Photo: Gabriel Giacometti

Institutional & public sector innovation


The first, and crucial, institutional innovations enabling MSWC were the changes in legislation that previously prohibited the use of wood products in buildings taller than two storeys. In 1989, the EU implemented a Construction Products Directive (CPD) aiming at removing any technical barriers to trade in construction products between member states in line with the EU common market (Railio 2014; Elspecta AB). The rationale was to move from material-based standards to function-based, which ended up eliminating barriers for wood construction even though not specifically supporting it. Regardless of the material used in construction, the new legislation decrees that buildings have to meet the standards regarding fire, energy efficiency, acoustics, accessibility and other ‘functions.’ The directive, which has since then been replaced with a more harmonised regulatory framework, however, left much room for interpretation and freedom of implementation to individual member states. Nevertheless, it served as an important milestone for regulatory changes made at national level during the following years. (Interviewees 1, 3, 6)
With Sweden’s accession to the EU in 1994, the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket) evaluated the Swedish rules and regulations and decided to harmonise them with the EU CPD. The new regulations became effective with the first issue of the Building Codes of Boverket (BBR), in which detailed technical requirements were substituted by requirements based on function of the end-product. The regulation would set ‘the minimum function or property required but not in detail how to accomplish the function’ (Nord 2008). As a side effect, the use of wood was no longer inhibited in larger structures as long as the ‘functions’ were met. For instance, no matter the material used, buildings are required to stand a fire for 90-120 minutes before collapsing (Interviewee 1, Andersson, 2020 p61). In practice, this represented a total lift of the ban on MSWC in Sweden.
In Finland, legislative changes occurred more gradually. Following the first legislative ban against two-storey wooden houses with fireplaces in mid-1800s, fire regulations continued to restrain wood construction in apartment buildings in Finland, even after the accession to the EU. However, increased global competition persuaded policymakers to revise established regulations in favour for new approaches (Tolppanen et al. 2013). Still, a hybrid model emerged as new function-based regulation did not fully replace material-based restrictions. The fire safety regulation was reformed over the years, eventually allowing for a wider selection of building materials in increasingly higher multi-storey buildings. First in 2011, 5-8 storey buildings were allowed (Paavola 2019). Then, in 2018, simplifications to the regulation were made allowing unprotected wood in interior and exterior surfaces of residential buildings of up to 16 storeys (using automatic fire extinguishers) (Lazarevic et al. 2020).

