Discussing the future of timber construction in Finland

On May 18th 2022, we brought together policymakers, city planners, construction, and municipality representatives in Finland to discuss the transition to timber construction.

Emissions from the construction industry have not decreased at the same pace as other industries. Material choices can significantly reduce the construction industry’s carbon footprint, and timber offers the most promising opportunities for Finland.

The event marked the end of a collaborative process that identified how the construction industry in Finland can peacefully transition to a sustainable, resilient material: timber. The project is the first large-scale application of Demos Helsinki’s Humble Governance process, successfully influencing the trajectory of a complex policy issue. Our recent co-created publication, the Book of Humble Timber Construction (currently only in Finnish), sets a vision for timber transition in Finland and shows the practical ways it can happen beyond disagreement and gridlocks.

The event featured contributions from:

  • Emma Kari, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change
  • Ossi Savolainen, Regional Mayor, Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council
  • Rikhard Manninen, Head of Urban Planning Division, City of Helsinki
  • Juudit Ottelin, Senior Researcher, SYKE
  • Tarja Häkkinen, Senior Scientist, SYKE
  • Mattias Goldman, Goldman Green
  • Petri Heino, Manager of National Wood Building Program, Ministry of Environment

Key takeaways

1 The timing for timber buildings is now

Minister Emma Kari emphasised the potential of the humble governance model in a broader context of different themes, stating that the timing for timber construction is favourable. Still, they need to be accompanied by proactive and visionary thinking if we are to resolve the many bottlenecks that we meet in complex transitions.

Ossi Savolainen stated that now is the time for green buildings. There is a growing global interest in wood construction and an increasing demand for Finnish expertise worldwide. Yet, the real potential for impact is that we recognise the need for long-term thinking rather than looking for the most straightforward short-term solutions.

Mattias Goldman from Goldman Green started his speech with a powerful message: we are the first and last generation that can stop climate change. We must cut emissions deeply, radically and quickly, or there will be no future. He presented seven reasons why the building industry should switch to timber construction, many of which are featured below.

2 Timber construction lowers emissions

Juudit Ottelin from SYKE focused on the carbon peak in construction and the rebound effect. She calculates the carbon peak to be half that of a concrete building. Wood construction affects the carbon peak during the construction phase in two ways: First, cradle-to-gate emissions are 20-25% lower in wood construction than in concrete. Secondly, a building constructed from wood acts as a carbon sink.

3 Policymakers must update how they assess emissions

Tarja Häkkinen talked about how the new Building Act will assess emissions. Currently, the focus of the assessment is on the use of energy and improving the energy efficiency of the building stock. However, the upcoming new regulation will take better account of the whole life cycle of a building and its overall emissions through:

  • A better definition of new concepts such as the life cycle of a building, the carbon footprint, the low carbon building, the carbon footprint threshold and the carbon handprint
  • The introduction of new obligations, such as a climate report for buildings
  • A new assessment methodology that can be used as a basis for calculations

4 Planners must embrace timber early on

Our panel discussion highlighted the need to consider the potential of wood construction at the planning stage. Panellists Matti Kuronen, Pekka Kampman and Jouni Lahtinen agreed that the earlier wood construction experts are involved in the process, the better the chances of a successful project.

Rikhard Manninen from the City of Helsinki presented the new timber construction plans in Hermanni and gave valuable insight into how the city sees the future of timber construction.

5 The transition needs to be collaborative

The discussions that took place showed the complexity and multifacetedness of timber construction. Dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders are essential, as everyone is entering a very uncertain space with seemingly conflicting short-term interests. Remembering that a regenerative future is in everyone’s interests can be the necessary premise before complex transitions take shape.

As utopian as this premise sounds, the Humble Governance model helps build it. It addresses the bottlenecks that naturally come up and creates common ground in a shared direction.

Closing remarks

Petri Heino from the Ministry of Environment provided the closing remarks.

Timber construction will enter a period of transition with the parliamentary elections next year and a new government programme. This provides a good starting point for the process, and the timing of the change is good. In the future, there is a need to focus on building up the knowledge base, and the process should be more inclusive. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have moved forward, and the next steps will be known and outlined in the new government programme.


Want to help your local construction industry transition to timber? Get in touch with us: 

Otto-Wille Koste 


Want to see what other complex policy issues Humble Governance can solve? 

Want to know more about this project?

  • Read more about the project here.
  • What were the project’s results? Find out here.
  • Read more about the challenges of timber transition in Finland here.
  • Read the publication (currently only in Finnish) here.



Feature Image: sculpies / iStock