Element5 CLT Factory Opens In Ontario, Gets FSC Certification

We keep saying that mass timber construction is sustainable, and certification helps prove it.

Inside CLT factory
Factory in St. Thomas.

Element 5

At first glance, St. Thomas, Ontario seems to be an odd spot to build an Element5 cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory — it's far away from the forests. But 150 years ago, St. Thomas was a transportation hub. If you wanted to take the train to Chicago from the east coast, it is actually a shorter distance to go over the top of Lake Erie rather than under it. This puts Element5 smack in the middle of the big American markets to the west and the Canadian markets to the East, on major rail and road routes.

The province of Ontario has a big lumber industry, much of which gets chopped into 2x4s or mashed into pulp, while everyone watched the Austrians turn their trees into high-value CLT panels. That's why this new factory is important for the local forestry and construction industries, as well as anyone who wants to support the local industry and shorten the supply chain.

CLT factory


The 137,000-square-foot factory was built in the midst of a pandemic, but "despite the unforeseen challenges arising from the pandemic, the factory was constructed on schedule and the highly automated, state-of-the-art manufacturing line was installed, commissioned, and certified on the company’s originally projected timeline."

Big CLT Press


They make really big panels, 52.5 feet by 11.5 feet, noting that "mass timber projects will benefit from the design and material efficiencies this wider format panel provides including fewer panels, less lifting time, and a reduced number of connections."

It recently received the ANSI certification it needs to go to market, and on April 21, 2021, it got FSC certification. Patrick Poulin, president and CEO, announced it on Earth Day:

“Wood is a natural, renewable, and sustainable construction material with a lighter carbon footprint than steel or concrete. At our advanced manufacturing facility in St. Thomas, we use Ontario wood to make cross-laminated timber, glulam, and other value-added mass timber components. We are proud to bear the internationally recognized FSC label which provides consumers with an assurance that the mass timber elements they buy from us are made from responsibly sourced wood that has been verified to meet FSC’s strict environmental and social standards.”
Certification map of Canada

Certification Canada

This is a big deal in the CLT world. Almost all of the lumber in Canada is on publicly owned land and is certified under one of the three major certifiers. None are perfect but FSC is considered "the most rigorous international standard for responsible forestry." One of the biggest concerns raised by critics of mass timber is it is leading to the destruction of forests and natural habitats, and that we should be leaving these forests alone.

Piles of wood ready to be turned into CLT
Piles of wood ready to be turned into CLT.

Element 5

In many ways, certification is the answer to those questions. FSC in Canada recently introduced a new standard of responsible forestry that "targets the most pressing issues threatening Canadian forests today, including the woodland caribou crisis; the rights of indigenous peoples; workers’ rights including gender equity; conservation; and landscape management."

So that we don't get reprimanded again by Kathy Abusow, president of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), I will note that SFI is a widely used standard that is a "highly trusted solution that can support a growing need for products from the forest, as the drive to reduce carbon pollution and waste intensifies."

However, a few years ago I spent a few days in the Bancroft Minden Forest learning how FSC works, with the certifier marking trees with nests in them, noting which trees could be removed and which had to be left. I was impressed at how they took out so much of the dead and dying wood, in some ways leaving the forest in better shape than it was when they started. And these aren't gorgeous old first-growth trees — those were all turned into ships 150 years ago. Even with this random third-growth stuff, they took great care. This inspired a lot of confidence.

Whenever we write about mass timber, there are comments asking "what about the forest"? Wood expert Grace Jeffers tells architects and designers they must ask three questions every time they specify wood:

  • What is this wood’s conservation status?
  • From where did this wood originate?
  • What is the state of the forest from which the wood was harvested?
CLT layup machine lifted


If mass timber like Element5's CLT and glulam is going to gain traction in the marketplace, and if we are going to switch to more natural building materials, then we have to be able to answer these questions. Going FSC gives great comfort that right down the line, from forest to factory to finished building, it is sustainably sourced and managed.