Climate declarations and limit values on carbon emissions

Fast forwarding time onto current times, a new policy push is underway to reduce the environmental footprint of the construction sector, which indirectly favours wood construction. From January 2022, in Sweden, all new construction projects of over 100 m2 must conduct a climate declaration (with exceptions). The Swedish National Board of Housing (Boverket) defines:
“A climate declaration describes the building’s climate impact, as calculated based on the greenhouse gas emissions from the construction stage. The construction stage comprises the extraction of raw materials, manufacture of construction products, work at the construction site and transport”. (Boverket Website: Access 31-10-2022)
The Swedish government assigned Boverket the task of developing and managing a climate regulation database and registry to assist reaching climate goals in construction. It targets the climate impact at the construction stage, i.e. relating to building permits of new buildings. During the first phase, Boverket’s tasks included developing an open database to calculate the climate impact of buildings and a registry to be used when regulation is in operation (both launched in January 2022). While on this task, they also focused on spreading information and developed a plan for future actions to take the whole life cycle of a building better into consideration for further climate impact reduction. Next steps include setting limit values for emissions in new building, latest in 2027 (possibly already in 2025) and proposed to be lowered in 2035 and 2043 (Boverket Website: Access 31-10-2022; OneClick 2022). In addition to climate declaration, there are several voluntary certification schemes in use in Sweden (OneClick 2022).
The realisation that the work toward optimising energy efficiency of new buildings soon reaches its maximum level of efficiency and minimal level of emissions, led regulators in Finland to shift their focus on reviewing emissions during the whole life-cycle of a building, starting with public procurement. Finland followed the European Commission’s decision to publish voluntary recommendations regarding green procurement in the construction of offices in 2016 (The Ministry of Environment 2022). In 2017, the Ministry of Environment began the work for measuring the climate impact of buildings to lay the groundwork for future limit values of emissions. The national roadmap of low carbon construction in 2019 suggested a climate declaration for multi-storey buildings from 2020 onwards, followed by setting limit values for multi-storey buildings from 2023 and for all buildings from 2025 (Bionova 2017). The final version of the roadmap until 2030 will be published alongside with the new zoning and building act of 2024. Voluntary measures currently in place include a policy for assessing public buildings (acknowledging life-cycle emissions), possible regional agendas of cities and municipalities, and international and national sustainability certifications for buildings. All these efforts align with the national goal of making Finland carbon neutral by 2035, with some cities like Helsinki reaching this aim already by 2030 (OneClick 2022; The Ministry of Environment 2022).
Even before climate declaration regulations begin imposing limit values in Sweden and Finland, carbon footprint of buildings may be used by real estate companies as a marketing tool, one expert foresees (Interviewee 1). A parallel can be made with the energy declarations requirement for new buildings introduced in the early 2000s in Sweden, which soon after led real estate companies to add the energy consumption profile of new apartments into their marketing strategies. Also, as national actors are developing procurement criteria for low-carbon buildings and low-carbon roadmaps, these initiatives are likely to support wood construction as well, as wood is given the status of a low-carbon building material (Lazarevic 2020). In addition, climate declarations are in turn likely to feed into broader regulatory pressure to consider climate impact of buildings as the EU has shown interest in implementing the Nordic climate declaration model across Europe (Interviewee 14).
One point of discussion surrounding the upcoming regulations setting limit values for carbon emissions of new buildings, is the methodology and criteria used for calculating carbon emissions. It is debated whether these should consider only the construction phase or the whole life-cycle of buildings. The debate seems to be leaning towards considering the life cycle of buildings, including the production, construction stages, use, end-of-life stages, and possibly the potential uses of buildings and building elements beyond their end-of-life (See Figure 3). Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) represent new opportunities for wood construction as it requires significantly less energy intensive processes, it captures carbon in the material, and being a lighter material requires much less transport compared to heavy materials i.e. cement and steel, as well as it is an easily recyclable material. (Rasmussen et al. 2021). Another debated issue is whether to include pre-existing structures built in a plot of land in LCAs. Indeed, avoiding demolitions and repurposing old buildings normally results in significantly lower emissions as opposed to building new, even ‘sustainable’ buildings.  However, more for economic than technical reasons, companies tend to prefer demolishing. (Interviewee 11).
figure 3.jpg
figure 3.jpgFigure 3: Life Cycle Stages: production, construction process, use, end-of-life phases, and the potential uses beyond the system boundary. Source: Rasmussen et al. (2021).

