Sandra Lupien is the Director of [email protected], a program at Michigan State University that harnesses outreach, communications, research, education, and partnerships to advance mass timber construction and manufacture in Michigan and the surrounding region. Sandra has two decades of diverse policy, communications, external affairs, and leadership experience in the non-profit, public, and private sectors, most of it working at the intersection of climate change, natural resource policy, and equitable and sustainable community development.
While pursuing a mid-career Master of Public Policy at University of California Berkeley, Sandra caught the mass timber bug in 2016, which led her to do at least three things: 1) research what it would take to pivot her small beetle-kill pine furniture company to mass timber manufacturer; 2) to write her Master’s thesis “Removing Barriers to Cross-Laminated Timber Manufacture and Adoption in California: A gamechanger for forests, wildfire, and climate;” and 3) to seize the opportunity to harness her knowledge and passion to help advance mass timber construction and manufacture in Michigan – her home state – in this new position at MSU.
Before joining MSU in July of 2021, Sandra served as Deputy Director for External Affairs and Communications in the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and the California Strategic Growth Council.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:12] Hi there. Thanks for joining me on Rethink Real Estate. For Good. I’m Eve Picker and I’m on a mission to make real estate work for everyone. I love real estate. Real estate makes places good or bad, rich or poor, beautiful or not. In this show, I’m interviewing the disruptors, those creative thinkers and doers that are shrugging off the status quo in order to build better for everyone. And speaking of building better, I’m very excited to share that my company, Small Change, is now raising capital through a community round that is open to the public. Small Change is a leading equity crowdfunding platform for impact investment in real estate. For as little as $250, anyone 18 and over can invest in Small Change, helping to fuel our growth as we disrupt the old boys club of capital that routinely ignores so many qualified people and projects. Please visit wefunder.com/smallchange to review the full details of our raise and to make an investment if you can. And remember, investing is risky. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.
Eve: [00:01:48] Today, I’m talking with Sandra Lupien, Director of Mass Timber at Michigan State University in Lansing, a program focused on her outreach, research and education, all to advance mass timber construction and manufacturing in the state of Michigan. Sandra is passionate about the potential of mass timber. She came to it after exploring possible uses for wood ravaged by a beetle infestation, the result of years of drought in California. Now she’s part of an energetic community, advancing mass timber as materials for all construction types. You’ll want to hear more.
Eve: [00:02:32] If you’d like to join me in my quest to rethink real estate, there are two simple things you can do, share this podcast and go to rethinkrealestateforgood.co, where you can subscribe to be the first to hear about my podcasts, blog posts and other goodies.
Eve: [00:02:57] Hello, Sandra. Thanks so much for joining me today.
Sandra Lupien: [00:03:00] Eve, thanks so much for having me.
Eve: [00:03:03] You pivoted your career in a very fascinating way, basically from beetles to mass timber. And I was wondering if you could tell me about that journey.
Sandra: [00:03:13] The pivot from beetles to mass timber was just kind of one step in many pivots, but I’ll share this. So, I spent a good number of years, 15 years or so, working in the nonprofit sector and then a little bit in the public sector on mostly climate and environmental and sustainability policy. And I decided very much at mid-career in my early forties to return to school and do a Master of Public Policy, which I did at UC Berkeley. And the timing of my arrival in that program at UC Berkeley was fall of 2016. At that time, California was facing, which was to that point, the worst drought it had ever seen, and that was creating conditions on forests that bark beetles really like. And so, beetles were infesting many, many, many, many thousands of acres of California forests, killing off hundreds of millions of trees and as somebody with a climate change lens, I thought, wow, well, there’s obviously a reason on the causation side that this is happening. Right? The drought is exacerbated by climate change. These beetles are coming in. Lots of trees are dying. But if all of these trees are so many of these trees burn or rot at a fast pace, that’s going to emit a lot of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that we really can’t afford to be emitting, right.
