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.
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.
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
What with the announcement of Government’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener and the media buzz around COP26, how and why the construction industry should be using widespread sustainable building practices and materials to reduce the embodied carbon of buildings is the big topic. And quite rightly so; the construction industry contributes 39% of global carbon emissions – and with embodied carbon accounting for 11% of that total – it is clear that reducing the carbon footprint of the materials we use will have a significant impact. So, it’s very encouraging to see that the Government has listened to the many industry voices that have been calling for regulatory guidance on embodied carbon and that the strategy intends to improve carbon reporting and explore maximum limits on future new builds.
Of course, the STA believes that timber is an excellent building material when used in an appropriate context and our objective is to promote its many benefits. However, we firmly believe that this should be achieved by providing fact-based, unbiased information that supports informed specification choices.
Sadly, our industry has not always played fairly though, with some brands going to great lengths to put down competitor technologies. Whether it’s making unfair comparisons or through downright misinformation, it’s always disappointing to see marketing campaigns that try to mislead readers about the attributes of a particular building technology in order to promote their own product. There is a place for all technologies in the correct application and such ‘fake news’ only serves to undermine confidence in the whole sector.
Building materials such as timber, concrete, steel and glass, each have their own particular profile of attributes and benefits. Logically then, optimum product specification should be about choosing the right combination of products and materials for the individual application and client requirements – whether the priority is cost, carbon, speed of construction or aesthetics.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer and the decision will be driven by your own or your client’s agenda. So, it’s disappointing to see so many brands continuing with this negative approach to communication. Focusing on the individual merits of their own solutions would be a much more productive way forward.
Fortunately, efforts are being made throughout the industry to establish a transparent and consistent approach to sharing product information, which should go a long way towards mitigating some of the more unhelpful tactics that we’ve seen. For example, in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s 2018 report Building A Safer Future, the Construction Products Association (CPA) established its Marketing Integrity Group (MIG) to address the issues raised within the report and to tackle the challenges of obtaining clear and credible product information.
Following a significant industry research project in 2019, the MIG has developed a new Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI). The 11-point Code sets a level playing field for all construction product manufacturers to ensure that the information they provide passes the five acid tests of being Clear, Accurate, Up-to-date, Accessible and Unambiguous.
At the STA, this is a move that we wholeheartedly support – as it echoes our own long-held commitment to providing fact-based, unbiased information that supports informed specification choices. Naturally, we believe that timber is an excellent building material when used in an appropriate context, but we firmly believe that this should be done in an honest and transparent way, that doesn’t engage in petty ‘bun-fights’ or putting down other technologies.
After all, there are bigger issues here to deal with. Shouldn’t we be working together; to collectively help the construction and housebuilding sectors build more, build better and achieve its net zero obligations?
For more information about the STA, please visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk
The Structural Timber Association (STA) has welcomed the Government’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener, which places a firm emphasis on reducing the embodied carbon of buildings by adopting more sustainable materials, such as timber.
Andrew Orriss, Chief Operating Office of the STA, commented: “This is an excellent step forward in policy, which we support wholeheartedly. It’s encouraging to see that the Government has listened to the many industry voices that have been calling for regulatory guidance on embodied carbon and that the strategy intends to improve carbon reporting and explore maximum limits on future new builds. With the construction industry contributing 39% of global carbon emissions – and with embodied carbon accounting for 11% of that total – its clear that reducing the carbon footprint of the materials we use will have a significant impact.
“Recognising the enormous potential for carbon sequestration that timber offers, it’s heartening to see that the Net Zero Strategy also includes a commitment to developing a policy roadmap for increasing the use of timber in construction. We welcome the proposed cross-government and industry working group, which will be tasked with increasing public demand for sustainably sourced timber and encouraging research into overcoming the barriers to timber uptake.
“Naturally, as the STA we believe that timber is an excellent building material when used in an appropriate context and our objective is – of course – to promote its many benefits. However, we firmly believe that this should be achieved by providing fact-based, unbiased information that supports informed specification choices. There is no one-size-fits all solution and we recognise that there is space within the market for all construction materials – indeed, we would welcome engagement on increasing the delivery of hybrid constructions. We believe this is the most pragmatic way of achieving the overall goal of significant carbon reduction.
“To that end, we’re working closely with industry stakeholders to forge stronger links and provide stability for those working in timber construction and have produced a series of guides and a white paper, to provide a better understanding of the use of timber in construction from a risk management perspective. Our online library contains a wealth of documents, with information on all aspects of timber construction, from Building Regulations to best practice principles. It is a valuable resource which can assist those specifying structural timber for projects or provide technical support during installation on site.”