National strategies in Sweden

Sweden’s first policy effort to directly promote wood construction kick-started with the government decision in 2002 to appoint a national coordinator to steer the groundwork for formulating a national strategy. This work resulted in the ‘More Wood in Construction’ (Mer trä i byggandet) strategy adopted in 2005 (Näringsdepartementet, 2004). The strategy set the target of 30% of all new buildings to use wood-frames within the following 10–15 years (Lindblad 2020). This target is still difficult to reach today, yet, it represented an important first step to generate discussion and mobilise public and private actors. The strategy was the result of analyses of the state of the art, trends, and emerging needs of the forestry and construction sectors (Interviewee 1). Discussions were held within the industry, ministries, and municipalities, revealing important structural transformations in construction and systemic barriers on the way for introducing more wood-products into the sector. This groundwork also led to selecting Skellefteå (in Västerbotten), Växjö (in Småland), and Falun (in Dalarna) as frontrunner municipalities leading the implementation of the strategy (Interviewee 1). Together with local authorities, a list of short-term and long-term objectives and activities were formulated, including research and pilot projects in collaboration with the industry for increasing knowledge production to better inform the sector. The Ministry of Industry also appointed a coordinator to implement the activities listed. (Interviewee 1).
Photo: Alberto Giacometti
The first strategy in 2005 was mainly framed from a regional development perspective based on the industrial legacy and growth potential in several regions of Sweden (Interviewee 1). The strategy also introduced the notion of wood construction as a political climate strategy (Andersson 2020). However, the link to environmental sustainability was initially weak and only gained prominence in later versions of the national strategy. In 2011, the first strategy was replaced with a broader national strategy titled: ‘Forest Kingdom – with values for the world’, launched by the Minister for Rural Affairs. “The ‘Forest Kingdom’ strategy aimed at increasing the economic development potential of rural areas while also seeking new export markets for the timber industry" (Andersson, 2020, p61). Furthermore, the Forest strategy of 2018 has also boosted wood construction for its part, although its main focus is on bioeconomy and developing forests as a national resource (Interviewee 8). Updates to the national strategy have taped on the political commitments made in the Paris Agreement and UN Agenda 2030 to frame it more directly as a climate strategy (Interviewee 1). More generally, forest sector representatives experience a shift in Swedish forest and wood policies from considering the needs of industries to emphasise climate issues (Interviewee 6). More recent policy discussions, instead, have centred also on social sustainability (Interviewee 1). This coincides with the introduction of the ‘Just Green Transition’ concept in the EU Green Deal, which brings to the fore the discussion of social justice or ‘fairness’ to industrial transformations. The shifting foci in the different generations of the strategy also denotes the political landscape in the times when they were formulated and the priority areas of the ruling governments. The strategy of 2011, heavily concentrated on industrial development, was formulated by the right-leaning government, whereas the strategy in 2018, which emphasised nature conservation, was formulated by the Social Democrats-Environmental Party coalition (Interviewee 8).
Efforts started with the implementation of the strategy were then followed up in 2008 by a national three-year programme in the form of a project called ‘Trästad 2012’ (Wood City 2012). Trästad was launched in 2008 first as a four-year programme and has since continued in cycles with slightly different emphases (Interviewee 8). Trästad 2012 involved seventeen municipalities and was aimed at fostering large-scale production of MSWC. During the programme, participating municipalities developed their own projects and activities focusing on themes relevant to their contexts. More specifically, municipalities in North Sweden focused on CO2 calculations and climatic stress in the construction phase; municipalities in mid-Sweden focused on cost-efficiency via standardization; municipalities in the Southeast focused on environmental targets; and municipalities in the Southwest focused on ways to increase the use wood in public construction, particularly in improving competences on public procurement (NTT WoodNet 2012). The experience gaps across municipalities, and diverse focus of this programme proved to be particularly useful for knowledge transfer.
Building on the efforts of the Trästad 2012 programme, Trästad Sverige has since continued as a platform and a node for several projects, bringing together over 60 members from municipalities, relevant ministries, architects and construction companies. When the association began to receive funding from the state (since 2016) its organisation shifted from being led by municipal politicians to being managed by a professional hired for the task. Currently, the main objective of networking activities is supporting regions and municipalities in compiling a wood-building strategy by assisting them in operating related regulations and legislation via the digital platform Wood First. In addition to spreading knowledge, the platform facilitates dialogue about wood building, involving various stakeholders and enabling them to have direct contact e.g. with the Ministry of Housing (currently within the Ministry of Industry), or between industry actors and municipalities (Interviewees 6, 8). In addition, within the Wood First project, a roadmap was developed for Swedish politicians and municipal planners that wish to better support wood construction and may require both strategic and practical guidance with tasks such as planning or public procurement. The project also aims supporting wood construction by linking it with other aims or sole urgent needs, for example, utilising wood in social housing is an effective way to produce comfortable homes quickly, or to add more living space on top of or around existing buildings (Interviewee 6).
Coinciding with the establishment of Trästad, the County Administrative Board of Västerbotten received a mandate in 2013 from the government to collaborate with interested municipalities to develop wood construction in a cost-effective way, build knowledge and engage other more municipalities to the cause to contribute to the Swedish national climate goals. With the governor acting as chair of Trästad, Västerbotten has remained in the lead of the platform since (Trästad Sverige web).
Furthermore, the Swedish government has supported wood construction via more indirect means as well, as by enabling construction firms to develop skills and increase capacity in modular construction. State intervention, such as the order to mass produce barracks during the Second World War by using wooden modules, and to urgently increase the housing stock with the Million Homes programme in 1965-1975 with the help of prefab construction, have been major catalyst factors setting the scene for MSWC to develop (Interviewee 2). Today, the government claims impartiality at least on the surface, so publicly procured buildings remain ‘material-neutral’ in-line with function-based regulations. However, state authorities have continued supporting the development of forestry and wood sectors, not least by financing Trästad Sverige, as well as investing in R&D. The influence of climate policies is more indirect but significant, via new legislation aiming at cutting carbon emissions from the construction sector. Wood construction advocates are also critical to considering state impartiality given that the Swedish government is a shareholder of Cementa, the main cement industry in Sweden, LLKB, the iron-ore mining company, and SSAB, steel company, as well as having the national interest of supporting the forest industry, a large economic sector (Interviewee 6). Furthermore, having banned MSWC for over a century required state intervention, in the form of policy support, mobilising stakeholders, and funding, to build the build the market ‘from scratch’.

