The construction industry has clearly recognised the part that timber will play in achieving net zero, but what of insurers and investors?
Market research shows there is a growing interest in seeing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles being applied by construction professionals to projects driven by their clients. The use of timber in construction is a fundamental part of the solution.
“Increased use in Wood in Construction will be required to permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere, in order to offset remaining residual emissions in the UK and achieve Net Zero by 2050.”
Climate Change Committee, 6th Carbon Budget, December 2020
It is now clear that achieving Net Zero by 2050 is a core objective for the Government
As a major contributor to carbon emissions, the UK Construction
industry has a key role in achieving Net Zero 2050
The use of correctly designed and engineered timber solutions
is a key driver in the delivery of Net Zero 2050
A design-led approach is crucial to successful risk management
where timber solutions are used
The property investment market is starting to demand low to net zero
carbon timber buildings
The Hackett Review will have a profound and positive impact on the
competency of the delivery of buildings in the near future
Implementation of additional risk management via quality programmes
assures stakeholders involved in providing insurance cover for timber construction
You can find out more about the benefits of structural timber for the insurance, financial, and construction sectors here:
DOWNLOAD THE WHITE PAPER HERE
The Economic Benefit
In the wake of the Paris agreement, a rising number of large investors now seem highly alert to the investment risks of global warming. As of 2020, this group seems to recognise that drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions represents good business sense. Delaying action on emissions will only mean more radical intervention is needed in the future at a greater financial cost, and with larger impacts on society. Plus, by taking action now, companies can plan to achieve long-term, sustainable economic growth from a low-carbon economy.
There is little debate that climate change will dominate our lives and economies in years to come. Recent announcements from the likes of the World Economic Forum, the Bank of England, and leading blue chips like Microsoft, which demonstrate that climate risk has moved centre stage into the world’s most influential boardrooms only further the point.
To this end, the world’s largest companies now forecast nearly $1 trillion at risk from climate impacts. Conversely, the same companies have identified $2 trillion in opportunities from investments into sustainable business areas, such as low carbon technologies. Therefore, for the business community, climate change has become a thing of now and not a thing of the future. Across modern boardrooms, daily discussions focus on how companies can meet climate challenges, as well as make the best use of any potential opportunities.
However, making the most of these opportunities requires foresight and investment. To this end, financial institutions, banks, investors, and insurers must understand the risks they face to move to the next stage and build for the future. There is a wide range of timber engineering solutions commonly used in the UK. As the UK’s leading organisation representing the structural timber sector and associated supply chain companies, the STA works to influence legislation and regulation, supporting the collective objectives of the structural timber sector. Connecting construction professionals, we support and collaborate with members to showcase the many benefits of structural timber.
What do Insurers & Lenders need to know?
As the use of engineered timber products increases, there is an ongoing debate across many sectors, from designers, contractors, building owners, and users, right through to the insurance sector. As insurers are being asked more often to look at timber-based schemes, there is a requirement to evaluate the insurance premium requirements against the differing risks to those of concrete and steel frame structures.
There are many risk factors that insurers must consider when underwriting a structural timber construction both at the build stage, through completion and into occupancy. Many of these risks may be common to all types of construction, while others may stem from a lack of experience or thorough understanding of the technical details as this is seen as a relatively new method of building in the UK.
This new approach to building, using materials such as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), also does not fit into the long-established construction classes and therefore there is a comparative lack of data to help insurers when underwriting these types of buildings. A wealth of performance data and guidance in the use of structural timber can be found through many industry bodies, including The Structural Timber Association, Wood Campus, and Wood for Good.
“He’s a builder, he’ll just know how to build it.” This was the response Tabitha Binding, Head of Education and Engagement at Timber Development UK, received when supporting a winning group of student architects to make their successful timber-framed concept an installation reality at the London Design Festival.
Yet when Tabitha sat down with the architects and expert carpenter enlisted to build the installation, they found they were all talking a completely different language.
The architects were communicating with 3D software, while the carpenter, using pencil and paper, was seeking to understand how the dimensions met to ensure the structure would be supported correctly. Through collaboration, help from other timber trade experts and hands-on experience during the installation’s construction, all parties shared their knowledge and the communication barriers disappeared.
Encouraging education and engagement around the use of timber in construction, as Tabitha’s job title suggests, is exactly what her role is all about. During this interview, we discover why we need to educate and upskill the students of today, who will become tomorrow’s specifiers, designers, engineers, project managers, quantity surveyors and contractors. We need everyone to understand how to use timber wisely if we are going to create a future full of low-carbon timber construction.