Sandra: [00:04:28] And so, at first, I thought, I had a friend, His name is Sam. He and I worked together and then we did this same master’s degree program at the same time. And we were talking about, well, what could we do with this wood that’s on California forests that would be better served coming out of the forest, right? To achieve healthier forest density and to reduce the amount of fuel on forests. What can we do with that that would store the carbon absorbed by the trees in the forest for a long time? So, first we started making furniture out of this bark beetle pine made like slab-based furniture with steel bases. Very simple stuff. And we were selling it under the brand Sapphire Pine, a company that we started reflecting on the fact that this beetle kill Pine has this beautiful blue stain that’s created by larva left in the woods. So we’re making the bark beetle furniture. It’s very cool. And it was compelling for people. They liked the story, and we were like, well, that’s nice that we’re making this furniture and we’re having fun doing it, but, you know, the volume that we’re able to do and that we’re ever going to be able to do is about a billionth of a spit in all of the oceans of the world.
Sandra: [00:05:32] In terms of the scale of this problem, there’s so much of this wood and fuel on forests. What could we do to use more of it in a sustainable way? And that’s when we learned about mass timber. And most of your, some of your listeners might know what mass timber is, but I’m just going to define it. It’s an umbrella term for a variety of large, engineered wood building construction materials. So, picture a really big columns and beams or even large wall panels made out of materials that you’re very familiar with. Two by fours, one by two is all different types of dimensional lumber usually pressed together with a hydraulic press with adhesive between the layers. Right, so these are.
Eve: [00:06:08] We’ve been using, for quite a long time, laminated beams, right?
Sandra: [00:06:12] That’s right. Yes. Glue lam.
Eve: [00:06:13] Part of the mass timber movement, right?
Sandra: [00:06:15] That’s exactly right. Yeah. glue laminated timber has been around for a long time.
Eve: [00:06:19] Glue lam is what it was called. Yeah, that’s right.
Sandra: [00:06:21] People have seen those, and now it’s been adopted into this larger family known as mass timber. So, we thought, well, this is a compelling use case. You know, these, these materials are big. They can be used structurally; they can be used decoratively. And if you use them instead of other types of building materials that are less sustainable, you can store carbon in a building and have generally a lower carbon footprint in your building. So, we were excited about that. So, first we started investigating, what does it take to manufacture mass timber? Could we do that as a company? And we were learning all about the business side of this, you know, potential. And then we thought, well, we’re trying to use materials like these dead wood or smaller diameter trees that aren’t really in the marketplace yet, and so it’s difficult to get them there. So, what types of policy interventions, we’re policy students at the time, would be helpful?
Sandra: [00:07:11] So, I did a thesis on how could California remove the barriers to the manufacture and adoption of mass timber in order to achieve benefits for forest health, climate change more generally and to reduce wildfire hazard, and then, of course, to reduce the carbon footprints of our buildings. So, that was kind of my pivot. I got super obsessed with mass timber. All I wanted to do was work on mass timber all the time. And even though Sam, my business partner, and I decided we’re not going to manufacture mass timber and we’re not going to make furniture anymore either because we both kind of got interested in other directions. I wanted to continue to stay engaged in mass timber in terms of helping to create markets and policies that would help support those markets. So, that’s what I’m doing.
Eve: [00:07:51] So where are you doing that now?
Sandra: [00:07:54] I work at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan and Michigan State University is a large research and teaching university, one of, I think it’s the first land grant university in the United States. So, created in the 1800s. And MSU has a triple mission for research, teaching and outreach. So, where I fit in at Michigan State University is kind of in that outreach space. I’m what’s called an academic specialist with an outreach focus. My working title is Director, Mass Timber at MSU, and this program is a collaboration across our Department of Forestry, our School of Planning, Design and Construction, and the extension, which is the outreach wing of our university. A lot of people are familiar with that extension concept at US universities. And so, what I like to say is we’re uniting forests in the built environment through outreach and education to really achieve sustainability on forests as well as in our built environments. So, that’s where I am.
Eve: [00:08:53] So, the problem in California with the beetles, I mean, what are the problems that you’ve seen in Michigan? Are they different?
Sandra: [00:09:01] In terms of forest health and such? You know.
Eve: [00:09:03] Yeah.