National strategies in Finland

Since mid-1980s, Finland has paid close attention to wood construction in the form of government strategies and support programmes (Saarnivaara 1998). The first cycles of governmental funding focused on different aspects, from technological innovation to architecture and urban planning, aiming at solving issues that would render wood a riskier alternative (Siikanen 2008; Metsä Group 2013; Tolppanen 2017). Coinciding with strategic governmental programs, the state, the forest industry and the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (now Business Finland) took upon funding efforts in the fields of science, technology, and innovation partly as a support measure following the heavy recession of the early 1990s. Although all these efforts produced practical knowledge and led to regulatory reforms, these R&D programmes were not enough to establish a market base for actors in wood construction.
Photo: Greg Rosenke /
In the 2000s, the use of wood found more possibilities also in other official strategies related to housing. In response to the EU-wide trend, Finnish national strategies have put more emphasis on qualitative properties in housing instead of increasing quantity only (Purdy 2010). Additionally, global competition in paper and pulp markets added pressure on forestry actors to find new outlets for their products, leading to increased policy support for developing wood construction as an opportunity for the forestry sector. Following this logic, strategic programmes drafted in the 2000s have considered the increasing market share of MSWC and set the aim of capturing 10% of new housing stock built by 2015 (compared to 1% in 2011). However, initial policy targets in Finland, as in the Swedish case, have proved too ambitious, with little activity in the industry between 2011 and 2014. Despite, government programmes produced an influx of theoretical knowledge and led to regulatory reforms (even the appointment of an official advocate of wood construction in the Ministry of the Environment), as well as the implementation of several pilot projects, the market share have narrowly expanded (Lazarevic et al. 2020; Saarnivaara 2022). According to one opinion, research programmes have overly focused on material properties, thus neglecting broader subjects such as processes and solutions related to wood construction (Interviewee 13). Still, Finnish wood construction programmes have had most impact in terms of shifting attitudes, building regulations, and municipal planning processes. Despite meagre results, strategic work remains ambitious with the latest wood building strategy aiming at capturing 20% of the market share by 2025, and 50% share in publicly procured buildings (Paavola 2019).
The strategic and R&D work done within these governmental programmes has paved the way for wood construction by creating more favourable conditions in terms of increasing knowledge and improving the regulatory framework. However, this work does not suffice to address the deeper structural barriers stemming from the resistance from strong lobby groups of established actors and their close ties with the construction sector. As long as development of the sector relies on pilot projects, wood construction continues to suffer from higher costs due to inefficiency and insufficient skills. Finland's first wooden high-rise apartment building in Lahti, 1998, remained also the only one for a long while because its high cost did not encourage the construction company Skanska to continue with timber building (Mölsä 2021). Therefore, barriers are difficult to be surpassed by policy-making.

