Wood construction. New phase on the cooperation towards ‘Accelerating wood construction across Nordics and Russia’
2021 December 18
By Olga Johannesson
On Wednesday, December 15, 2021, a new step of a journey in wood and construction – Accelerating wood construction across Nordics and Russia - has been launched with an online conference that put thematic partners, organisational partners, and stakeholders of the project together.
This cooperation around wood construction between Nordic and Russian partners and stakeholders started in 2019 and was built on ties established earlier to identify the bioeconomy potential in these regions. These efforts have been funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers and led by Nordregio, a research institute based in Stockholm, which focuses on regional development and planning. Wood construction initiatives support the implementation of the Nordic Vision 2030 - a roadmap, set by the Nordic countries to achieve a list of goals under the three priorities of building a green, competitive and socially sustainable region.
Accelerating wood construction contributes to all these three priorities. The most dominant materials used in construction today, such as cement, steel and brick, are highly energy- and emissions-intensive, both in their production and transport. Indeed, the construction sector accounts for nearly 40% of the total CO2 emissions globally. Using wood as an alternative material can significantly cut carbon emissions, given that trees capture carbon from the atmosphere, which remains in the wood for as long as their lifecycle. Wood is also much lighter and requires less transport if locally sourced. Both the Nordic countries and Russia are very rich in timber resources, which creates significant opportunities for economic development, increasing businesses competitiveness by boosting innovation, adding value, and creating skilled and quality jobs.
In previous years through several projects and dialogue with multiple stakeholders, we took firm steps ahead. First efforts resulted in mapping bioeconomy potential in the North-West Russia and Nordics, and then concentrated our focus on the wood and forestry sector in North-West Russia in the three regions of Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and Karelia, and later also in Saint Petersburg and Leningrad region and Moscow. We have been in dialogue with authorities, companies, chambers of commerce and achieved considerable results. The research and hands-on activities helped us identify a number of opportunities and challenges where to focalise future cooperation and learning, including areas such as technology, regulation and policy, standards and certification, culture and tradition, market demands, costs and competitiveness, skills and knowledge, and communication.
Wood construction in Russia: Trends 2021
According to Vera Meshko, director of the Swedish-Karelian Business Information Center (SKBIC) and a long-time partner of these series of projects, by 2025 the share of wooden housing construction will increase by 1,5-2 times in Russia, in terms of the total volume of the new housing. This will make it possible to increase the share of wooden construction to 20% of the total volume of the country's housing stock.
In 2020, the real volume of commissioned wooden houses amounted to 16.09 million square meters, a 7.9% (1,177 thousand sqm) increase in relation to 2019.
The prospects for wooden construction are recognized and promoted at the federal level. In 2021, a national competition was held for the development of standard projects of residential and social facilities using wooden structures. The Ministry of Construction of Russia, the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia, the Association of Wooden Housing Construction and the National Association of Builders were among supporting organisations.
“In 2021, we are seeing a 2-fold, sometimes even 3-fold increase in the cost of sawn timber and prefabricated units” - mentions Vera Meshko, - “the construction of wooden houses in 2021 has become more expensive compared to other materials - bricks, concrete, blocks, and the upward trend in wood prices continues” she adds.
Vera Meshko also notes that in the Arctic regions of Russia, about 90 % of wooden buildings are low-rise, which leads to even more prerequisites for wider use of wooden materials.
Additionally, Alexander Chernykh, professor at Saint Petersburg State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering, highlighted that around 70.000-80.000 wooden houses are built in Russia annually, with 3.000 in the Leningrad region alone. Chernykh pointed out that the building technologies correspond to those used in Europe, but nonetheless, there is a need for cooperation, especially in relation to building regulations and standards, which need to be in line with the European regulations.
Alexander Chernykh further underlines the growing interest in cooperation within the educational sphere as well. “Today there are around twenty higher educational establishments in Russia working with the profile direction of architecture, building and construction and none of them has a separate state standard program of wood construction”, says Alexander. “In this respect, one of the deliverables proposed by the project to create a joint module, a vocational course designed by the partner universities can be very beneficial”, he concludes.
All the different trends revealed by partners, demonstrate the favourable conditions for wood construction development in Russia and open new opportunities for the next steps for successful cooperation.
The Nordic Approach
Mikael Bergström Senior Advisor at Västerbotten County Administrative Board, Sweden, pointed out many similarities between the northern regions of Sweden and North-West Russia, which pose similar challenges and call for joint decisions, making wood construction a highly relevant topic for both countries.