Sandra: [00:09:04] All forests in North America are seeing a variety of different problems, some of which are exacerbated by drought. There’s always different types of pests on forests that create issues. But in Michigan, some of the forest density and forest health and certainly that wildfire hazard is less pressing, which is a good thing. In Michigan we have a strong culture and a strong history of having a forest products industry that has been a very important part of our economy for the last several decades. That industry has been less robust than it used to be. Still going, we still have some major mills and forest products producers in Michigan, but there’s room for more opportunity here. So, one of the things that is very compelling for the state of Michigan is the idea of, and when I say state, I mean the state government of Michigan, is having a mass timber manufacturer locating here. I mean, Michigan is a history of innovation, of manufacture, of fabrication. All of these things really support the idea that, you know, we also have one of the densest forest canopies in the country. So, it very much supports the idea that, yeah, we could be making mass timber panels and columns and beams here and supplying, what we’re seeing here as increasing demand, for these materials in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. So, that’s a very compelling thing for the state of Michigan. And that’s part of why I’m doing what I’m doing. The state of Michigan helps fund the position that I occupy at Michigan State University, and I’m really here to help mobilize what MSU can do, the university where I work, which is research again, education, outreach in support of sustainable mass timber construction as well as manufacture here.
Eve: [00:10:49] So, like really big picture, what problems can mass timber solve in the construction industry and also for climate change. Like, really big picture, not just beetles, but big problems.
Sandra: [00:11:04] Yes, absolutely. So, I tend to put these things into three different buckets. So, on the construction side, I think I’ll talk about construction first. So, buildings and the construction industry are responsible for about 39% of global carbon dioxide emissions. About 28% of that is attributable to the energy used to operate buildings. So, that operational energy. So, the keep the energy that keeps the lights on and keeps your air conditioning running and pumps water. So, that’s 28%. The other 11% is construction industry. And that has more to do with the materials that we use to build buildings, how those are mined and sourced and manufactured and transported and all of those aspects. So, that’s the 11% in the built environment that mass timber can really help address in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. So, because wood, which is what mass timber is made from, is a renewable material, it has an edge in terms of its carbon footprint from the outset, right? Other building materials are not renewable, they are finite, and wood is different. If we’re doing sustainable forestry and we’re doing replanting and succession planting, after we harvest, we can have an infinite resource in the form of wood. So, that’s very compelling. And, of course, kind of biology 101, trees do photosynthesis, right? They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as part of their respiration and they emit oxygen, but they absorb carbon dioxide and then they store that as carbon in their branches and trunks and leaves and roots and everywhere.
Sandra: [00:12:48] And so, when we use wood as a material for building, we are able to extend that carbon storage benefit of trees while the wood is in use in the building. Right. So, wood is 50% carbon. We’re storing that carbon in buildings when we’re building with mass timber, and that’s very compelling, right? So, we really want to think about, you know, how powerful that is. You know, there’s a need to stop greenhouse gas emissions as part of mitigating climate change, but there’s also a need to buy time, which is delaying carbon emissions. So, as much carbon as we can store in buildings instead of, you know, emitting as we’re making materials, the better. So, that’s a very compelling use case for mass timber. We like that. In forests, you know, it’s very important that we continue to maintain the number and volume of forest that we have. It’s also important that we add new forests, right? We need forests to perform a lot of different services, right? They help clean the air, they help clean the water, they provide habitat, they provide recreational opportunities and beauty and all those things. They also provide products for things that we build and that we need as humans, and we rely on them.
Sandra: [00:14:06] So, part of keeping forests as forests is valuing them for all of those ecosystem services that I mentioned first, but also for those products, you know, as humans who are part of a society and, you know, we are a capitalist society, right? We make products from resources. And if we are saying forests are valuable in part because they produce these resources, we have a strong incentive beyond the ecosystem services side of that to keep them as forests instead of converting them into other uses like big parking lots or subdivisions. So, we want to keep forests as forests. So, that’s another important part of why a high value product like mass timber, which is a long-lived durable product that stores carbon, you know, why making that and emphasizing that as an important forest product helps keep forests as forests. So, another important case.
Eve: [00:14:57] So, where are we in our adoption of mass timber across the United States and also compared to other countries?
Sandra: [00:15:06] Yeah, great question. So, mass timber emerged from Europe 40, 45 years ago and has been slowly making its way into North America by way mostly of the Pacific Northwest and the western coast of Canada. But now we’re seeing mass adoption.