Subnational strategies in Sweden

The groundwork done for drafting the national wood construction strategy in Sweden quickly mobilised regional and municipal authorities in drafting their own ones (Interviewee 1). ‘More Wood in Construction 2005 and Växjö’ was the first municipal strategy (Interviewee 1). Updates to the strategy (2013) have set the target for Växjö Municipality and the city’s municipal companies of 25% of all new buildings to use wood frames, and 50% by 2020 (Växjö Municipality 2013). Similarly, regional strategies were designed to support the local industry in key forestry regions such as Småland, Västerbotten, and Dalarna. In addition to wood construction strategies, several municipalities now have climate strategies setting goals for carbon neutrality, or they have joined the network of Swedish Climate Municipalities (Interviewee 7).
In Småland region, the municipal strategy of Växjö was aligned with the regional strategic (2012) goals related to Småland reaching a leader status among Europe’s wood regions by 2020 (ibid.). Regional and municipal strategies anchored to the national strategy generated a domino effect causing cluster organisations, interest groups and private actors to get involved (Interviewee 1). Given the clear political stance, “construction companies in Växjö realised that to win projects and get a competitive advantage they needed learn to construct from wood” (Interviewee 1). As a result, wood construction industry has levelled up their competences and competition has increased, which is leading to increased innovations (Interviewees 1, 2). This, in turn, has led to private and public actors, jointly, “apply for money from European regional funds and research organisations to support their activities” (Interviewee 1).
However, it is notable that the practical and policy work leading to publishing a strategy often began much earlier than any official platforms or strategies were in place. In Växjö, for instance, wood building took off before the first wood construction strategy was adopted in Sweden, immediately coinciding with the lifting of the ban on MSWC. In 1994, Värendshus built a three-story house using wooden frames and shortly after in 1995, Sweden’s first modern five-storey wood-frame building was built as an exemplary case in Växjö (Wälludden). The municipality also began working on related academic research and strengthening before adopting a timber building strategy. (Lindblad 2020; Tina Wik Arkitekter 2023).
In Skellefteå, the municipal strategy was only adopted in 2014, but intense work to foster wood construction started as early as the introduction of new national building codes. After a period of economic stagnation in the 1990s, which hit the forestry industry, the change in legislation was seen as a golden opportunity by the then chair of the municipal council, Lorentz Andersson (Interviewee 7). Without any formal strategy, the municipality took bold decisions by taking the lead in building the wooden apartment buildings in 1995 and the longest wooden structure bridge in 2011, followed by an even longer one in 2022 (Interviewee 7; LTU 2011; Byggvärlden 2022). The low threshold for collaboration between local actors facilitated the communication and quickly the forest industry and local authorities aligned their visions to incentivise industrial development. At the time, the focus was mainly on adding value to the forestry industry to generate economic activity to support local businesses and create new jobs. The municipality then began ordering wooden buildings from the early 2ooos as well as to establish strategic lines of cooperation with research and academia, i.e. RISE, Luleå University of Technology and Umeå University, not the least by investing in a university campus for them to establish education and research in Skellefteå (Interviewee 7). The strategic work at the county level was then built on the work of proactive individuals and close links between public authorities and local businesses. The Västerbotten county has been on the forefront of supporting wood construction since 2000s, when Lorentz Andersson was appointed as governor of the County Administrative Board and was given a special mandate from the government to act as chairman of the National Timber Construction Strategy. Emphasising the high importance of individuals in developing the market, Andersson was also titled a Knight of the Order of the Wood Market in 2008.  Skellefteå’s wood construction strategy was eventually published in 2014 to work in a more systematic manner and set a clear path for future development. This coincided with the broader societal focus on climate and sustainability goals, which then became a pillar of the wood industry agenda (Interviewees 7, 8; Skogsindustrierna 2008).
Furthermore, many of the municipalities originally involved in Trästad 2012 started planning for wood-based construction projects as early as 2006. Today, around 180 municipalities in Sweden have built tall wooden houses and the number is increasing with several large-scale projects involved. One example is Frostaliden in Skövde, where 150 wooden apartments are being built, several of which are six-storey buildings. Another example is Välle Broar in Växjö, which represents Sweden's largest continuous wooden project and where an entire district has been built in wood (Ekholm 2011). The first school built entirely on wood was erected also in Northern Sweden, Järfalla, by Skanska in 2015 (Woodnet 2014).

