Natalie Noel, M.Sc. (2012)

Dissertation Title: Benchmarking the Canadian Value-Added Wood Products Sector: Competitive Factors that Contribute to its Success

Abstract: Green architecture is an increasingly lucrative segment of the building industry, which has created a market opportunity for construction materials that successfully promote themselves as green materials. To identify avenues for improving the marketing of wood products, it has become critical to understand what architects, the foremost specifiers of building materials, look for in the sustainable materials they select. This research examines the factors that influence architects in their choice of materials for green building design, to determine if current practice in green architecture is changing designer preferences for building materials and product attributes. The project also aims to establish the degree to which architects consider wood as a suitable material for green building construction. A web-based questionnaire was designed to obtain firsthand feedback from a random sample of 220 North American architects (n=115 United States, n=105 Canada). Respondents were asked to compare green building to conventional building design, with respect to material selection criteria and priorities. Architects were also queried on topics relative to structural material selection for green buildings, preferred environmental product information, and wood use for green building design. Results showed that material selection remains largely attribute-based, as indicated by the strong influence of LEED, and the low use of decisional software to assist in the evaluation of product environmental performance. Respondents revealed that the local availability of materials was rated as “much more important” for green building design than for conventional buildings design, and that durability, quantified health impacts, and salvaged/recycled content were considered the “most useful” information items when specifying materials destined for green buildings. Wood products were prized for their renewability, and viewed as having the potential to reduce the environmental footprint of green buildings. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of architects indicated that following LEED certification guidelines did not hinder the use of wood products, and in at least a third of cases, architects actually specified more wood products for non-structural components, finishings, and furnishings. Though embodied energy and carbon were not currently perceived as the most useful environmental product information items, architects predicted that future material selection criteria would include improved and comparable product performance data, with priority conceded to low energy, low carbon, and health-safe materials.

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