As the Government works to ‘build back greener’, the Confederation of Timber Industries (CTI) in partnership with Waugh-Thistleton Architects have hosted the UK Construction Minister Lee Rowley, on a site visit to the Black and White building.

The Minister was taken for a tour of the exemplary fully engineered timber building, which is owned by The Office Group (TOG), the premium flexible workspace provider with a platform of more than 50 buildings across the UK and Germany and will be the tallest timber office structure in London when complete later this year.

Boasting a powerful sustainable agenda, the hybrid structure comprising beech Laminated Veneer Lumbar (LVL) frame with Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) has resulted in 37% less embodied carbon than an equivalent structure built using steel or concrete, demonstrating how a shift towards the use of biogenic materials in construction could help the industry to significantly reduce its impact on the environment.

Following its release of the Build Back Greener Strategy Document, the Government has signalled a clear intent to increase the use of sustainable materials, such as timber, within construction as it seeks to meet its Net Zero obligations.

Key to the success of this endeavour, is increasing the awareness and knowledge of structural timber. As such, the CTI is actively engaging with the Government and other stakeholders via the Timber in Construction working group, set up to develop a policy roadmap to help the Government deliver on its environmental ambitions.

Speaking on the visit is Andrew Carpenter, Director at the Confederation of Timber Industries: “Independent bodies such as the Climate Change Committee have already said that increasing the use of timber within construction is crucial to achieving net zero status by 2050, because of the low-carbon benefits of these forms of construction.

“The sustainable benefits of timber as a form of carbon capture and storage are widely known, and today has been about illustrating how these benefits are already being delivered safely across the UK, as well as globally, to create a new wave of low-carbon construction.

“In partnership with the UK Government via the Timber in Construction Working Group, and together with members of Parliament through our APPG for the Timber Industries, we are helping bring forwards the benefits of greater use of structural timber.”

Construction Minister Lee Rowley commented: “It was fantastic to visit the Black and White building to see how this innovative approach to building, harnessing engineered timber, is helping to drive sustainability in the construction sector.

“The site’s construction is an excellent example of the benefits timber buildings can bring and I look forward to seeing it when it is complete and in operation.”

Andrew Waugh, Founder and Director at Waugh Thistleton Architects, commented: “It’s great to see the Government taking an interest in engineered timber construction. We need Government leadership and systemic support for the use of regenerative, low carbon construction materials if we are to have any chance of reducing the impact of our industry on the planet.”

Charlie Green, co-Founder and co-CEO of TOG commented: “The Black and White Building is set to be Central London’s tallest mass timber office building. Alongside Waugh Thistleton, we have worked to reduce embodied carbon as much as possible, delivering a building that represents what future workspaces should be.

“It has never been more important to develop techniques and approaches that deliver buildings for a better world. Innovative construction processes and sustainable materials, like those employed here, will form a central part of the sector’s journey to net zero over the coming years.

“We’re really pleased that Lee Rowley, MP, visited the site today to see this evolution in practice and look forward to further engagement.”

For more information on the Confederation of Timber Industries, please visit:  www.cti-timber.org.

For more information on the Waugh-Thistleton, please visit https://waughthistleton.com/

WHEN DOES TIMBER MAKE SENSE?

Individuals can make a limited difference to the climate challenge with their daily choices. Yes, we can all do lots of green things in our lives – we can choose not to fly, drive electric cars and eat less meat – this is of course important, but in most instances the reality is that reducing professional emissions will have the biggest impact on achieving a low-carbon society.

As a structural engineer, I am personally responsible for managing huge masses of carbon dioxide. With the strike of a pen, I could add hundreds of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – or make significant savings. That is why it is so crucial that those of us who specify buildings recognise the enormous importance of choosing lower-carbon solutions where possible.

Professional responsibility

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 accountability and influence with regards to the nation’s climate change efforts.

Those who design buildings and the structural engineers who determine the frame type have a huge responsibility within the construction industry. Typically, a UK structural engineer’s professional carbon footprint is around 160 times their personal carbon footprint for scope 1 and 2 emissions.

While the industry is taking steps to develop more sustainable working practices, there is a corresponding growth in demand for more sustainable development options from employers and investors and the industry needs to respond to that demand.

Enhanced public awareness of climate change, including a growing understanding of the economic risks it poses, has caused environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations to rise up corporate agendas. This has resulted in a shift in perception, where ESG is no longer considered a risk to be managed, but rather is a significant driver that is informing company strategy for long-term growth. Traditional barriers to the adoption of more sustainable development, including perceived higher costs and a general lack of awareness, are being outweighed by the increasing importance of ESG in investment and procurement decisions.