Eve: [00:15:21] Well, there’s a lot of wood there, right?
Sandra: [00:15:23] Exactly. And particularly the types of soft woods that mass timber is most frequently made from, right. So, in the Pacific Northwest there’s a lot of Douglas fir, which is a great wood for making mass timber. So, it’s making its way across and throughout the continent in that way. So, what we’re seeing in the United States is significant growth. So, for example, in 2018, according to Woodworks, which is a nonprofit organization that provides technical education, etc., related to building with wood, and they track demand for mass timber in the United States. In 2018, they found that there were 439 buildings that were either completed or in design or under construction using mass timber across the United States, 439. By 2022, in September, there were more than 1500. So, we saw that demand almost quadruple in as many years. So, that’s a big uptick in interest and demand. Here in Michigan, where I’m operating, we have currently about, we have four mass timber buildings completed. We had five new ones break ground this year. And overall, I’m tracking over 35 projects in this state alone that are either definitely planning to use mass timber or where project teams have clients that really want it. And those project teams are working to figure out the right path to delivering it. So, we’re seeing a lot of interest.
Eve: [00:16:51] So, what do you think is driving growth? Are mass timber products becoming less expensive? I’ve heard that there are zoning issues around the use of mass timber or at least building permitting issues that have to be resolved. So, I think there’s a lot of features of the built environment that have stopped it from taking hold before. How is all of that progressing?
Sandra: [00:17:11] Yeah, absolutely. There are certain barriers and obstacles which I’ll talk about in a minute, but I’ll answer the first part of your question first, which is what’s driving the interest in mass timber? And I think more than any other thing, it is the interest in building our buildings more sustainably, right? We’re seeing policies emerge at the state level in a lot of different states across the country saying we’ve got to have net zero carbon by X date, right. In Michigan that’s, we want to have net zero carbon by 2050 with some interim goals that we want to achieve by 2030. And so, for example, here the state has written mass timber into what’s called the Michigan Healthy Climate Plan, which is the roadmap to achieving that net zero carbon goal. You know, mass timber is one important tool in a robust toolkit to reduce carbon emissions and achieve net zero.
Sandra: [00:17:58] So, we’re seeing policies like that crop up across the country. We’re also seeing large corporations with ESG goals, environmental, social, governance goals, saying like, hey, we emit a lot of carbon in our operations, and we want to find ways to offset that in other parts of our operation. One way of doing that is kind of through procurement, right? So, companies like Microsoft or Google are saying, oh, you know, we’re building these data centers. We acknowledge that even as we’re trying to get, you know, the carbon footprint of our energy down, right, using more renewable sources to operate these data centers, we can also build our new buildings using more sustainable building materials. And many of those companies have already built mass timber buildings for that purpose, really to help execute against their ESG goals, which is critical in terms of how we’re driving this forward.
Sandra: [00:18:48] You know, and then there’s also some, I would not say that the materials cost of mass timber is coming down quite yet. I think we still have a need domestically, and on this continent, to increase the supply of mass timber to meet the growing demand. And we are seeing sometimes delayed delivery timelines, not always. And then anyone who’s doing a mass timber building who just heard me say that I would suggest you shop around and make sure that you’ve checked in with multiple suppliers because some of them don’t have those delays. You just need to look around, don’t get discouraged. But we will see that materials cost coming down as we get more supply online in North America. But right now, what we see are materials, costs up front are typically more than with a more traditional structural system. However, we do see the ability to achieve some cost efficiencies by reducing the amount of time it takes to build a mass timber building. And the reason why that tends to happen is because mass timber materials are usually prefabricated, so they come to your site, cut to size with all of your holes for connectors. Predrilled openings for doors and windows are cut where they need to be. And so, when it arrives, your construction team, your erectors can kind of put up the building a little bit like Lincoln Logs or an erector set. So, and as more and more builders know how to build with mass timber, and everyone who does it is like it’s not rocket science. It’s just a new thing, you need to learn to do it. But as they become more experienced, they’ll be able to reduce project timelines more and more. So, that’s one of the cost matters.
Eve: [00:20:21] Interesting, yeah.