Policy tools

Beyond the work done at a strategic level, municipalities use more practical tools such as spatial planning, zoning, building permits, and public procurement to steer development. These tools managed at the municipal level have a significant potential to support wood construction, if wished (Interviewee 12). In the Swedish context, municipal plans are generally grounded on political decisions, a programme for housing development or general building plan, and occasionally take in suggestions proposed by developers (Lindblad 2020). Decisions are then executed by municipalities via ‘procurement processes’ or ‘land allocation processes’, which are the procedures municipalities often use to identify and select (via competition) suitable developers to engage on development projects (Lindblad 2020). Municipal plans, however, are often rigid and adapted slowly to changing conditions. At the same time, they have a significant potential in lifting barriers on the way of innovations by means of wood construction. One common barrier today are the way limits to building hights are stipulated in zoning regulations, generally using meters instead of counting the number of storeys. This appears to disfavour certain types of wood construction as wood beams and slabs are thicker than the equivalent in concrete adding height to the same number of storeys. In many cases this means that picking wood implies reducing one storey to the building. As developers generally try to maximise the gross area that can be sold, wood-based alternatives are left out if they see the economy of the project to be penalised. Updating municipal plans and zoning rules can, therefore, open considerable new market opportunities (Interviewee 2).
In addition, one more instrument often used by municipalities are ‘land development agreements’. The legislation gives municipalities a certain leeway to define more specific conditions and requirements for detailed planning based on its internal policy documents and targets (Lindblad 2020), for instance setting limit values for carbon emissions based on climate targets (Interviewee 6). Via land allocation agreements, municipalities can take advantage to favour wood construction. For instance, along with the work for formulating its strategy in 2005, Växjö municipality explicitly stated in its wood strategy that it will actively work with land allocation and land development agreements to increase the development of wood construction and as method to define new areas for wood construction, e.g., Torparängen. This is also mentioned to be the basis for discussions with developers and contractors who were willing to work with wood (Lindblad 2020). In Skellefteå, the city requires contractors to build an attractive and sustainable housing area, which values imply the use of wood (Interviewee 7). These implicit ways are used because the extent to which municipalities can favour wood construction is restricted by the Planning and Building Act in Sweden, which does not allow setting technical requirements for land development projects (Lindblad 2020), such as material specifications. These agreements are most commonly used when developing municipal land, as the owner can set conditions for selling or using the land.
In Finland, municipal planning has thus far been the most influential tool in supporting multi-storey wood construction, particularly to scale up production volumes and processes, leading to increasing experience. This has been useful in generating learning on better practices and solutions, enabling wood construction sector to access market advantages usually belonging to the concrete and steel industries. For example, Jyväskylä has taken initiative in creating zones for wood construction, then followed by Turku, Vantaa and more recently also Helsinki (Interviewee 12). Zoning can be an effective way for cities and municipalities to impact climate emissions, when they so wish. This can take the form of mandating assessing the carbon footprint of city-owned projects or having Life Cycle Assessment as requirement when conducting land sales competitions, as is done in Helsinki (OneClick 2022). Most importantly, the new procurement law of 2016 allowed Finnish municipalities and cities to use public procurement as a straight-forward way to support wood construction as they can state the use of wood as one criterion when calling for proposals. Another way is to  refer to the carbon footprint of a building as a criterion in public procurement, which often leads to favouring wood as material (especially if the municipality already has a carbon neutrality strategy), granting the best plots for wood construction projects, or referring to emission reduction goals when granting building permits (Mölsä 2021; Ympäristöministeriö 2022b).
‘Green procurement’ is perhaps an even more powerful tool for steering development towards municipal interests. The term, green procurement simply refers to using public procurement with the specific intention of pushing forward the green agenda or environmental sustainability. Public procurement includes any purchases made by public authorities from buildings, services, to meals in public schools, hospitals, or care-homes. Again, while not being able to set technical requirements, municipalities set standards such as impact assessments on climate, or weight to narrow down the possibilities for wood construction to be outcompeted in biding processes. This instrument has been crucial in boosting the development of timber construction, where municipalities have favoured the construction of schools, sports and event halls, and municipally owned housing projects. For instance, Skellefteå municipality finances a significant share of all ‘green financed’ developments (Interviewee 6). Since 2016, Finnish municipalities have been able to make ‘green investments’ in environmentally friendly projects in the form of affordable loans or leases. Most of these projects have been schools or day-care centres made with wood (Puu-lehti 2017). By investing in timber construction, municipalities have helped to create a market by helping the industry to experiment, to learn, gain experience, stimulate the expansion of supply-chains, and very importantly by taking and sharing the risk.