Carbon sequestration

As we know, when trees grow they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere locking it away as carbon in the cells of the tree. The reporting of this carbon sequestration is often a source of debate with potential confusion and inconsistency. This often stems around when the carbon sequestration is considered. To help demystify this life cycle analysis can be used which breaks a product’s life cycle in stages. The standard used for this, BS EN 15978, can be broadly broken down into the following modules.

Module A dominates the life cycle emissions, particularly as we see decarbonisation in the operational aspects found in module B. Steel and concrete require a high-energy production process, but energy consumption for timber is also significant due to the harvesting, drying and sawing. Confusion with timber occurs as the amount of carbon stored within wood can be greater than the module A emissions and in some reporting is quoted as immediately carbon negative. This approach would mean that using timber excessively in a building is better for the environment – this is obviously not the case.

There are positives to sequestering atmospheric carbon within long-term timber projects as they act as a carbon sink which is beneficial to the climate. For example, over a 50-year harvest cycle in a managed forest a new tree(s), that has replaced the harvested tree, grows large and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere thereby achieving a carbon negative position. After 60 years of the building’s use, carbon is potentially released back into the atmosphere as the building is either sent to a landfill or burnt in a biomass boiler.

However, in 60 years, it could be appropriate to consider that carbon capture technologies will mean that no further carbon is emitted at the end of the life of the building. Consequently, the timber building remains carbon negative due to the carbon sink of the replacement tree(s) – steel or concrete cannot do this. It should also be noted that an efficient timber design, one which has reasonable grids and optimised design, typically has a lower embodied carbon than either steel or concrete buildings.

Accounting for sequestered carbon is a significantly debated subject, and there is much confusion and inconsistency surrounding it. Reporting sequestration alongside the reported figures of module A or a negative emission can generate the belief that using timber in excess is beneficial to the atmosphere. However when designed efficiently timber frames can be a much better option than steel or concrete frames.

At Ramboll we present our carbon figures in a clear and transparent manner so that clients can make informed decisions about the carbon impact of their projects.

At this point in time, timber currently can offer a lower carbon solution than either concrete or steel with timber having the opportunity to be carbon negative over a 50-year cycle.

If we specify and construct more timber buildings, this will buy us time against climate change to allow technologies to develop to an appropriate level until we can potentially utilise permanent carbon storage technologies or the expected lowering of embodied carbon of concrete and steel in the future.

Currently, timber is an incredibly effective and sustainable building material. However, it is equally important to understand that there isn’t an infinite supply, so attention must be paid to ethical forestry and timber sourcing to safeguard the future of timber as a material.

We currently have the understanding and tools to rationalise our design decisions with respect to the embodied carbon and, for now, timber buildings certainly form part of the solution in addressing the climate crisis.

For more information please visit www.ramboll.com

The model for a sustainable future

The Government’s ambition to achieve Net Zero status by 2050 may leave many assuming that there is ample time to adjust our behaviours in order to make this a reality. However, the fact of the matter is that we must act now and pursue environmentally friendly processes at every opportunity to stand any chance of attaining this goal. Adopting and implementing a circular economy approach is one means of doing just that, as explained by Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association.

Before we can begin to discuss the circular economy, it is important to first understand the concept of a linear economy. For decades now, society at large has acted as a linear economy, following a ‘take, make and dispose’ pattern. In essence, raw materials are harvested from the earth, these materials are then processed and manufactured into products, and at the end of their life cycle they are thrown away by the consumer. For obvious reasons, this cannot be considered a sustainable model, as:

  • The finite non-renewable resources within the earth are rapidly running low.
  • Gathering and processing raw materials requires a vast amount of energy.
  • An increasing number of landfill sites are required to store old and used products.

It should be clear then, that drastic action must be taken as we cannot continue in this manner.

A circular economy, unlike a linear economy, seeks to eliminate as much waste as possible following a product’s lifecycle. The model follows a cyclical approach. High percentages of recycled content and lesser amounts of raw materials are used to manufacture products and goods. Following their use by the consumer, these goods should be recycled almost entirely and used to manufacturer future products. If we look towards nature, no ‘life cycle’ will be found that demonstrates a linear economy, the human species is the only example to have adopted the approach. The critical environmental issues that we face today are the consequence of years of our own actions, acting as a linear economy.

However, by adopting a circular economy, we can counter each step of a linear economy system. Less raw materials will be needed to produce goods, the energy required in manufacturing will be decreased, and the resultant waste sent to land fill will diminish. We are now seeing companies beginning to adjust their processes to work in line with a circular economy approach, although, if we are really to tackle the environmental threats facing our planet, more must adopt change, and fast.

As we are all aware, the construction sector is a massive contributor to CO2 emissions and should therefore be making the utmost efforts to change this. Timber naturally fits as part of a circular economy, as it is the only truly renewable resource we possess for building purposes. Following its use, timber can of course be recycled. However, because in some instances timber is burnt following its use, some critics argue that it is more damaging than good – this is not true.

