ETH Zurich

Postdoc (3 years): Systems analysis of scaling wood construction

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Postdoc (3 years): Systems analysis of scaling wood construction

The construction sector, in Switzerland and globally, directly and indirectly, accounts for roughly 40% of carbon emissions. Timber engineering and construction concepts have immense potential to reduce these emissions. Building with biomaterials sequesters carbon in productive forests, stores carbon in long-lived buildings, substitutes carbon-intense materials (e.g., concrete, steel), and reduces energy-related emissions in the built environment. Mainstreaming wood construction has cross-sectoral implications, including wood supply (especially under changing climatic conditions), the development and adoption of new materials and processes, relevant standards, and new design and retrofitting concepts.

Scaling Wood Construction: ETH Zurich, Empa, WSL, and EPF Lausanne are launching an interdisciplinary research project to provide the scientific basis to leverage the transition to a construction bioeconomy across the wood supply chain in Switzerland, set within European and global contexts. Drawing on the expertise of the four ETH Domain institutions, the research will encompass forest dynamics and production under climate change, scenarios of material use and flows, new construction materials, development of new design and AI approaches to maximise resource use efficiencies, life cycle assessment evaluating impacts on carbon emissions and biodiversity, and costing models. The project aims to identify key leverage points in the value chain to scale wood construction and to deliver environmentally optimal Swiss wood use scenarios. We will apply environmental, economic, technical, societal, and political research across the wood value chain to construct the interdependent system's understanding that is required for transformative change across the wood construction supply chain. The diverse array of expertise across the four research institutions will be further informed by the private sector and NGO partners, enabling us to collectively explore options for contributing to net-zero carbon by transitioning to mass timber construction.

The project has six Workpackages:

WP-1. Modelling system transitions: Jaboury Ghazoul (D-USYS, ETH Zurich)

Theoretical frameworks are needed to understand how socio-environmental transitions toward wood construction for climate mitigation might be delivered. These frameworks provide (a) the leadership, coordination, and visioning to effectively integrate research activities across all WPs; (b) clear pathways for engaging relevant societal actors; and (c) elaborated visions for research, engagement, and impact. We will use Theory of Change approaches to map pathways to impact, and Systems Dynamics Modelling to resolve the structure, interactions, feedback, bottlenecks, and leverage points of the wood construction system from forests to cities.

WP-2. Modelling of forest growth and wood production: A. Rigling, F. Krumm, T. Schulz, J. Portier (WSL), V. Griess, H. Bugmann (ETH Zurich)

Projections of forest growth and wood production in Switzerland under anticipated climate scenarios and for a variety of forest management scenarios will be developed, alongside assessments of a variety of ecosystem services under these scenarios. Forest dynamics projects will provide a basis for elaborating alternative forest management scenarios together with stakeholders, including a focus on increased harvesting, climate-adapted management, and segregated management approaches to meet expected future demand.

WP-3. Wood processing spans diversity from forests to building needs. I. Burgert (ETH Zurich and Empa), Y. Weinand (IBOIS, EPFL), G. Habert, A. Frangi (ETH Zurich)

We aim to improve the efficient processing and use of sawn wood products and related secondary products and develop standardised integrated approaches for cost-effective and safe design and construction with a variety of timber engineering products. We also intend to combine new wood-based product concepts and specific knowledge of wood properties with sophisticated grading techniques based on advanced digital technologies, including the use of digital scanning tools and Machine Learning (ML).

WP-4. Modelling the potential for scaling the construction sector: J. Schweier (WSL) 

We will develop a better understanding of the market, with a focus on resource availability and allocation of different products, by establishing a model to simulate wood market scenarios. An Agent-Based Model (ABM) will simulate the future development of the Swiss wood construction sector under different framework conditions.

WP-5. Global wood supply chain scenarios and impacts: Stefanie Hellweg (ETH Zurich)

We will (i) assess Swiss wood use scenarios for construction (both renovation and new builds), including supply-chain effects and state-of-the-art impact assessment, (ii) model and assess global wood supply chains in the context of increasing Swiss demand for construction timber, (iii) develop and apply impact assessment methods for carbon and biodiversity nationally and globally, and under alternative forest management strategies.

WP-6. Policies for a Swiss bioeconomy: Eva Lieberherr (ETH Zurich), A. Zabel (University of Bern)

We will assess how current and future forest, wood and land-use policies prioritize different forest services, given domestic wood production and use projections, how different land-cover scenarios lead to trade-offs across land-use priorities, and what leverage points and possible policy measures and instruments could promote the use of domestically produced soft- and hardwoods for high-value long-lived products in Swiss construction.

Project background

Modelling System Transitions

The project for which this position is offered constitutes WP1 in the Scaling Wood Construction consortium.

Theoretical frameworks are needed to understand how socio-environmental transitions toward wood construction for climate mitigation might be delivered. We will use a Theory of Change approach to map pathways to impact, and Systems Dynamics Modelling to resolve the structure, interactions, feedback, bottlenecks, and leverage points of the wood construction system from forests to cities.