Sandra: [00:20:22] Eve, you asked about codes and zoning too.
Eve: [00:20:25] I asked about codes because I’ve heard that can be problematic, yeah.
Sandra: [00:20:29] Yeah. The building codes in the United States, there’s a lot of variation as to what version of the international building code different states and local jurisdictions are in. So, just briefly, so states tend to update their building codes three years behind the cycle that the International Code Council uses to adopt new international building code. So, the 2015 International Building Code, IBC, it started talking about cross laminated timber, a type of mass timber as being allowable and provided instruction on how to build with mass timber and guidance in the code for that. And that was a really important breakthrough in building codes for making it possible to build more buildings with mass timber in North America and the United States and really around the world. So, that was a big deal. And many states in the US and I would say even most states in the US have adopted, at a minimum, the 2015 IBC into their state building codes.
Sandra: [00:21:30] So, in Michigan, for example, we’re on the 2015 Michigan Building Code, which is based on 2015 International Building Code, and that allows us to build a lot of different buildings with mass timber. However, subsequent versions of the International Building Code 2018 and 2021 expanded the allowable uses of mass timber, and 2021 in particular allows you to build much taller buildings with mass timber, to leave more mass timber elements exposed in your building, not having to cover them. And so that code, the 2021 International building code, is kind of seen as people who are working to advance mass timber adoption in the United States as the one, at a minimum, that we want all of our jurisdictions to have adopted. Right. So I think there’s a lot of, I would say. Some jurisdictions are slow to adopt 2021, just mostly because of bureaucratic processes and the way we do things, right. I don’t think most jurisdictions are opposed to what 2021 says, it’s like, okay, we’re getting there.
Eve: [00:22:31] It’s a lot of work to adopt it, yeah.
Sandra: [00:22:34] Exactly. It just takes some time. But in the meantime, even if your jurisdiction is not in 2021 yet, you know, you can still build a lot of different types of buildings with mass timber. For example, in our campus at Michigan State University. This is one example of many buildings that have been built under 2015 code, right. We built a 120,000 square foot three story building that uses mass timber, glue laminated timber and cross laminated timber in hybrid model with steel to create the structural system. And it’s a beautiful building with lots of exposed mass timber. And you know, you get the benefits of storing some carbon, you get the benefits of having this beautiful material in your building and all of the wonderful benefits of mass timber. So, use your codes, use your codes to build with mass timber and, you know, advocate for updated codes so you can do more with it is what I would advise.
Eve: [00:23:26] Yeah, I imagine really small jurisdictions are going to be very slow on the uptake. So, we’re going to see this emerge first in cities, larger cities or forward-thinking states maybe.
Sandra: [00:23:37] Yeah, and I think there’s at least 12 states now that have adopted the 2021 International Building Code mass timber elements. And I think most, probably most states are on that pathway. And right now, the International Code Council is working to develop the 2024, you know, mass timber elements. And so, we’ll be seeing even more permission to build with mass timber. But even then, we’re seeing jurisdictions approve variances to builders who want to go farther. I mean, the kind of like the most prominent and example that you’re reading a lot about now is the ascent tower in Milwaukee. That’s the tallest mass timber building currently in the world, although I think another building is just coming up right behind it. But it’s a 25-story building. It’s 17 stories of mass timber on like an eight-storey concrete podium. I think that’s the right split there. But, you know, the city of Milwaukee, the fire official in the city of Milwaukee, worked directly with the project development team there to do the variances that were required to get that amazing mass timber building in place. So, if you have local code officials who are like, yeah, I want to try something new, I see the benefit of having this landmark building in our city and I want to help make that happen. Then you’re in you’re in a good place to do something really innovative.
Eve: [00:24:54] So, who’s at the forefront of this movement? Like it’s a mass timber movement. And who’s pushing it along, would you say.
