LTLB Envirotecture


An interview with Laureen Blissard

Technical Director for the GreenBuilder® Coalition and Principal of LTLB Envirotecture


Tell us about your business.

I have owned LTLB since 2008 but my background is architecture. I left the commercial world in 2007 and started moving into green homes. Our company now primarily focuses on energy ratings and certifications for multi-family and single family homes. As a licensed Architect though, on rare occasions I will accept a unique project that either focuses on sustainability and/or aging in place concepts.

What inspired you to start advocating for urban wood?

People automatically assume that the best use for urban wood is the lowest possible use. Urban wood has excellent qualities like distinctive grain and nice character, and it tells a story about a person or company’s commitment to the environment and local economy. It is a shame to waste it.

How do you work with urban wood?

I have only worked on a few urban wood projects from start to finish, but whenever an opportunity presents itself, I advocate for its use. For example, when we are brought in at the beginning of a residential construction project and see the trees that need to be cleared from the property. Many times they are fully grown and great candidates for lumber. I also participate in speaking engagements to promote how architects can incorporate urban wood into a design.

What stops an architect or design professional from using urban wood?

As a designer or architect, you are not necessarily trained on how to handle supply chains or how to create one to get raw material to a finished product. So when opportunities arise to utilize trees that will be cleared from a project site, very few people in the design community are aware of how to find the right arborist to take the tree down and transport it, the sawyer to cut logs into usable pieces, and the millworker to dry and prepare lumber for use.

Is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification a driver for urban wood use?

In my experience, the driver has been 50/50, where half of the people who use urban wood are looking for LEED certification and half just want to select materials and use products that align with their sustainability initiatives. Those interested in LEED tend to focus on one point when it comes to wood — if it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) as coming from a responsibly managed forest. If urban wood does not have FSC certification they won’t go for it. But urban wood can help a project pick up several points in other LEED categories, such as recycled materials, reclaimed materials, and locally manufactured and harvested resources. That last LEED characteristic of “local” can be a key opportunity — especially now that LEED v4 reduces what is considered the local radius from 500 miles to 100 miles. Ultimately, the real challenge is figuring out how to fit urban wood into the LEED program and then working with people to get them past the misconception that if it is not FSC certified that it can’t qualify for points.

What do you need from the urban wood industry to make this happen?

First, at this time I don’t feel it can be sold at a premium price. Yes, there are unique pieces of character wood that may qualify as premium, but, in general, that is the exception. Not everyone is going to use urban wood because of the story it tells, or because it fits into their own sustainability or locally-sourced material initiatives. So there are many people who won’t specify or use it because it is perceived as cost prohibitive. Others don’t understand why they would pay a premium price for processing wood they own. There has to be a balance struck in terms of the effort required to source and supply a site with urban wood lumber and the cost to the end user. Second, an education initiative is needed that demonstrates the highest and best use for urban wood as lumber for buildings and furniture. Design professionals need a source, like, that brings the supply chain together and points people in the right direction in terms of urban wood businesses, the steps of the process and estimated costs, what to do with the leftover wood, potential tax write-offs, and examples of finished products.

What is your ideal scenario for urban wood utilization?

Ideally, urban wood is included into a schematic design and part of the planning and analysis of a building site, especially if there are trees on site that need to be cleared. As part of the planning phase, the team would figure out a way to use the lumber or have the logs donated. One of the ways to do this is to embrace deconstruction of existing structures on a site and the donation of any useful materials, including trees. As a side note, usually there is an available tax write-off for material donations that can offset the cost of taking a structure down piece by piece or reclaiming trees.

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The Urban Wood Network is funded in part by the USDA Forest Service, State & Private Forestry, Cooperative Forestry, and the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory.  The Urban Wood Network provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetics.