Timber industry to make its case at COP26

In our latest Time for Timber podcast, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association, sat down with Paul Brannen, Director Public Affairs CEI-Bois & EOS, to discuss the most important event happening in 2021, COP26.

What is COP26?

The 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26, will see the leaders of the world converge to decide how best to tackle the global crisis of climate change. For these leaders, whom have supreme decision-making capabilities, finding and agreeing upon the necessary solutions to combat this threat at COP26 are crucial to turning the tides back in our favour. Meetings between leaders are frequent but once every four years, one nation hosts a larger conference spanning two weeks. For COP26, this responsibility falls to the UK, with Glasgow hosting the event commencing on November 1st and finishing on November 12th. Since the previous major Conference of the Parties, hosted by France in 2016, the targets set have not been met, making it ever the more vital that solutions are found in Glasgow.

What is the Timber industry hoping to achieve at COP26?

Regarding sources of carbon emissions, the construction sector is responsible for anywhere between 40 and 50 percent. During their conversation, Paul Brannen highlights that it is therefore the duty of the construction industry to reduce that figure, whilst expressing his belief that timber provides the key means in which to do this. Paul discusses what he calls the three S’s, those being sequestrate, store and substitute. As a tree grows, carbon within the atmosphere is captured within the tree itself, this process is known as carbon sequestration. Once a tree is felled and processed into building materials, the sequestered carbon remains stored within the wood. The production of building materials such as cement and steel are particularly high emitters of carbon, by substituting them with timber, the environmental impact of construction is immediately lessened. These are the core messages that Paul wishes to present to the politicians attending COP26. As he states, utilising timber within construction is low hanging fruit.

How are those campaigning for timber planning to grab the attention?

As Paul explains in his conversation with Andrew, COP events are a political conference and a trade exhibition hybrid. An allocated area of the event known as the ‘green zone’ offers organisations and associations an opportunity to literally set up stall, and promote themselves to politicians, journalists and general visitors. Collectively the timber industry, at a global level, have placed their bid to the British Government, expressing their desire for a space at COP26. However, as Paul details, the timber industry has big plans on how they intend to showcase what they have to offer. Currently, plans for a purpose-built timber pavilion are being put together by a well-known British architect. The aim is to incorporate various engineered timber products within its design, to demonstrate the vast number of applications that timber possesses as a building material. The belief is that this visually stunning centrepiece will draw politicians and visitors in, so that they can be educated and informed about the structural solution to climate change that is timber.

As Paul draws his input to the conversation with Andrew to a close, he says: “We have to remind ourselves that everyday hundreds of people come to this issue completely new, and they’re the people we need to think about first and foremost”. COP26 presents a fantastic opportunity for the timber industry to showcase, to the leaders of the world, the vast environmental benefits it has to offer. Why wait, the time for timber is now. To hear the entirety of Paul’s and Andrew’s discussion about COP26, you can find the full podcast here.

A wise man once said that

a lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.

Unfortunately, that statement has never been more relevant than it is today. From politics to pop culture, the world has become well accustomed with the perils of fake news and the ease with which it can spread. Sadly, the same thing is happening within the construction sector, where structural timber suffers from a number of harmful misconceptions about its practical suitability. In this blog, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association, looks to examine some of these misunderstandings and dispel any falsehoods that could be holding the material back from more wide-scale adoption.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is unsustainable and hurts the Amazon rainforest!

THE TRUTH:

Structural timber solutions used in the British construction sector are almost entirely sourced from well-managed forests in either Scandinavia, or in the UK itself. As such, any concern about potential damage to the Amazon Rainforest is severely misplaced. In fact, when sourced responsibly, timber is undoubtedly one of the most environmentally friendly materials currently available. Not only does it provide an effective carbon sink, but it’s entirely renewable and can be continually grown year-round.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is dangerous because it burns!