Sandra: [00:25:01] Sector wise, I mean, it’s been interesting. I think I would say that particularly in the Pacific Northwest, when things really started to move in the United States, I think we saw a lot of architects really coming together and saying like, we want to be designing with this stuff. This is really cool. And, you know, we love this kind of, you know, value proposition that this is more sustainable, that this material allows us to design in different ways, that we have this beautiful natural wood look inside, all of the things an architect would like, like this is innovative and cool and I’m pushing the envelope. So, we saw architects really doing a lot of advocacy in the Pacific Northwest, but at the same time in the Pacific Northwest, we also saw the forest products industry coming together and state governments coming together and saying like, we understand, you know, the potential benefit of really moving some of our wood products into, some of our lumber, basically, into these innovative value-added wood products. We see it as a way to increase revenue for sustainable forest management in our communities.
Sandra: [00:26:04] We see it as a way to revitalize our wood products industry and they really also came to the table. So, I think we saw those two sectors. In Michigan we’re having something fun happening where architects are engaged, you know, academics obviously, particularly at Michigan State as well as at our, another university here in Michigan, Michigan Technological University, there’s a lot of engagement. And even state agencies here are seeing the value. But we’re also really seeing the construction industry come to the table. So, whereas when I was doing my research at Berkeley, one of the barriers I kept hearing was like, the construction industry is nervous about trying something new, and it’s difficult for them to adapt to new technologies because, you know, you might build your whole building with an existing system and software that’s available, but mass timber is not yet part of that system. And so, that’s really challenging. But here we’re seeing a number of different construction companies kind of taking the lead and taking leadership roles here. And I think that’s very exciting.
Eve: [00:27:03] That’s very exciting. It is, yeah. So, how do you think things will change over the next 5 to 10 years? What’s five years look like?
Sandra: [00:27:12] Oh, that’s such a good question. Yeah. I think we’re going to see more domestic mass timber suppliers coming online, which is going to make it, make materials less expensive. And hopefully we’ll bring the cost into kind of a parity with other materials that we typically use to build large buildings. I think we’re going to see, we’re going to be seeing more states update their building codes to provide greater permission and clarity around how we build mass timber buildings. I think that’s just imminent. That will happen. Research is showing that we can expect demand for mass timber to double every two years until at least 2034 in the United States. So, we’re going to be seeing more of these buildings.
Eve: [00:28:01] That’s a complete industry, yeah.
Sandra: [00:28:04] Exactly. And having that supply coming online is only going to help facilitate those buildings getting built quickly and affordably. I think we’re going to see more and more multifamily, affordable housing developers starting to look at mass timber and we’re going to probably see more suppliers trying to work with those types of developers to make mass timber a really smart option for affordable housing, particularly since sometimes those multifamily dwellings have really repeatable footprints and mass timber panels can lend themselves really well to that. If we’re designing them in such a way that makes sense. So, those are some things I think we’re going to be seeing. I think we’re going to just see greater awareness across all of our sectors. My hope is that local community or urban planners and community developers will start being like, oh, mass timber is something we should always be looking at. I get this. This is becoming a mainstream thing, right? And just more and more people in the architecture and engineering and construction industry will be educated and aware of how to use this stuff. And we’ll have a workforce that is more trained to do that. There’s a lot of workforce development and training efforts underway right now that are going to help move that.
Eve: [00:29:17] So, there’s a lot going on. So, I have one last question for you, and that is, are there current trends in mass timber that you’re particularly excited about that we should keep an eye on?
Sandra: [00:29:27] Yeah, I mentioned affordable housing and I wouldn’t say that we have an affordable housing trend yet in mass timber, but we have a lot of interest in building affordable housing with mass timber and figuring out how to make that.
Eve: [00:29:39] Affordable.
Sandra: [00:29:39] Really economically, yeah, really economically practical. But bringing those really wonderful benefits to people living in affordable housing units, I mean, they should have beautiful, healthy places to live. We all deserve that. And that, I would argue that should be a human right. So, building units that are lovely to live in and affordable to me is a no brainer. And I think we can figure out how to make mass timber work there. There’s innovation happening in Canada along those lines. There’s some new innovation happening in the Pacific Northwest along those lines, we have an affordable housing developer in Michigan who’s looking at mass timber for a project. So, I think we’re going to see that emerging as a place where there’s a lot of opportunity. So, I’m very excited about that. I also think that there’s going to be a movement toward finding ways to use mass timber and more modular types of buildings and prefabricated buildings rather than just prefabricated panels and elements. So, and I think that’s going to be very exciting for people, and I think that will speed up the pace at which we’re able to get new buildings online, whether that’s housing and I would argue that getting housing done fast is super important, as we all know. So, I think that’s a place where we’re going to see some movement.
