Ecological use of wood resources in Switzerland


To use wood more efficiently, we need to consider the entire life cycle of wood products. The insights gained in the project can serve as a basis for decision-making in politics, industry and forestry.

Project description (completed research project)

Wood is one of the few renewable resources in Switzerland. Faced with increasing environmental problems and the rising prices of raw materials, we need to use wood more efficiently, both in terms of fuel and building materials. The researchers analysed mass fluxes as well as the environmental impact of wood use at local and global level and identified potential improvements.


The project compiled environmental information for decision-makers in politics, industry, forestry and research, and developed strategies for the sustainable and efficient use of wood resources in Switzerland. This included:

  • assessing the existing and expected future value chains, including material-flow analyses and life-cycle analyses;
  • improving the methods used to assess the ecolocigal impact of forestry and wood use;
  • assessing new wood-use techniques developed by NRP partner projects and advising the technology developers.


The project has generated results and data that are contributing to the development of strategies by stakeholders in politics and industry. In addition, the project has made available methods for assessing life-cycles and material-flows that will help planners and architects as well as experts in other industry sectors to identify ecological solutions.

To develop efficient resource and waste concepts, we need to investigate the entire value chain.


Wood is good for the environment and the Earth's climate. Its advantages are greatest when its use is cascaded: at the beginning of the life cycle wood can be used in long-term applications to replace high-energy materials such as steel and concrete, at the end of the life cycle it can be burnt in place of oil to produce heat. Its potential is particularly great in construction because timber buildings have a better ecological footprint than mass-wall buildings with comparable functionality. If we are to achieve the energy turnaround and lower our energy consumption, we need to renew our building stock. But such renewal will entail greater resource demand. Timber offers the opportunity to lower the environmental impact of this demand.

Our analysis also shows that the environmental impact of wood use varies strongly depending on the type of wood and forest management. Possible downsides have to be addressed, for example the emission of particulate matter when wood is burnt. When wood is imported, particularly from tropical countries, wood production is likely to have a significant impact on biodiversity, unless the wood is certified.

If we want to make the most of the advantages that wood offers in terms of protecting the environment and the climate, we need to consider the impact of wood across its entire life cycle.

Original title

Life cycle management of wood in Switzerland: Methods, tools and environmental decision support

Project leader

  • Prof. Stefanie Hellweg, Institut für Umweltingenieurwissenschaften, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich
  • Prof. Holger Wallbaum, Institut für Bau- und Infrastrukturmanagement, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich
  • Dr. An De Schryver, Institut für Umweltingenieurwissenschaften, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich



Further information on this content


Prof. Stefanie Hellweg Institute of Environmental Engineering
ETH Zurich
Schafmattstrasse 6 8093 Zürich +41 44 633 43 37