THE TRUTH:

Whilst it’s right to say that timber burns, it’s wrong to say that this alone makes the building material inherently dangerous. As with many things in construction, the safety of structural timber solutions relies on installers ensuring that proper precautions and installation practices are being followed. In well-designed buildings, structural timber solutions are enclosed with non-combustible products to reduce the likelihood of fire spread. Ultimately, good design helps to mitigate most of the associated risk and can be achieved by employing installers who work to competency schemes, such as the STA Assure scheme.

The same applies to timber battens, which are often used in cavity walls to prevent the spread of fire in the event of a blaze. When fixed in accordance with well-established structural timber protocols, such solutions are able to provide long-lasting, durable performance, which both home and business owners can rely on. To this end, when installed correctly, timber in a cavity isn’t exposed to moisture and as such, will not warp over time and create gaps that could ultimately render the battens useless.

THE CLAIM:

I can’t get a mortgage or an insurance agreement for a timber frame house!

THE TRUTH:

Once again, this statement is simply incorrect. However, it’s fair to say that the insurance industry has responded with caution to the Grenfell Tower tragedy and that, whilst Grenfell was a concrete structure, timber frame buildings have been unfairly caught in the crosshairs during this process. Yet insurance options for the material still exist. What’s more, new test data is helping to better inform those creating insurance policies about the material and how it performs in a blaze, with more and more insurance firms starting to adjust their positions.

Similarly, some mortgage providers have been incorrectly influenced by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a form entitled EWS-1. Originally, the form was designed to address combustible cladding materials in tall buildings but has been wrongly interpreted as applying to all buildings and all materials. Fortunately, the form is currently being reviewed and its scope should soon be curtailed. Despite all this, there still remains plenty of providers who are more than happy to offer mortgage products for timber frame structures at no premium.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is not as strong as brick and can rot without you knowing!

THE TRUTH:

A common misconception amongst individuals with minimal structural timber knowledge is that the material is used to build entire homes. In fact, most timber frame houses are clad in brick. As such, concerns about the relative strength of brick and structural timber are normally misguided and not applicable in practice. With that said, there’s now also decades of evidence to support the notion that timber frame homes can be constructed without the need for brick and still go on to achieve no movement issues.

It’s a similar story when it comes to concerns around rotting. In practice, the risk of rot in structural timber solutions is wholly dependent on the quality of installation. Suffering from rot is certainly not a risk inherent to structural timber solutions and can happen to most commonly used building materials. As always, it’s essential to only work with a recognised, high-quality structural timber installer, such as those included on the STA Assure Scheme. In doing so, those looking to use the material can benefit from years of reliable performance.

THE CLAIM:

Timber is too expensive to build and then often costs more to heat!

THE TRUTH:

At the STA, we tend to hear this one a lot and aren’t really sure why people continue to believe it. However, for conclusive evidence, we can look to the first independent construction cost comparison report on timber and masonry for affordable housing, conducted in 2018 by leading cost management organisation, Rider Levett Bucknall. The results were clear, timber frame construction is more economical than masonry construction and the build programme is shorter.

It’s a similar story when assessing how much it costs to heat a structural timber home. Some people think timber has no thermal mass but it does, and it comes from the plasterboard. Additionally, it’s wrong to believe that materials with low thermal mass cause heat loss. In fact, heat loss is affected by insulation, which provides the resistance needed to prevent it. What’s more, buildings that actually do have high thermal mass levels, such as masonry structures, tend to cost more to heat as the fabric of the building absorbs heat in the early stages impacting on comfort levels.

THE CLAIM:

There’s nobody in my region who knows how to build with timber!

THE TRUTH:

Nobody is in a better position to tell you this isn’t true than the STA! We know more than anyone that timber frame installers exist all around the country and that there’s no regional variation with regard to competency or quality. Whether it’s using one of our member organisations, or those recommended through our STA Assure Scheme, individuals wanting to use structural timber frame construction can rest easy in the knowledge that reliable and affordable installers are waiting and ready to work with them.

