Two Swiss women and WWF launch the first FSC residential district in the world
Zurich, Switzerland: In Herisau, a small Swiss town in the canton (state) of Appenzell, some 100km east of Zurich, the construction of the first of the 17 planned wooden villas in an FSC certified housing complex was completed in late April, and the last one should be finished by the end of the year.
Half the houses were sold before construction began, which is rather unusual in Swiss real estate.
Although Appenzell women were denied the right to vote until the 1990s, they do not bear a grudge: this futuristic housing project has been conceived by architect Ms Carin Zimmermann and sawmill and wooden construction company owner Ms Katharina Lehmann.
The initial idea was theirs, except for the use of FSC certified wood.
Felix Meier, construction specialist for WWF-Switzerland, on hearing about the project, contacted the two women and suggested that they use certified timber. They quickly agreed, since this would increase the ecological value of their already environmentally-friendly project, without having any impact on the final price, which is in the average range given the size and location of the houses.
Ms Lehmann also saw the long-term interests of her enterprises and had her sawmill and wooden construction company certified in record time earlier this year.
Although the company is among the largest of its kind in Switzerland, their management and accounting technique was so good and their warehouse so well structured, that there wasn't much the certifying consultant could say.
A fibreboard producing company associated to the project also obtained a chain-of-custody certificate which guarentees that its timber supply comes from certified forests.
Most of the timber used in the construction is locally grown FSC certified spruce. However, the outside walls of the houses are made of FSC larch wood from Poland, which is so weather resistant that it doesn't need to be treated with the usual wood preservative products.
The frame of a single house can be erected in one day. The facades, the inner walls, the floors and the roof are brought in large sections to the construction site and assembled in a few hours.
Although the villas are quite large by Swiss standards, offering between 185-229 square metres habitable surface, they will require less fuel and water for everyday use than in houses of a similar size. Thanks to a finely tuned insulation and a solar pre-heating system for the water, the energy consumption will be well below the Swiss Minimum Energy Standard levels.
The toilets, the washing machines and the garden tap will be fed with rain water. A layer of compost on the roof will provide further insulation and allow wild plants and mosses to grow.
When asked about the success of this enterprise, both women acknowledged that the use of certified timber was not seen as a selling point by the buyers, although the wide use of local timber was definitely a selling asset. Rather, it is the whole concept that attracted customers, together with the magnificent location.
Yet, this project made it possible for three leading companies to get a FSC certification, an investment that will not be lost in the future.
And the Swiss timber producers are eager to increase their sales. Already, 5 million cubic metres of Swiss timber are exported every year, and with certification this could increase 7,5 million cubic metres - demonstrating again that the FSC label helps to sell wood.
For further information
WWF-Switzerland Communications Officer (Geneva)