Sandra: [00:30:54] And then one thing that we’re very excited about at Michigan State University and it’s a research priority for us is figuring out, you know, we’re saying these buildings store carbon, but they store carbon as long as these materials are in the building. And then what happens when the building stops being a building? What do we do with those materials? And what we do with those materials really, really matters. And so, we’re very interested in thinking about how do we design buildings now, with an eye toward the next life of the mass timber materials in the building. So, how do we make sure that they’re easy to deconstruct and turn into something else? How do we make sure that when we design the building, we’re actually thinking like, what is this next? Is this another building? Do these materials turn into a new building? Are they going to turn into a bridge? What is going to happen with these? So, we’re very interested in starting to think about those things now. One thing we know is that when humans create new technologies, we’re not very good about thinking about the next life of their components now, and we need to be getting ahead of that curve. So, that’s something we’re super excited about.
Eve: [00:31:58] So, I know there are architects and developers in Europe who’ve been building commercial residential buildings with mass timber, partly because it permits flexibility. You know, as a family unit changes inside. They can really easily make a door opening through a wall if it’s timber versus you can’t do that if it’s concrete. So, I think that’s sort of part of the same thing. There’s flexibility there. That’s kind of, that’s really interesting I think, in the long term.
Sandra: [00:32:30] Yeah, I think we’re hearing more and more about that flexibility and especially people in the construction industry have been asking questions about that recently too. So, I think we’ll be seeing more innovation along those lines, too.
Eve: [00:32:42] So, what’s next for you?
Sandra: [00:32:44] What’s next for me is that I am kind of really preparing for the coming year and ramping up. We are going to be organizing a contingent of Michigan delegation to the International Mass Timber Conference in March, which is the kind of premier mass timber conference in the world. Last year we took 50 people from Michigan to learn together, and it was really exciting and I’m hoping to take a similarly sized group this year. So, I’m very focused on building out the knowledge bank for mass timber in Michigan, continuing to get people more interested and empowered to build with this material and really helping everybody who’s engaged in this space in Michigan feel like they’re not in it alone. They’re a part of something and it’s growing and it’s a very exciting time to be involved. So, for me it’s continuing to to do those things.
Sandra: [00:33:38] And then we also received some, quite a few grants for different types of mass timber research this year, and it’s now starting to be time to implement those. So, I’ll be engaged in helping to do a mass timber supply chain analysis and demand survey for Michigan. So, really understanding from the manufacturer perspective, what is our feedstock supply look like, what’s our transportation context, what are the, what types of materials and what species and how much and how big might we make in Michigan? And who would buy our products. So, I’ll be engaged in that. I’m engaged in a project with Dr. George Berghorn on our construction management faculty to develop mass timber, architecture, engineering and construction curriculum modules that existing courses can drop in to expose students and community colleges and universities to mass timber early in their educational careers. So, those are just some of the projects that we’re engaged in, and they’re going to be really ramping up in the next year.
Eve: [00:34:38] That’s a lot. Well, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. I love your passion and the incredible depth of expertise you have. Who knew that beetles could bring you here, right?
Sandra: [00:34:48] I never would have thought it. I don’t know that I knew that I would be working kind of in the construction industry. And I think it’s really an exciting place to be.
Eve: [00:34:56] It sounds like it is. Thank you very much.
Sandra: [00:34:58] Thank you, Eve.
Eve: [00:35:07] I hope you enjoyed today’s guest and our deep dive. You can find out more about this episode or others you might have missed on the show notes page at RethinkRealEstateforGood.co. There’s lots to listen to there. You can support this podcast by sharing it with others, posting about it on social media or leaving a rating and review. To catch all the latest from me you can follow me on LinkedIn. Even better, if you’re ready to dabble in some impact investing yourself head on over to wefunder.com/smallchange, where you can invest directly in Small Change and our mission to democratize capital formation to create impact in commercial real estate development. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music, and a big thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Sandra Lupien