For more information, please visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk/members  

As an organic, natural material, wood can breathe and maintain a comfortable and healthy indoor climate.

The use of timber in construction is known to have numerous positive effects on human health, proven in various studies. People working in environments with more wood are observed to show lowered heartbeat rates, a decreased perception of stress, decreased blood pressure and increased interaction. A closer connection to such a natural material can only help to promote a feeling of warmth, security and home and an overall sense of wellbeing. In creating safe environments, employees and an increasing number of studies point to workplaces that are more productive and have lower rates of absenteeism and sickness.

The UK government has now recognised the significant benefits of trees and tree planting as part of its fight against climate change.

Specifically, the government has announced plans to accelerate tree planting across Britain, as well as plans to improve the management of existing trees and woodlands. The England Tree Strategy aims to increase tree planting to 30,000 hectares per year across the UK by 2025. Thanks to this commitment, the nation will soon have a ready-made carbon sink, as well as an infinitely replenishable supply of green and sustainable building materials. Better still, this tree planting effort is being matched across the rest of Europe, where in managed forests, five trees are planted for every one that’s harvested.

Ultimately, the more demand that is generated for the use of timber in buildings, the more trees will be planted. This could lead to large scale reforestation of the planet, which is the only viable way of halting global warming.

Timber as part of the circular economy; the safest and most effective carbon store.

Currently, the construction industry represents around 10% of total UK carbon emissions and directly contributes to a further 47%. As a result, the industry finds itself in a position of great responsibility and influence with regards to the nation’s climate change efforts.

As timber trees grow, they naturally absorb carbon, which continues to be stored when the material is transformed into structural timber products. Timber absorbs and stores more carbon than it emits during processing and installation. These engineered solutions act as an effective carbon store when used as part of a building. When the building has reached the end of its use, this stored carbon can either be re-used as fuel, or will naturally filter back into the soil. By comparison, the use of concrete and steel within construction leads to considerably more energy and carbon usage. To this end, a report published by Chatham House (Making Concrete Change: June 2018) show that cement is the source of 4-8% of total global carbon dioxide emissions. Conversely, more carbon dioxide is absorbed and stored within timber products than is emitted during its harvesting process, manufacturing and transportation combined.

In fact, when used instead of other building materials, a single cubic metre of timber will save around 0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. With such strong green credentials, it’s clear to see why so many organisations are embracing timber. Not only does the material provide strength and aesthetic beauty, but offers an effective solution in battling climate change. In fact, boroughs like Hackney in East London are now demanding a ‘timber first’ policy when it comes to building specifications. Similarly, the French government recently announced new sustainability legislation to help make the country carbon-neutral by 2050. The new law, which becomes enforceable in 2022, will mandate that all new public buildings in France are built from at least 50% timber, or other natural materials.

In his speech on the 30th June 2020, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson underlined his commitment to “build, build, build” as part of efforts to upgrade Britain’s infrastructure network. Furthermore, Mr Johnson identified the nation’s existing skills gap and the need to close it in order to better fuel a full economic recovery across the country. As such, the Prime Minister’s ‘New Deal’ announcement has clearly put jobs and infrastructure at the centre of the government’s economic growth strategy.

This impactful speech reaffirmed the government’s election commitments to build more homes and reinvest in the NHS. Additionally, with his closing statement, Mr Johnson recommitted the government to its Net Zero targets and placed construction at the heart of this effort, commenting:

“To that end we will build build build. Build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to do that at the pace that this moment requires”.

There is every reason for climate strategy to be at the forefront of policymakers’ minds as they shape the stimulus needed to reboot the economy following the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many economists rank green stimulus measures amongst the most beneficial for the nation, as well as being the best for the environment.

With a need to rebuild after the crisis, as well an opportunity to tackle unemployment and grow the economy, it will be critical for private capital to fund infrastructure investment across the nation and to be able to offer adequate insurance cover for the build process and beyond.

