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Andrew Carroll and Henry Morris stand among mass timber beams

Storage units: Mass timber buildings offer a carbon-friendly option for new commercial construction

Note: This story is part of a special issue of The Warnell Log focused on carbon.

If you’re looking to store some carbon, wood-frame buildings will give you a big bang for your buck.

This works great for houses—but can you scale that up to commercial buildings?

Enter: Mass timber.

Made from lumber that’s glued into larger panels or columns, mass timber is an established building products market in Europe and the Pacific Northwest. Now, it’s starting to gain a foothold in the Southeast, and a lot of the attention it’s received lately is thanks to a groundbreaking new building erected next door to Atlanta’s Ponce City Market called 619 Ponce.

It's the brainchild of the team at Jamestown, an international real estate investment company headquartered at Ponce City Market, its flagship adaptive reuse project in downtown Atlanta. Warnell graduates Andrew Carroll (BBA/AB ’11, MFR ’15) and Henry Morris (MFR ’20) joined the firm to help manage its timber assets, and they’ve had a front-row seat to watch the mass timber project take shape.

“Mass timber played nicely into Jamestown’s goals to lower carbon emissions from its buildings. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we continue to innovate? What else can we do?’” said Carroll, a vice president at Jamestown; Morris is a timberland analyst. “Mass timber emerged as one of those options. Not only does it have a much lower carbon footprint than concrete and steel, but its unique design and the warm environment it creates are all positive attributes that draw attention to it.”

Construction with mass timber was ideal for a dense city, with prefabricated beams arriving in packages and ready for assembly—this meant fewer deliveries to the site and a shorter construction time.

But there was one catch: With the mass timber market still developing in the U.S. South, Jamestown had to get creative in how it sourced and produced the materials. Most of the mass timber industry is located in Europe and Canada, so it seemed strange to produce a “green” building using materials that had to be shipped from Europe or western Canada. There was an irony, they found, in being surrounded by southern yellow pine but few mills for manufacturing the prefabricated mass timber beams and panels.

So, since Jamestown is in the timberland business, the team turned to the relationships they had sourcing timber from sustainably managed Georgia forests, including their own timberland. They collaborated with Georgia-Pacific to mill the lumber locally in Albany, Georgia, and SmartLam across the border in Alabama to produce the cross-laminated timber and glulam elements.

“This is the first mass timber project in Georgia to have Georgia-grown timber in a regional supply chain and we were really proud to be able to do that,” added Morris. Demand is growing, though, with talk of new mills in the Southeast to expand capacity. A 2019 study by the University of Oregon and Oregon State University showed demand for cross-laminated timber alone growing at 13% to 15% a year through 2024.

“The hope is that we’ll get there—capacity is expanding, but it is a chicken-and-egg scenario,” added Carroll. “It’s getting everyone educated and on board with this product, what’s available and what you need to do throughout the design and construction process.”

Building with mass timber also complements a larger company-wide goal for Jamestown, which aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Using regional suppliers and capturing carbon in a new build aligned with a lot of the company’s goals. This is in addition to gaining SFI certification for the forests that contributed to 619 Ponce’s timber and a larger effort—by Jamestown and other multinational companies—to report details on sustainability to shareholders.

Carroll and Morris said they look at ways to maximize the carbon capture of their forestland and encourage management practices that capture more carbon like appropriate seedling stocking, herbicide application and harvesting activities like thinnings that keep the working forests healthy and vigorous, which all play a role in sequestration.

When you consider the benefits of mass timber construction—less concrete and steel which emit a lot of carbon to produce, a tighter supply chain, fewer trips to the job site and overall lower emissions—plus the capture of carbon in a beautiful timber building, it aligns well with any company’s overall sustainability goals.

“Just from a timberland perspective, we have this massive availability of material. And as this building technology gets more widely used, hopefully more people will use this sustainably managed resource,” said Carroll. “We need to start having these conversations and gain that expertise and understanding; that’s just a learning curve that’s underway, but we’re just getting started and that’s very exciting.”


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