Thanks very much.
By way of introduction, I'm an architect in Vancouver. I have my own practice of about 25 employees. We build around the world in wood and in advanced wood products, for the most part.
At this point, our firm is fairly well recognized as one of the most advanced wood design firms. Certainly in Europe we're seen that way, and in the North American context. We have had the privilege of being at the forefront of our industry in the use of wood products, and that has given us some insight that we're really pleased to share with you.
In addition to my firm, I run a not-for-profit school that specifically teaches designers how to build with wood, as well as a not-for-profit program called Timber Online Education, or TOE for short. This is a global program to advance the understanding of wood construction across all aspects of the construction industry. It's something that we are in the process of building, but it will certainly champion the advancement of the use of wood in building and of safety around it, which is specifically, but not only, for architects and designers. It is also for the construction industry, fabricators making wood products, policy-makers, city officials, and code officials, as well as environmentalists and the general public. Our interest is in expanding knowledge in all of those areas through this global online program, which has been translated into the world's languages, thus giving us a very wide reach.
Why I say all this is that we see wood products at a very interesting crossroads. It's clear that in the architectural realm, for the most part my focus is on structural products and advanced structural products. I wrote a book called The Case for Tall Wood Buildings, and then later I gave a TED talk that became the founding principles for moving us toward increasingly taller buildings in wood. We've had the good fortune of being able to do that.
Unfortunately, the commercial market here in Canada has not kept pace with the fact that in Canada we not only have enormously good products from forestry, obviously, but also enormous expertise within our industry. We have some of the finest engineers, builders, and fabricators working in wood. For some reason, we're not seeing those buildings advance as quickly as we could, whereas in countries like France, we have five different projects. The majority of buildings that we're seeing proposed across France right now are moving towards wood, which is quite interesting. Equally, we're very involved in the United States. They were very late to come to the game of talking about these advanced wood buildings, but they now have entered the race and are starting to build a lot of them.
Why that matters to all of us around the secondary wood product market specifically and in advancing the cause for Canada is that there are two organizations currently in the world looking to move the construction industry, which is largely a craft-based industry, from a craft into a sophisticated manufacturing process. It is the intention to dramatically change the cost of buildings in society by dramatically making buildings more affordable, reducing waste, and making them more sustainable by basically moving into a factory environment.
The state of the construction industry is such that you cannot factory-build in concrete because it's too heavy to transport. You can't do it in steel because again it's too heavy. However, mass timber panels and predominantly CLT, cross-laminated timber, are very robust materials that are also lightweight enough to allow manufacture in factories. These are very sophisticated factories using robotics, much like the car industry, allowing significant amounts of automation and customization.
This means that buildings can be unique but affordable, because they are built in a controlled environment. This is the revolution I see that is similar to the way Uber has impacted the taxi industry and Airbnb has impacted the hotel industry and Amazon has transformed the way products are bought.
We're working with one company in the United States, called Katerra, which has raised a little bit more than $1 billion in their first 18 months to develop it. It's a Silicon Valley-based company that is building the largest CLT plant in the world in Washington state and has plans for two more factories in the United States. This obviously has a huge impact not only on our construction industry but also on our forest products and where these panels are going to be built and how they're going to be used.
By the way, there's a similar company. It's enormous. It's called Legal & General. It's the insurance company in the U.K. that's doing this exact same thing in the U.K. Having never built a house before, L&G expects their system of factory-built housing to make them, in the next five years, the largest housing producer in the U.K., all based on using wood products, and specifically cross-laminated timber.
It is a a very significant change coming to our industry that the industry is very unaware of, frankly, and it requires a much more integrated model of understanding how wood products reach the market and how they're not simply a commodity we buy at the stores, but part of a systems approach to the future of building.
With regard to Katerra, they are Silicon Valley-based. With them, we're starting to work with Google. We're also starting to talk to Facebook with them to build huge campuses of housing, specifically in Silicon Valley, but obviously this is what we want to see happen here.
We expect this model to mean housing that will be about 30% less expensive than the current housing in California, which has a market similar to that of British Columbia. Therefore, if this company is as successful as I expect them to be—and certainly they're funded to be successful—we're going to see them having a huge impact on the use of wood products, as well as the affordability of buildings.
This same company is interested in investing in China and is partnered with a very large $180-billion-a-year company in the electronics market to expand construction using the CLT spot as their backbone into the Chinese markets. I'm certainly speaking to them about coming to Canada. I'm trying to encourage them to do so. I think they're open to it, to access not only our forestry products but also our design expertise industry here, but there are gaps in the system in terms of making that happen.
China obviously is of particular interest to all of us. I live on the west coast. It matters. Again, it's not about just shipping raw products, raw logs, or CLT panels; it's about shipping entire systems of building. The Chinese markets are open for it. I'm not sure if somebody has spoken to you yet, but until recently there were almost no wood buildings being built in China. On October 2, the codes in China were changed to allow buildings up to 18 storeys tall to be made of wood, specifically because of the leadership of what's happened here in western Canada, and yet unfortunately we don't have a market ready to go to access what could be a major transformation in the way they build in China.
I think the Katerra model is exceptional. It's something that I certainly want to see happen in Canada. Unfortunately, it definitely requires significant kinds of investment. The Silicon Valley folks are used to the scale of investment. The construction industry and the forest products industry are not used to that scale of investment, so obviously, as a matter of public policy, I believe there are opportunities to incentivize these companies to keep us at the forefront of the construction industry; therefore, in kind, we will be at the forefront of the forest products industry, as we should be.
There are several components to how I see that success happening that I'm happy to speak to. Certainly one is globalizing the education system around how to build in wood.
I am working with folks in Turkey and in Brazil, and have worked in the past with China, where there's interest in building this way but simply no knowledge about how to do it or how to use these wood products. For too long, certainly in British Columbia and I think in Canada, we have thought to export our wood products to places such as China by assuming they will adapt our building culture, meaning lightweight wood frame construction. That simply doesn't work, because building cultures take centuries to evolve. It doesn't happen overnight.
Instead, with the CLT market we're working with a system that can be adapted to their building culture and therefore will be much more marketable within countries such as China and India, and emerging markets, including Brazil. Places such as Turkey and Brazil have enormous interest in moving toward wood construction but simply don't have the experience. Again, I think this is an opportunity for foreign investment for our companies, for them to think not just about our own forests but about opportunities elsewhere.
I realize that I'm introducing concepts on a macro scale. I'm happy to speak to the details scale.
My experience has been that as I travel the world lecturing and speaking, I've realized that we are at the forefront. Every country is interested in this. We need to maintain some global leadership on this for our industry to benefit, but we need to think globally and of course act locally.
Investing in the forest sector is a global opportunity for us in terms of the investments made into companies like Structurlam or BC Passive House, and there have been various investments by government to encourage fabrication plants. Unfortunately, although we have very good companies, we are a mom-and-pop industry here in Canada for these wood products.
If you visit Switzerland or Austria, as I do often, you'll see that there are literally hundreds of companies making these products in fully automated, fully closed-loop energy systems. They're products of exceptional quality from, let's face it, a very small forestry market compared to ours, yet their products and their investment in innovation are far more significant. That's meant that as an architect today I can source wood products from Austria cheaper than I can from Canada for projects in Canada.
These things are the broken aspects of our current system that I think can be fixed, but it is going to take investment in education and investment in innovation—