Moreover, Bergström expressed full support for the cooperation and formally welcomed a Russian delegation to visit Skellefteå and Västerbotten, as one of the Exchange ambitions and deliverables within the project.
Gabriel Hjort, Consul responsible for issues concerning Sweden promotion, culture, information, education and research Swedish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg, supports the words of Mikael Bergström and encourages to strengthen the cooperation between the countries. He encouraged participants to contact the consulate for support, particularly in establishing contact with specific stakeholders in both Sweden and Russia.
Several participants voiced their expectations for the cooperation. Vera Meshko sees it beneficial to facilitate the dialogue between academia and businesses to produce a robust training module of continuous education for companies. She also calls for advancing local and Nordic networking around wood construction.
New phase of cooperation
Following the results of previous projects and taking into consideration the perspectives of different stakeholders, this the new phase of the cooperation is constructed around three main blocks:
The wood construction sector and technology are developing at a fast pace and therefore upgrading skills within companies and the labour market is pivotal. This demand is met by educational establishments with traditional higher educational degrees in construction and architecture as well as separate courses in wood in construction within these degrees offered by universities.
In Russia, companies are required to upgrade their skills every 5 years. This allows educational establishments to follow the current demand and gives them an opportunity to offer companies a handy and attractive solution through both vocational and life-long adult education courses.
This part of the project aims at influencing skills development in both North-West Russia and Nordics and bridging knowledge and possibilities across these regions.
The cooperation with the skills in the regions is characterised by the following challenges which are addressed by the current part of the project:
- Education systems can vary significantly from country to country.
- Concepts: Different understandings of terms e.g. ‘skills’, ‘competences’, ‘knowledge’
- Disciplines and education levels: Wood construction requires expertise from a broad range of disciplines, sectors, and education levels (from engineering to design, from vocational to academic education)
- Complexity of the task: Carrying out enquiries on the relevance education curricula can be a complex & extensive task.
The results of the previous stage of the project revealed the need for more knowledge and more cooperation between the businesses and education and research. We need not only the knowledge about the markets - specific requirements, regulations, cultures, design, cultural preferences but also most importantly we need to address the need for specialized labour in the professional sphere, as well as vocational and training programs.
At this leg of the project, we aim at increasing cooperation between academia and industry and implementation of research into business, linking research and development and production.
The concept of the Exchange is vital for the project and is carried out through the actual events of the project, a combination of the events and project activities.
Exchange is done with the aim to bring people who found solutions in their own spheres – education or business - together and who are willing and ready to share their findings, knowledge and skills on the common grounds within the project.
Activities will be held in North-West Russia, in Arkhangelsk, Petrozavodsk, Murmansk and Saint Petersburg starting from March 2022 with the visit of the Nordic delegation to the above-mentioned regions of Russia.
Another field trip is planned with the Russian delegation to Västerbotten, Sweden in autumn 2022.
Communication is an essential part of the project, as there is an obvious need for having an ongoing and productive dialogue between the stakeholders. The tasks and questions addressed within the priority areas cannot be answered without proper communication with all the actors and stakeholders operating within one system.
Ongoing trends demonstrate that the wood construction sector is experiencing radical innovations. Therefore, incremental progress carried out by individual actors is not enough. Actors, from across the board need to cooperate to enable a profound transformation of the industry. Policymakers cannot design a regulatory framework without properly understanding the industry and technology developments, as well as the market demands. And vice versa, the industry cannot embark on new investments without clear policy directions. Similarly, architects, engineers, builders and other related service providers need to create an understanding of each other’s needs and perspectives. Therefore, there is a big need for facilitating communication between all relevant actors.
For this, it is essential to have a clear understanding of each partner’s own place within the project and important for every participant to ask themselves the following questions:
- What expertise do I have? What can I share with others?
- What do I need? How can reach this knowledge in a better way?
- How can I implement this knowledge in the project and most importantly beyond the project in my everyday activity?
- How can we use the knowledge to spin off the next project?
- How can we think us into the future?
Answers to these questions may help to construct the bridge of understanding between knowledge and opportunities. This directly corresponds to the aims of this project to create a functioning and sustainable system which will provide comfortable opportunities and encourage grounds for sustainable cooperation in the sphere of wood construction by bringing together Education and Business, Research and Action and last but not least geographically – North-West Russia and the Nordics as well as secure the basis for the future cooperation.