A new Michigan State University program is creating quite a buzz about an emerging type of sustainable wood building materials. Crain’s Detroit Business has taken notice, naming Sandra Lupien, director of MassTimber@MSU, to its inaugural “Notable Leaders in Sustainability” list.
“I’m honored that Crain’s has included me on this list of inspirational sustainability leaders – some of whose work I’ve been following for years,” said Lupien, who joined MSU in July 2021. “And, I’m even more excited that this recognition will increase awareness about the opportunities to realize an array of benefits – forest health and resilience, lower-carbon-footprint buildings, and new economic development opportunities – by advancing sustainable mass timber manufacture and construction in Michigan.”
Mass Timber is an umbrella term to describe a variety of large-scale, engineered, panelized wood building materials that can be used decoratively or structurally in an array of building types, including skyscrapers. Demand is growing in the United States for materials like cross-laminated timber and glue-laminated timber, for their flexibility, strength, efficiency, fire resistance and lower carbon footprint.
Crain's Notables in Michigan series honors outstanding business leaders making significant contributions in their fields, giving back to their communities and lifting up the next generation of leaders. Notables are nominated by their peers and complete a detailed application form. Crain's editors select honorees based on their career accomplishments, track record of success, and effectiveness of their efforts.
Granger Construction, the Lansing-based firm that served as the general contractor on MSU’s STEM Teaching and Learning Facility (the first mass timber structure in Michigan), nominated Lupien for the Crain’s recognition.
“Sandra’s passion for sustainable building practices, most notably, the use of mass timber, aligns with the purpose of the Crain’s Notable Leaders in Sustainability list,” said Bill Bofysil, senior project manager at Granger Construction. “Sandra excels at moving the needle from awareness to action. Her goal is to advance sustainable mass timber construction and manufacturing in Michigan, and I have no doubt she will achieve it.”
Lupien has a diverse professional background including over a decade spent working in the non-profit and public sectors on a range of issues related to environment and climate change, land use and community development, and health. She says she “caught the mass timber bug” in 2016 while pursuing a mid-career master of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Concerned by the fire severity and climate implications of overly dense conditions and massive tree die-offs in California forests, she co-founded a small furniture company to use and market products made from pine trees killed by bark beetle infestation. But with hundreds of millions of trees dying, she and her co-founder quickly sought more scalable uses for overlooked wood. They began researching mass timber manufacture and Lupien explored the policy angles in her master’s thesis “Removing Barriers to Cross-Laminated Timber Manufacture and Adoption in California: A gamechanger for forests, wildfire, and climate.”
When the opportunity arose to bring that expertise to Michigan – where she spent the first 24 years of her life – Lupien jumped at the opportunity to lead MassTimber@MSU. The program is a collaboration across the Department of Forestry; School of Planning, Design, and Construction; and Extension, all housed in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"Sandra brings incredibly valuable expertise at the intersection of mass timber as a building material, policy, and sustainability and climate change,” said Richard Kobe, chairperson of the Department of Forestry. “Her work is demonstrating that we can have a triple win – for sustainable economic development, beautiful and healthful buildings, and climate and the environment.”
Lupien emphasizes that a group of MSU faculty, including Kobe, George Berghorn, and others affiliated with MassTimber@MSU, laid the groundwork for the program and mass timber work in Michigan, in collaboration with State agencies and non-profit organizations like the Michigan Forest Biomaterials Institute.
In addition to advancing MSU mass timber research and education, MassTimber@MSU hosts webinars, offers educational tours of the STEM facility, provides technical assistance, weighs in on policy, and facilitates collaboration and partnership to advance sustainable mass timber manufacture and construction in Michigan and the surrounding region. In April, Lupien will lead a delegation of more than 50 Michiganders to the International Mass Timber Conference in Portland, Oregon. State agencies, including the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources contribute funding to support Lupien’s position and the work of MassTimber@MSU and serve as key partners.
“Sandra is extremely knowledgeable about mass timber and has hit the ground running,” said Shannon Lott, natural resources deputy at DNR. “She has built relationships with key industries, state agencies and legislators in a very short amount of time. She has been instrumental in leveraging the new mass timber STEM building at MSU to tell the mass timber story, securing additional funding, promoting the need for a CLT plant in Michigan, and supporting updated mass timber building codes in Michigan. With her enthusiasm, mass timber conversations have exploded, and awareness has skyrocketed!”
For more information:
About Crain's Notables in Michigan or to nominate someone for Notables recognition, visit crainsdetroit.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Sandra Lupien
About the MSU STEM Teaching and Learning Facility