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Paris Olympics Aquatic Centre. Picture Venhoeven CS architects.

The French timber industry says it has succeeded in its ambition to make the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics a showcase for wood-based building. This, it believes, will help give the sector new impetus in France, further aided by a multi-certification scheme timber traceability tool developed specially for the Games.

To drive use of timber at the Olympics, the industry launched the France Bois 2024 (FB2024) alliance in 2018.  Its lead partners are forestry and timber sector body France Bois Forêt and furniture and woodworking industries confederation Codifab, but it also involves a range of other organisations to plug the industry nationwide into the Games.

FB2024 has liaised closely with the Games Delivery authority Solideo. The goal was to convince the latter that wood and timber-based building  should be key elements in Olympic park developments to help the Games meet sustainability and carbon targets. At the same time it’s been making the case that French wood and timber construction sectors can provide both the necessary material and skills to make Games wood-based construction projects and infrastructure development work – and deliver them on time.   

FB2024 now says it’s lobbying has had an impact, firstly helping persuade Solideo that 100% of the athletes’ village should incorporate an element of timber structure. 

According to a video it has just produced, featuring interviews with its President Georges-Henri Florentin and Solideo Project Director Henry Specht, Olympic park building façades will also incorporate 200,000m2 of wood. Moreover it will also be a prime structural component of the Aquatics Centre, designed by Venhoeven Architects, and the 10,000m2 Grand Palais Éphémère judo and wrestling stadium, which has been designed by architects Willmotte & Associés to be dismantled and repurposed after the Games.

 “We can’t yet make a precise assessment of the quantity of timber involved, but the Olympic village should mobilise 20,000 to 40,000m3 and for all Games sites the requirement could be 100,000m3,” Mr Florentin earlier told Le Moniteur magazine.

Solideo has set a target for 30% of all wood used to French, but the timber industry hopes to boost that to 50%.

The Games are also driving innovation in timber engineering and building, says FB2024. This includes development of more environmentally benign resins for lamination and ‘standard specifications for high rise wood construction systems’. Olympic projects, it maintains, are also helping enhance capabilities in demountable wood structures.

“Great efforts have also been needed to train Games construction workers more accustomed to concrete building, in new practices suited to wood,” said Mr Florentin. “So FB2024 set up an industry club to support training for the range of building personnel, from carpenters and façade workers, to plumbers and electricians.”

All timber used for the Games must be certified sustainable under the FSC, PEFC or French Wood (Bois de France) schemes. It is to simplify the traceability audit process of working with these three labels over such a big project that FB2024 developed its new France Bois Traceability tool in association with certification body FCBA.

“All three certification schemes have accepted tracking of traceability with the tool, which is based on block chain,”  said Mr Florentin.  “If we had three systems to work with, the process would be complicated, expensive, and could penalize wood products compared to other materials. The idea was therefore to bring these three partners around the table and set up a tool with a single traceability audit process to reduce costs and shorten deadlines. For companies tendering to supply timber lots to Games construction sites, it will result in a three-fold reduction in their audit bill.”

The tool, say its developers, will continue to have value post-Olympics.

One controversy on wood use at the Games was Solideo’s initial block on species of  ‘exotic and non-EU boreal origin’, other than for fire safety reasons, in which case they had to be FSC certified. A range of bodies, including French timber trade association Le Commerce du Bois, the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT), the Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition and the International Tropical Timber Organisation, sent a letter to the delivery authority to protest. They said the ban ran contrary to the Games’ environmental ethos. It threatened public and professional confidence in tropical timber and potentially undermined efforts of government and industry in supplier countries, supported by EU customers, to grow uptake of certified sustainable forest management in the tropics.

“Promoting sustainable management means giving value to forests and thus conserving them,” said the letter’s signatories.

 The letter concluded that: “The Olympic Games are a universal event that reveals diversity and excellence. It would be unfair to stigmatise those involved in the sustainable management of tropical and boreal forests who are making considerable efforts in terms of biodiversity conservation and economic and social development.”

The efforts of this group, which included a meeting between ATIBT, Solideo and the Mayor of Paris, ultimately did the trick and the tropical ban was dropped on in June 2022. Subsequently a tender was put out for supply of 4,400 m2 of tali for decking and barriers on the Olympic park.

 ATIBT said it wished Solideo had changed its mind earlier so tropical wood could have been considered in the construction of the athlete’s village and other major Games buildings. But it welcomed the move.

“We always said exclusion of certified tropical timber from Olympics works was unjustified and are delighted about the new perspective on its use for exterior facilities,” said ATIBT.

Provisos on the Games’ use of tropical timber are that it has to be certified and backed by chain of custody certification and life cycle analysis information.  Part of the projects it is used for must also include recycled timber.  

Mr Florentin believes the Games will ultimately leave a legacy for French timber building, giving it a stepping off point for further growth and development.

“Currently wood-based building accounts for just 10% of construction in France, compared to levels around 20% in other northern European countries,” he said. “With the level of buildings in the athletes’ village in wood, and other Games structures too, it will be a formidable showcase for the know-how of our timber construction industry. It is improving coordination in the sector and will encourage more general uptake of wood building, helping give it critical mass. In turn this will contribute to implementation of the national low carbon strategy and boost the value of French forest capital.”