To find out more please visit: www.structuraltimber.co.uk
Local authorities throughout the UK are facing great difficulty as they attempt to rapidly increase their housing stock and deliver affordable homes, whilst also meeting environmental targets. Here, Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive of the STA, discusses how timber frame construction provides the perfect solution, offering a sustainable, low-carbon method that can be delivered at pace.
The Climate Change Act 2008 committed the UK to reducing its carbon emissions by 80%, relative to levels recorded in 1990. In 2019, following advice provided by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the Government increased its target to a 100% reduction by 2050, or ‘Net Zero by 2050’. Whilst this ambition to improve the UK’s environmental impact is a welcome one, many are finding this target difficult to meet. At the time of writing, 74% of councils in the UK have declared a climate emergency. There is no single definition for what constitutes a ‘climate emergency’, most are proclaimed at a point in which a council believes it is no longer on track to meet Government climate targets, such as Net Zero by 2050. One issue that councils are particularly struggling to overcome due to environmental targets, is meeting the growing demand for housing.
The UK’s housing crisis is nothing new, in 2015 the Government set out an aim to build 300,000 homes a year to combat this. However, this target has not been met and recent estimations suggest that 345,000 new homes are now required to be built each year to overcome the backlog. The crisis is exacerbated further by the ever-increasing need for affordable housing. In the 2017 UK Housing Review Briefing Paper, the issue of affordability was described as “neglected” for both private and social housing. Today, local authorities are finding it difficult to balance producing homes at an affordable rate whilst also meeting environmental targets.
Many had hoped the Government’s Future Homes Standard document, would offer some guidance to house builders and local authorities on how best to overcome the numerous obstacles they have to navigate. Whilst some valid recommendations were made, structural timber and the wealth of environmental benefits it possesses were entirely overlooked. We believe that timber frame technology in particular can provide the solution to the sustainability, cost and demand issues facing local authorities.
Environmentally, the advantages of building with structural timber are vast. Firstly, when compared to its competitors, timber is the stand-out performer, possessing the lowest embodied carbon for any building material. Secondly, as long as forests are properly managed and maintained, timber provides us with the only truly renewable building resource. Thirdly, as they grow, trees sequester and store carbon from the atmosphere – meaning that throughout its lifecycle, timber has a carbon negative impact. Lastly, timber offers exceptional energy efficiency performance, greatly reducing household emissions – a positive for both the environment and the pocket of the homeowner. Aside from its environmentally beneficial properties, prefabricated timber frame technology could prove to be a great assistance to meeting the demand for affordable housing.
On average, using timber frame systems can reduce the construction time by eight weeks, when compared to traditional masonry methods. This is largely because timber frame is manufactured offsite and delivered as prefabricated panels that can be erected within days. Additionally, producing timber frame systems offsite massively improves reliability. Firstly, as they are produced in controlled factory environments, quality control is assured, resulting in fewer errors during assembly. Secondly, the fabrication of timber frame systems in a factory is not weather dependant, meaning build programmes become far more predictable. This speed of construction and greater reliability help to keep project costs low. With less labour required and fewer issues regarding quality, timber frame systems provide local authorities with the means to build more homes, at a lower cost.
Local councils are fighting a hard battle as they attempt to balance the demand for affordable homes while also meeting environmental targets. If they are to succeed, any attempts to solve this issue must include more widespread adoption of timber frame systems.
To find out more about timber frame, visit our website: https://www.structuraltimber.co.uk/timber-systems/timber-frame
RIBA updates the 2030 Climate Challenge
Jess Hrivnak, Sustainable Development Adviser at RIBA, explains the changes that have been made to the 2030 Climate Challenge, in light of new performance data.
Why is the RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge important? The UK built environment is responsible for 40% of UK carbon emissions. Everyone within the construction industry’s supply chain (from designers to manufactures to contractors) of new and retrofit buildings needs to do their part to reduce carbon emissions to ensure that we can collectively put forward our best efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Originally launched in the autumn of 2019, only a few months after the Institute declared a climate and biodiversity crisis and the UK Government passed legislation for the UK to become a net zero emitter by 2050, the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge is a voluntary framework of performance targets for built environment projects. It builds on the momentum of the RIBA’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission and the RIBA’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
It sets out a climate conscious trajectory for new build and major retrofit projects, providing ambitious but achievable forward-facing performance outcomes that have been developed in consultation with other professional UK construction bodies. The framework is built around three key criteria: operational energy, embodied carbon and (potable) water use that are to be achieved in occupied buildings. In doing so, unintended consequences of poor health and wellbeing must be avoided by maintaining the best practice health and wellbeing metrics that are presented in the guidance. Focussing on the three key metrics common to all buildings allows the 2030 Climate Challenge to robustly, yet simply, call all RIBA Chartered Practices to act now.