It is important that we are aware that for every tree harvested, five more are planted. Therefore, as those five trees grow, the carbon that they sequestrate more than makes up for the carbon produced through the burning of timber. Furthermore, the energy produced by burning timber is not wasted, as it is used to power our homes, schools, transportation, etc.

We believe that any hope for the construction sectors success in adopting a circular economy system lies in the use of timber.

It is very apparent that society cannot continue to follow a linear approach. The repercussions caused by decades of doing so are now being realised, with the environmental crisis we face today set only to get worse if we do not change. We believe that adopting a circular economy in how we manufacture new goods, deal with used products and – most importantly – build the places where we live, work and play, is a necessity for combatting the climate threat and achieving Net Zero status by 2050. We must act now.

For more information about the Structural Timber Association please visit www.structuraltimber.co.uk

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.

3 – Wood for Good

“We got ourselves into this climate mess with aviation, deforestation – even too much procreation”

The punchy slogan to Tom Heap’s new BBC Radio 4 podcast, 39 Ways to Save the Planet, a bubbly and optimistic take on the climate emergency we face ahead of us. In episode 3, Wood for Good, Tom explains how timber, and in particular, CLT (cross-laminated timber) can be used and harnessed as a technology used to reduce carbon emissions.

The podcast gets going as you arrive in a room with the sound of saws cutting through planks of CLT in your vicinity. Tom describes the smell and aroma of sawdust and sap, the combination of which you can nearly smell yourself. Michael Ramage, a Reader of Architecture and Engineering at Cambridge University, describes the anatomy of a typical CLT beam whilst dissecting it with a chainsaw. He then explains his passion for the new material by describing how it is the newest construction material in the market and its importance to the environment in the future. Michael then proceeds to demonstrate the surprising strength of CLT beams by distributing a significant weight on it using a hydraulic press. The slender beam eventually breaks, but could withstand 2 metric tonnes of force upon it, a weight comparable to that of a large car. After showing the impressive strength of CLT planks, Tom then explores the wider reach of using timber as an anti-carbon tool by delivering some absorbing facts about the environmental capacity of timber.

Timber is a sustainable and renewable material. Whilst the idea of cutting down trees to use for buildings seems like it would cause widespread deforestation, a closer look into the management of timber production reveals quite the opposite. The timber that is used in construction across Europe is sourced from purpose grown trees in managed woodlands. Using these sources, the time it takes to grow enough timber for the material to house a family of four is 7 seconds. A 300m tall skyscraper takes just 4 hours and Canada has the timber resources available to sustainably house 1 billion people. Whilst the supply of timber seems readily available already, the renewability of the material is a key feature. Three or four trees are replanted for every one cut down in well managed timber production woodlands. This actually provides an opportunity for large scale reforestation and would evolve the fight against climate change further.

However, the main selling point of using timber in construction is carbon capture. As a tree grows it sequesters carbon in the air and turns it into oxygen. Even when the tree is cut down, the carbon stored within remains in the timber. So effectively, Greensted Church in Essex, the oldest timber church in the world, has been storing carbon emissions within its oak walls from the 11th Century. That’s nearly an entire millennium of carbon storage. It is therefore key to build with timber long term. If timber was used to build our housing, schools and even more of our infrastructure in the future it really would just be a question of how much carbon we can store. We need to plan for buildings that will last not just the next 20 or 30 years, but the next few hundred and beyond.

If you enjoyed learning about timber in construction head to https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000qy43 to listen to the full podcast of Wood for Good, as well as the rest of Tom Heap’s series of 39 Ways to Save the Planet.

In recent times, we have been conditioned to follow the science, not least in the field of CO2 emissions. As a campaign that is dedicated to promoting timber as the net zero hero, we welcome the release of a paper that focusses on carbon capture in timber construction, Cities as carbon sinks—classification of wooden buildings. Its publication could not have been better timed. With the announcement by the government of its 10-point plan to reach net zero by 2050, the construction industry has come into focus on the part it needs to play to help the country hit its target. With the construction sector contributing anything up to 39% of global carbon emissions, it is clear that something has to change.

The research was funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Finland and sets out to estimate the carbon storage potential of new European buildings between 2020 and 2040. It is acknowledged that studies into carbon storage already exist, but these are based on rough estimations and feature a limited number of case studies. This paper expanded on this by studying 50 different case buildings, to give a more reliable estimation. The study also highlighted that the carbon storage capacity of buildings is not significantly influenced by the type of building, the type of wood or the size of the building but rather by the number and the volume of wooden elements used in the structural and non-structural components of the building.

In doing this, the study looks to report real life scenarios of how much carbon would be stored in the timber used in buildings, over time.