Governance and soft approaches

Besides public policy tools, municipalities play an important role in day-to-day work coordinating the industry, research, civil society, and different actors to facilitate the implementation of new ideas and projects and to generate knowledge around different issues. Generally, the contractor is accountable for the risks involved in a construction project. Therefore, most companies will play safe and commit to deliver what they know how to do, and can more accurately calculate costs, time spent, and assess the risks. However, innovative projects, such as wood building, imply diving into unknown territory and taking higher risks. Building common ground and trust among key stakeholders generates the conditions needed to embark on new ventures. Carefully managing and sharing the ‘ownership’ of risks has been a key success factor in enabling more ground-breaking projects, such as the Sara Cultural Centre in Skellefteå (Interviewee 4).
Lindblad (2020) suggests that there is evidence of even more bold changes in municipal governance. In Växjö, the author notes that private, research and other actors have been more directly involved in the building planning process and proposed wood-building solutions. One specific example is the formal cooperation established between Växjö municipality with developers and university partners around land allocation agreements (ibid.). These types of partnerships were applied in Vallen, Pelarsalen and Torparängen districts, also with the intention to support research around such processes (ibid.). A different example is Skellefteå municipality, which is responsible of coordinating the Wood Innovation Cluster. The cluster was established in 2017 and brings together regional representatives and wood-building experts from the industry, research, and municipality. It aims to coordinate strategic efforts for the industry in the region and to conduct research, education, and experimental activities (Interviewee 7; Skellefteå.se 2023). One important development from this cooperation is the T2 College started in 2016 as a joint venture between the industry, municipalities, and upper secondary schools with the aim of developing and creating conditions for industrial education in the region.
Finally, working with marketing for creating an image about municipalities has also proved effective in transcending regulatory barriers. For instance, the municipalities of Malmö and Växjö have supported wood construction via more subtle ways, such as using photos featuring wood construction and its benefits when presenting plans for a development site thus by influencing architects’ proposals (Interviewee 6). Also, the focus on green cities has created a hype among planners, architects, and engineers in Sweden to seek good examples (Andersson 2020). Municipalities like Skellefteå and Växjö have from early on initiated somewhat standardised study tours using the umbrella concept ‘wood house safaris’ (Andersson 2020). The safaris are a form of policy mobilities practices to generate learning across a broad range of participants such as real estate developers, engineers, building contractors, architects, planners, politicians, and researchers (Ibid).  Another subtle way of nudging contractors to choose wood in use in Skellefteå is requesting for a justification for why they have picked materials different than wood. Then the municipality invited contractors for a workshop together with researchers to identify possible problems of building with wood and identify solutions (Interviewee 7).
Tour SkellefteÜ.JPG
Tour SkellefteÜ.JPG
Photo: Gabriel Giacometti
On the flip side of the coin, there are a number of critical issues with the ambiguous role of public institutions. Authorities and practitioners seem to struggle with conflicting legislation and policy goals, e.g. free competitions and material-neutrality versus carbon-neutrality goals and wood strategies. The principle of material neutrality seems to affect the willingness of some Finnish and Swedish municipalities to act on wood’s favour, or any other alternative with lower carbon footprint. At the same time, some believe that a positive result of not picking ‘winners’ (e.g. wood), is that it is triggering innovation using different types of products and hybrid use of materials. Furthermore, the lack of technical specifications, i.e., wood, in bidding processes, which contradicts municipalities’ policy goals of increasing wood construction, seems to generate confusion among developers about the expectations and criteria used for the selection of winning projects. For instance, an evaluation of the land allocation process used by Växjö municipality in Torparängen area, designated for wood construction, showed that both developers and the municipality practitioners are critical to the possible subjectivity of this process (Lindblad 2020). Despite an evaluation process was introduced prior to the start of the process, developers struggled to interpret the expectations from the municipality (ibid.). There also seemed to be a mixed understanding of who is the client, as the municipality saw itself as the “seller of land”, whereas the developers saw it as “a buyer of a building solution”. Municipalities, therefore, often lack the knowledge for how to design the processes and set clear criteria for evaluating proposals in a structured and objective way. This is evidenced in the rather ad-hoc methods and basis for decisions that municipalities recure to when selecting winning bids.
Go to content