The relaunch of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge (Version 2 published 17th June 2021) sets out a refined set of these targets. The updated targets take progress in the industry over the past two years into account and are in line with the Future Homes Standard and future regulation. Targets for 2025 and 2030 are set against business-as-usual compliance approaches.
The updated targets encompass development in the industry’s knowledge base of performance data– particularly in the embodied carbon field. The refined embodied carbon targets reflect a considerable amount of work across several institutions (including LETI, UKGBC, IStructE, WLCN and the RIBA) over the past few months to align definitions, scopes, targets, and methodologies. This alignment ensures that, as a built environment sector, we speak with one voice.
One may ask why the change in numbers, especially when the embodied carbon figures presented in Version 2 of the Climate Challenge seem easier to those originally published. The reason for this is that embodied carbon benchmarks and data is a developing knowledge area within the construction sector. In addition, the initial (2019) version of the RIBA 2030 Challenge set out total embodied carbon (A1-A5, B1-B5, C1-C4) performance targets. The figures were not directly comparable to the upfront carbon targets published by LETI as they had different scopes. With the release of Version 2 of the RIBA 2030 Challenge the LETI and RIBA embodied carbon figures are aligned. (It is important however to note that whilst the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge targets are performance measures of realised in buildings completed in 2025 and 2030, LETI dates relate to the year of design.)
We recognise that there may need to be further refinement in the coming years as more detailed data and further work in sectoral contributions to carbon emissions in line with science-based targets is undertaken by the industry. But given the urgency for action, there is no time to lose. The next 9 years are critical, however 2030 is not the end of the road. The emissions reduction trajectory must decrease further until 2050. We must not wait for a magic bullet nor must we lose hope. Instead, as an industry we must focus on the immediacy of the coming years and take the steps necessary to meet the 2030 targets, and if that is not immediately possible to (as a minimum) design in accordance with the 2025 performance outcomes. This call to arms is part of the RIBA’s commitment to excellence and ethical practice. It is a rallying cry to promote and champion a shift in the industry towards outcome-based approaches to design, which requires placing greater emphasis on approaches that focus on tangible performance outcomes right from the project outset, even prior to briefing. Whilst the role of the architect is central to this focal shift, the role of the client and entire project delivery team is fundamental to enabling the process.
Although currently only RIBA Chartered Practices can sign up to the 2030 Climate Challenge, the targets are open source and available for everyone to use. The RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge does not seek to replace or replicate a building environmental assessment and there is no associated RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge certification procedure. Instead, the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge presents a set of performance outcome targets for projects to aim towards. In fact, there are only has two stipulations of Signatories to the Challenge: the first is to attempt to achieve the targets. (There is no penalty or consequence for projects that miss the Challenge’s voluntary performance targets.) The second requirement is to submit anonymised project data to the RIBA. It is in this latter area where manufacturers and contractors can assist, providing and disclosing embodied carbon data to architects and project teams. Data disclosure and breakdowns are key to ensuring reporting is valid and comparable.
Timber will feature significantly in projects seeking to comply with the 2030 Climate Challenge targets and you can support your architectural teams by providing clear breakdowns of your structural systems and products’ embodied carbon cost. Furthermore, supporting the 2030 Climate Challenge may thus give you greater insight and clarity into your own environmental and carbon footprint and those of your products and systems you manufacture. Implementing and designing to the 2030 Climate Challenge targets demonstrates leadership ahead of business-as-usual construction and building management approaches. It also allows supply everyone involved to stay abreast of the mega trends of increased societal awareness and accountability and demonstrate responsibility in face of increased customer, consumer, staff and occupier driven expectations for brand credibility.
Join in with the Challenge, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose!
To download the updated RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, click here
Here, Paul Brannen, CEI-Bois & Chair of the Timber Sector Group planning for COP 26, looks at Europe’s carbon capture and storage mechanism.
As a climate warning, it could hardly have been starker;
“I want to be clear. If we don’t clear this development fast enough, our children and grandchildren will fight wars over water and food.”
The clarity of European Union Vice President Timmerman’s words was both frightening and welcome. We really do need to pick up the pace if the EU and the UK are to stand a chance of both becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Consequently, the EU Commission’s Renovation Wave is spot on with its aim of making 195 million building units across Europe energy-efficient by 2050, but current deep renovation rates are running at less than 1% of the building stock per year.