Over many thousands of years, the UK cleared almost all of its natural woodland cover. These forests helped to fuel our economic development and satisfy the demands of an increasing population for timber, fuel and farm land. But we paid a price; at the beginning of the 20th century woodlands in the UK covered just 5% of the land area, and little of this resembled the natural woodland cover. In the past century a million hectares of land were reforested, increasing the forest cover to over 10%.

In October 2019 the Government introduced a landmark Bill to tackle the most important environmental priorities of the age. In setting out its transformative Environment Bill it showed its commitment to protect the natural environment and allow future generations to prosper and to restore habitats, so plants and wildlife can thrive.

A key facet to protecting the environment is to restore and enhance nature through ‘biodiversity net gain’. This ensures that the new houses that are built are delivered in such a way to protect and enhance nature, which will help to deliver natural spaces for local communities. It is also sets out a commitment to support a Nature Recovery Network by establishing Local Nature Recovery Strategies and giving communities a greater say in protecting local trees. Add this to the Government’s commitment to establish new forests and target the growing of 11 million more trees, then the scale of the UK’s commitment to forestry further supports a more biodiverse environment.

Increasing the number of trees will not only provide more timber for building and protect the environment in more ways than just carbon capture, or produce the oxygen we require in return, or even enhance the much needed flood control; it will improve the ecosystem and provide a greater diversity of habitats for the indigenous wildlife – birds, amphibians, insects and mammals, of the UK.

Timber is an enduring and renewable building material, with up to 90% of the timber used in the UK coming from certified sustainable sources such as the FSC and the PEFC. Across the forests of Europe, five trees are planted for every one harvested, with much of the remaining imported timber coming from well managed forest providers from across the globe. As a net carbon contributor, roughly one tonne of carbon is stored for every cubic metre of timber used, its credentials to be at the heart of net zero by 2050 are unquestionable.

With the need to increase sustainability and to support the economy in the UK, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs has tabled a 25-year Environment Plan which states:

“…using resources from nature more sustainably & efficiently…increasing timber supplies”

This focus is further reinforced with a commitment to create new forests on both private and the least productive agricultural land, with an ambition to plant 11 million trees. This policy puts timber at the centre of the future for building, with an increase in ‘home grown timber used in England in construction, creating a conveyor belt of locked-in carbon in our homes and buildings. A wide range of economic and environmental benefits will flow from commercial afforestation to meet the growing demand for timber’. This long-term supply of English grown timber is designed to meet current and future increases in demand.

This project will also keep the Public Forest Estate in trust for the nation and indicates not only the environmental but also the social benefits it contributes for present and future generations to enjoy.

As well as being a sustainable building material, timber adds to a sustainable, home grown economy, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) valuing the forestry and timber sector at over £8.5 billion, placing it in the top 20 major industries in the UK. The sector also provides a wealth of employment opportunities across all the regions of the UK, offering training and skills in a diverse number of ways, from forestry, land and habitat management to joinery and manufacturing, engineering and architectural design. In the construction sector alone, wood related trades account for around 10% of all jobs.

With this overwhelming move towards a greener and more sustainable society, with the growth of forestry in the UK, the trees that are grown need to be used, otherwise they will rot and release the CO2 captured, thereby making the planting pointless. Therefore the circular economy of creating new forests to grow more trees, harvesting and using them for construction is a simple, but effective, sustainable and economic argument to support the fact that Now is the Time for Timber.

“There is a huge opportunity for England’s woodlands to drive a sustainable economic revival, to improve the health and well-being of the nation, and to provide better and more connected places for nature. We need a new culture of thinking and action around wood and woodlands, and a new way of valuing and managing the natural and social capital of our woodland resource, alongside the timber they contain.”

The former Right Reverend Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, Chairman of the Independent Panel on Forestry established by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.