France Mandates Sustainable Building Practices by 2022

France is mandating that in two years all new public buildings will be made from at least 50 percent organic materials. Is this goal achievable?

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Over the last few years, laws that support green, environmentally conscious building practices have become increasingly common in the United States. Cities have banned natural gas in new construction, mandated the use of bird-friendly glass in high-rise buildings, and required that new residences be built solar ready.

But perhaps none of those changes are as ambitious as legislation recently announced in France. The plan, as ordered by French president Emmanuel Macron, requires all public buildings financed by the French state to be built from at least 50 percent wood (or other organic materials) by the year 2022.

The hope is that using bio-degradable and eco-friendly materials will reduce the carbon produced through more traditional construction practices. According to the Global Alliance for Building and Construction, buildings and construction account for 36 percent of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Portland cement, one of the most common materials in construction around the world, requires a heat-intensive production that release major amounts of carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

But alternatives to cement are available. Cross-laminated timber, a high-strength material made from pressed and laminated wood panels, is one being used for several buildings already under construction in France.

Part of what prompted this mandate from Macron is that France was already planning on using a high level of wood-based materials to construct buildings for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. It was previously announced that any new buildings made for the Games that were eight stories or less would be made entirely from wood, not just the 50 percent required by the new mandate.

“If it is possible for the Olympics, it should be possible for ordinary buildings,” Julien Denormandie, the minister for cities and housing, told The Times of London.

France is hoping it can lead by example and prompt other countries to adopt building practices that prioritize the use of eco-friendly materials. Emphasizing more sustainable alternatives should lead to further research and development of such materials, like this brick from Kenoteq that is made from 90 percent recycled construction materials.