The ‘easy wins’ are loft, wall and door insulation and the replacement of single glazed windows with double or triple glazed. However, if we are not careful these renovations could be carried out using fossil fuel based materials.
Alert to this danger, the Commission did flag up the need to minimise
“the [carbon] footprint of buildings,”
“the use of organic building materials that can store carbon, such as sustainably-sourced wood”.
Professor Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has pointed out what will happen if we fail to use organic materials.
“Often more harm than good is done, for example when buildings are insulated with toxic industrial foams whose production, use and disposal requires more energy than can be saved”.
Instead, he argues for us to
“reforest our planet and re-timber our cities,”
i.e. more sustainable wood in the built environment.
It is wood’s ability to store carbon, once the living tree has sequestered it, that makes wood such a valuable asset in tackling climate change and when combined with its substitution effect, these two attributes offset 20% of Europe’s annual CO2 emissions.
In conclusion, more sustainably-sourced wood use in the built environment could, as the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has stated, help turn our built environment from
“a carbon source into a carbon sink”.
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
An opportunity missed
Despite concerted efforts from industry action groups and commentators to draw attention to shortcomings in the proposals, the Government’s response to the Future Homes Standard consultation has fallen woefully below that which is required to enact real change in the journey to Net Zero, argues Andrew Carpenter from the Structural Timber Association (STA).
First and foremost, the fact that embodied carbon is not mentioned once in the entire 114-page document, is a glaring omission that represents a significant missed opportunity to reduce the overall carbon consumption of the housebuilding industry. With the Government still insisting that it hopes to build 300,000 new homes each year, reducing the upfront carbon emissions generated by the materials manufacture of these projects would have a meaningful impact on the total carbon footprint.
Instead, the response focuses on building services and prioritises the use of low carbon energy sources. However, we firmly believe that this is a back-to-front approach, as operational CO2 emissions account for only a small portion of a home’s overall carbon cost. A much more logical tactic would be to shrink the overall carbon footprint, by reducing both the embodied carbon within the construction materials and the energy consumption in use, through significant building fabric improvements. After all, switching to low carbon energy sources is of little value to homeowners if they’re still required to pay extortionate sums for the same amount of ‘clean’ energy – building homes that are engineered to use less energy in the first place is a simpler way of lifting future generations out of fuel poverty.
What’s more, the move comes in spite of industry consensus towards an embodied carbon approach, as set out by the signatories of an open letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government. Orchestrated by ACAN (Architects! Climate Action Network), the letter calls for embodied carbon to be given due consideration, pointing to the significant contribution it will make to the carbon emissions of future homes.
Signed by more than 700 prominent members of the architectural community, it states: “The carbon emissions associated with a building’s use only make up a percentage of its total carbon footprint, with embodied carbon (the emissions associated with materials, construction and refurbishments) making up an ever greater share. Embodied carbon needs to be measured and declared as well. This is known as a ‘Whole Life Carbon’ approach to construction and should be applied to all construction projects to represent their true carbon cost.”
While it’s encouraging to see that the Government has taken steps to ensure new homes will no longer be reliant on fossil fuels and has listened to some of the feedback from industry – such as retaining the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard (FEES) – the lack of regulatory incentives for reducing embodied carbon has the potential to de-rail carbon reduction efforts, by masking the true cost of new housing developments from a CO2 perspective.
By encouraging wider use of lower carbon building materials – such as incentivising a timber-first approach – the Government could take advantage of the ‘low hanging fruit’ by reducing the overall carbon expenditure of new homes from the very outset. As well as being a renewable material, timber provides an effective carbon store, particularly when used on an industrial scale. This is because as trees grow, they trap and store carbon dioxide, removing it from the wider atmosphere – indeed, timber absorbs more carbon during its growth than is emitted during processing and installation.
It’s bewildering to us at the STA that, in the face of such industry agreement, the Government has not seized this opportunity to set the housebuilding sector firmly on the right trajectory to achieve Net Zero by 2050. That is why, in the light of the omissions from the Future Homes Standard, we emplore the Government to reconsider its stance.
We believe it’s more vital than ever to highlight the importance of embodied carbon and to demonstrate the value of using low-carbon, structural timber. What’s more, it’s crucial that the housebuilding industry recognises that it is not obliged to follow this outdated line of travel and that, as long as regulatory requirements are met, it is able to carve its own path towards delivering better quality and greener housing. After all, why wait until Government thinking catches up when timber solutions are ready now, offering a quicker, more reliable and more sustainable solution to the climate crisis?
To find out more about becoming a member of the STA or working with one of our accredited organisations, 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.