, harvested, and milled right here in Georgia before being sent out for final product milling. That’s currently being done in Dothan, Ala., at SmartLam, the closest mass timber mill in our region. Yet Georgia is uniquely teed up for investor interest in this segment of the supply chain, and we envision that type of facility in Georgia as the market expands.
From SmartLam, the finished products are then shipped directly to Georgia for efficient assembly at construction sites that builders find are cleaner and less disruptive than traditional job sites. Pre-cut pieces are assembled in a method, not unlike a giant Lego project. This can currently be viewed happening at 619 Ponce, adjacent to Atlanta’s famed Ponce City Market.
Mass timber’s not-so-hidden super-power is its ability to sequester carbon, which brings important sustainability functions to the construction process. Beginning at the source, Georgia’s healthy forests absorb an estimated 67,888,887 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually. That carbon is stored in trees and remains embedded through the production and building processes. Lower emissions as a result of fewer transportation miles can reduce carbon footprints further.
Could we possibly run out of trees by doing this? No. US Forest Service Forest Inventory Analysis data shows Georgia maintains a plentiful supply of timber for its many uses, and the state is growing more trees now than it did 100 years ago. For every tree harvested, four more are planted in its place. A fact that our hard-working tree farmers endorse for the support of their own families and futures.
Modern forestry standards ensure a continuous cycle of growing, harvesting, and replanting. The mass timber market is attractive to Georgia’s 142,336 landowners who need robust markets to be able to keep their land in forests and to invest in practices that keep trees healthy – instead of clearing them for other uses. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, active forest management practices, including thinning and harvesting, help mitigate wildfires, replenish waterways, expand wildlife habitat, and create jobs in rural areas.
As directed by a forward-thinking Georgia legislature and created by an expert committee, the Georgia Forestry Commission is now housing a carbon-credit registry. The new service supplements Georgia’s existing voluntary Carbon Registry by tracking the amount of carbon stored in commercial construction projects and also making life cycle assessments to measure all carbon impacts — from raw material extraction to the building material’s final disposal. Carbon credits can then be quantified and awarded through the voluntary Registry.
As more corporate citizens take action to reduce their carbon footprint, the Registry is expected to become an important tool for documentation and credit trading. Georgia’s first Registry entry is for the new multi-use mass timber structure, 619 Ponce, developed by Jamestown Properties at Ponce City Market. As the architecture and construction communities increasingly utilize natural wood materials, values associated with carbon capturing and the reduction in carbon emissions will become increasingly important considerations for development.
It’s an exciting time for forestry in Georgia as more people realize its marked impact on our environment, our lifestyles, and on Georgia’s sustainable growth story. Mass timber is a significant player in the smart growth field, and Georgia’s lead in the movement positions us strongly for the future.