A Theory of Change (ToC) explains the pathways by which activities and interventions drive change toward desired goals in complex systems. Our ToC will be developed with partners and stakeholders across the value chain. This process informs the long-term development of the research programme while providing a framework for project evaluation and impact assessment. The ToC will address (1) context, including social, political, and environmental conditions, the current state of the problem, and the actors that can influence change; (2) intermediate and long-term changes the project seeks to support; (3) anticipated sequences of events leading to desired long-term outcomes; (4) assumptions about how changes happen, and how contextual conditions influence change; and (5) impacts, that is the sustained changes produced, directly or indirectly, by project activities. The ToC will identify intermediate outcomes that can be directly attributed to project activities, including:

  1. Models, technologies, materials, and concepts for a wood-construction bioeconomy.
  2. Institutional integration for interdisciplinarity across the wood construction supply chain.
  3. Improved stakeholder capacities to make the best use of new knowledge and technologies.

Systems Dynamics Modelling: System transitions are non-linear, and emerge from interactions across environmental, technological, economic, and socio-political processes, shaped by discrepancies in capacity, knowledge, opportunity, and influence. A systems dynamics model (SDM) explores transition processes by mapping causal relationships, and the conditions that enable, accelerate, constrain, or prevent causal processes. Given different scenarios of change, these models help to identify plausible interventions and outcomes, quantify relations between variables, and quantify changes in units of interest (e.g. carbon). We will construct an SDM of the Swiss wood construction sector to identify potential transition pathways and leverage points, barriers, trade-offs, and emergent outcomes (negative and positive), as well as to track all potential elements affecting the carbon balance of the supply chain. The ToC and SDM are mutually supporting: the SDM maps system structure and dynamics, while the ToC describes strategies and pathways for transition across this system.

Understanding socio-technical transitions: Drawing on the ToC and the SDM, and outputs from other work packages across the consortium, we seek to generate an understanding current system structure and dynamics to identify potential interventions, obstacles, and consequential ramifications of any transitions to a mainstreamed wood construction bioeconomy.

Job description

You will be expected to:

  • Lead the development and further iteration of the Theory of Change for the Scaling Wood Construction project, and the development of a systems dynamics model by which to explore intervention options (and ramifications) for enabling a socio-technical transition towards mainstreaming wood in construction.
  • Work closely with all academic partners across the project, and draw on the outputs from other work packages to inform the development of the systems dynamics model.
  • Engage with practitioners across the value chain in Switzerland, from forest managers to the wood processing industry, architects, the construction sector, and policymakers to better understand opportunities, constraints, and challenges for transitioning to wood construction at all these levels. This will require conducting interviews and participating in, or leading and facilitating, workshops and meetings (many of which will be in German and/or French).
  • Apply and validate the systems dynamics models to case studies in Switzerland and Europe (in collaboration with our external partners).
  • Deliver academic outputs, which should include peer-reviewed publications of the systems dynamics model and analyses of alternative scenarios of change towards a wood construction bioeconomy. The systems dynamics model should therefore also be set in the context of socio-technical transition theory.
  • Participate in project meetings and seminars, and communicate outputs in Swiss and international academic and practitioner conferences.

Your profile

We expect you to have the following prerequisites:


  • PhD in a relevant natural or social science topic (e.g., transition theory, forest management, wood construction systems)
  • Experience in Systems Dynamics Modelling.
  • Experience in working with, and modelling, complex socio-ecological systems.
  • Interviewing and workshop facilitation skills.
  • Ability to work across multiple disciplines, including excellent skills in synthesising quantitative and qualitative information.
  • Fluency in German and English (knowledge of French would also be highly advantageous).
  • Ability to work independently, and with strong organisational skills to work across project partners in different institutions.


  • Experience of Theory of Change.
  • Understanding of forest management, Life Cycle Assessment, Agent-Based Modelling, or wood construction processes.
  • Prior experience in the wood construction value chain in Switzerland and/or Europe.

We offer

  • Opportunity to work with a team of academics and associated partners from several disciplines and institutions, allowing for a broadening of perspectives and networks.
  • Opportunities to engage across a range of case studies in Europe and internationally.
  • Coordination and logistical support provided by a project manager
  • A competitive ETH Zurich postdoctoral salary
Working, teaching and research at ETH Zurich

We value diversity

In line with our values, ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected. Visit our Equal Opportunities and Diversity website to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.

Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents by January 31st 2022:

  • A motivation letter describing your interest in applying for this position, and a description of relevant skills and expertise.
  • A full CV, including a publication list
  • Copies of two of your most relevant papers
  • Names and emails of at least two referees

The position will remain open if no suitable candidates are found by the deadline. Interviews will be in late November or early December. Ideally, we hope the successful applicant to start on 1 January 2023, or as soon as possible thereafter.

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Further information about the Ecosystem Management group can be found on our website. Questions regarding the position should be directed to Professor Jaboury Ghazoul, email: (no applications).

About ETH Zürich

ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

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Postdoc (3 years): Systems analysis of scaling wood construction
Rämistrasse 101 Zurich, Switzerland
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