The published results reveal that by investing in the use of timber in construction to a point where 80% of new residential buildings in Europe were made of wood, and wood was used in the structures, cladding, surfaces, and furnishings of houses, the buildings would store 55m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, which is equivalent to about 47% of the annual emissions of Europe’s cement industry.

Added to this, the researchers were able to project that to store 55m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2040, the share of buildings will need to grow steadily to 80% increased use of timber in construction. This is why it’s so important that we consider the increased use of structural timber and timber frame as the main building process for house building.

With the government talking of the need for carbon storage and a circular economy to reach its targets, then the more trees that are planted to fulfil the needs of more buildings being built, then the use of more timber in construction can be seen to tick the box for a circular economy, and a carbon store, as the net zero hero.

For full access to the report: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aba134

“The construction sector can even be turned from a carbon source into a carbon sink, if organic materials like wood and smart technologies like AI are being used”.

This undeniable support for the increased use of timber came as part of a speech from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in announcing plans to create a new Bauhaus modelled on the influential design school as part of the European Union’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery plan.

The statement is applauded by the Time For Timber campaign as the use timber as a carbon sink is a vital tool in hitting net zero by 2050. A single cubic metre of timber will save around 0.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, as more of this greenhouse gas is absorbed and stored within timber products than is emitted during its harvesting process, manufacturing and transportation combined.

This setting of a new agenda was followed up by her call,

“We need to change how we treat nature”.

“Our current levels of consumption of raw materials, energy, water, food and land use are not sustainable,” she added. “We need to change how we treat nature, how we produce and consume, live and work, eat and heat, travel and transport.”

The EU’s State of the Union address went on to propose an EU-wide net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This target puts the EU on a balanced pathway to reaching climate neutrality by 2050. The Commission’s proposal is based on a thorough impact assessment and confirms that reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030 is a realistic and feasible course of action.

Achieving this increased climate ambition will require an investment boost, which will contribute to a green recovery from the current COVID-19 crisis.

We applaud this clear pathway and commitment to reduce carbon, as timber will play a key role in enabling the construction sector to meet its targets.

Barratt Developments has announced it has become a founding member of The One Planet Pledge, a campaign devised to encourage organisations to support the UK’s commitment to net zero carbon by 2050.

Under The One Planet Pledge, launched by former cabinet minister Justine Greening, companies set their own target date for reaching net zero, Barratt explained.

The pledge aims to encourage businesses and universities to get on board with the government’s net zero carbon target to which it made a legal commitment last year.

Bukky Bird, Barratt’s group sustainability director, said:

“We are very pleased to be a founding member of the One Planet Pledge. As the UK’s leading national sustainable housebuilder we recently announced our own science based carbon reduction targets and pledged to become a net zero greenhouse gas emissions (in our operations) business by 2040. Every company needs to take responsibility to tackle climate change and the One Planet Pledge helps us to do that.”

Greening said:

“Hitting the UK’s 2050 target will need a country-wide effort and the role of business as a force for good is essential. Unarguably economic growth has been responsible for lifting large numbers out of poverty in the last twenty years. But unless we take action, climate change will have a devastating impact that pushes those gains back and risks devastating consequences.”

The One Planet Pledge has been created by the team behind the national Social Mobility Pledge, which was founded by Greening and entrepreneur David Harrison in 2018. More than 450 businesses and 60 universities have now committed to the Social Mobility Pledge.

One of the key contributors to climate change is the ‘greenhouse effect’, a phenomena caused by rising levels of gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Upon entering the atmosphere, these gases trap the sun’s energy and reflect it back onto the earth, akin to a greenhouse.

As such, the greenhouse effect causes the temperature of the earth’s surface, particularly its oceans to rise. Scientists, who have known about the process since the 19th Century, believe the greenhouse effect has directed over nine-tenths of trapped energy from the sun towards the earth’s oceans.

Since the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide levels have increased by about 45% globally. During that same period, other harmful greenhouse gases have also increased by a similarly large amount. Unfortunately, all the evidence shows that this rise is almost entirely due to human activity. In particular, the three main causes are:

  • burning of fossil fuels for energy
  • agriculture and deforestation
  • the manufacture of cement, chemicals and metals

Currently, the global construction and building sector accounts for:

  • 42% of total energy consumption
  • 35% of total greenhouse gas emissions
  • 50% of extracted materials
  • 30% of water consumption*

Upon emission, around 43% of carbon dioxide produced goes into the atmosphere, with the rest absorbed by plants and the oceans. Therefore, in looking to solve the world’s greenhouse effect problem, we must also address the important role that deforestation plays. The harmful endeavour reduces the number of carbon dioxide absorbing trees, whilst also releasing the carbon contained in those trees back into the atmosphere.

* EC 2011. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, European Commission, COM/2011/571.

 

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.