U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a new initiative to train architects, engineers and builders about the benefits of building high-rise buildings out of wood.

The initiative includes a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and WoodWorks, an organization that aids architects, engineers, and developers in the design of modern wood buildings. Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service pledged $1 million to spur innovation in wood and forest products, and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council contributed an additional $1 million to a monetary prize for demonstrating the viability of using sustainable wood in high-rises.

Due to its lowered cost, advances in fireproofing, and eco-friendly benefits, a few architects and engineers have already migrated to wood for use in high-rise structures. In 2009, a nine-story wooden tower opened in East London, and many believe the wood industry lies on the cusp of a new scientific frontier.

“Wood may be one of the world’s oldest building materials, but it is now also one of the most advanced,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack believes the wood and forest product market, which supports more than 1 million jobs in rural America and elsewhere, has plenty of room to grow. "As these markets expand, so will the economic opportunities," Vilsack said.

American Wood Council president and CEO Robert Glowinski applauded the move. “Wood building products provide numerous environmental benefits, not the least of which is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing atmospheric carbon for decades," Glowinski said in a statement. "Wood products manufacturing also requires much less energy and results in less air and water pollution than many alternative building materials."

"We applaud USDA for its recent efforts and strongly encourage continued coordination between industry and government to achieve mutual goals benefiting consumers, the environment, and the wood products manufacturing industry," he said.