What is your role and why is it important for timber construction?
I work with industry, professionals, academia, and students to enthuse, encourage and educate – to increase knowledge and competency in timber as we transition to a biobased economy.
With 5,000 architecture and 5,000 engineering students entering the world of construction and the built environment every year, business as usual is no longer an option. We have to change the way we build to create a low carbon, sustainable future.
We spend our lifetime in buildings and most of our money on our homes. And yet, while architecture and engineering are viewed as ‘suitable’ career choices, construction itself often isn’t, despite its vital importance to the UK economy. Let’s face it, without construction experts to build our homes and buildings, we’d be pretty stuck.
The most impactful decisions on carbon emissions in the built environment are made long before the foundations of a building are laid down. They happen in architects’ studios, within the offices of city planners, and in the engineering space. Decisions made during the project development phases impact both operational and embodied emissions, as well as how residents will live and work in these structures.
My role is to bring the design and delivery disciplines together to build better and understand more clearly the purpose of each building, to give everyone pride in their work and stimulate mutual respect across the timber construction supply chain.
What are the main roadblocks to creating low-carbon buildings in the UK?
One of the key roadblocks has been the educational gap around timber, which often features as little more than a day of learning and coursework within some universities. Departments can be disparate with scant collaboration across the built environment subjects, and some less progressive universities are even still teaching outdated methodologies. As a result, many students simply don’t know any better. Many also don’t have any hands-on experience that can contribute to a more rounded and knowledgeable approach to timber construction.
This means graduates emerge without the knowledge, ability, or confidence to employ timber systems. With our University Engagement Programme, we are seeking to change this – and make timber systems and technologies a core pillar of any built environment course in the UK.
What other initiatives are you implementing to overcome the timber-related education gap?
An important part of what I do is delivering project-based learning that breaks down barriers between professions, and facilitates dynamic learning and practical, transferable timber skills.
One way we do this is by running interdisciplinary challenges where Timber Development UK (TDUK), the now amalgamated Timber Trade Federation (TTF) and Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA), hosts a workshop based on a real-life project.
For example, the one we did just before lockdown was sponsored by timber industry partners and saw 58 students from universities across the UK gather at Cardiff University and compete to design, cost and engineer the best low-carbon, energy and water efficient timber community housing in less than 48 hours.
Each team consisted of student engineers, architects, architectural technologists, quantity surveyors and landscape architects, and received hands-on support from pioneering design professionals and industry members, including judges from Mikhail Riches, Cullinan Studio, Stride Treglown, Ramboll, BuroHappold, Entuitive, Gardiner & Theobald and PLAN:design.
How is the STA supporting your quest?
Last year’s competition Riverside Sunderland University Design Challenge (RSUDC21), saw 300 students design, engineer, plan and cost a three-bed family home along with an indicative masterplan for 100 homes to meet RIBA2030 Climate Challenge targets – with low-carbon timber and timber-hybrid systems providing the main material focus.
The STA’s chief executive, Andrew Carpenter, spoke directly to the students during the weekly Friday ‘virtual catch up’ session and enabled access to the STA’s vast information library whilst the Association’s Technical Consultant also supported the event, delivering a webinar on timber and fire. They were among 78 professionals who participated across a 12-part webinar series, which proved to be a unique and ambitious learning opportunity for the whole industry. Experts presented on everything from sustainable timber and offsite manufacturing, counting carbon, timber challenges and structural engineering to how you cost and budget timber to post-occupancy evaluation – the webinar series is still available as a learning asset on YouTube.
Are there any specific hotspots in the timber supply chain that you’re focusing on going forward?
Yes, definitely. One hotspot is the point at which design and construction meet. Tackling this collision proactively, I’m currently working strategically with New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering (NMITE) as its Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (CATT) Lead for External Engagements and Partnerships to deliver training that encourages greater design and construction collaboration across the supply chain.
We’re looking to develop some short courses and CPDs into a longer Bachelors degree in Sustainable Built Environment over the next year and, starting in September 2022, we will be running some interactive education days that will bring together the whole supply chain.
These will invite architects, engineers, clients and cost consultants, contractors and timber industry supply chain experts, such as offsite frame manufacturers, to up skill, reskill and address topical industry issues. Topics on the table embrace everything from level foundations to air tightness and energy performance and, of course, tackling the reduction in carbon at element, building and operational levels. Allowing people to exchange really good knowledge and encourage more collaboration will ensure that where we build with timber, we also build better with timber.
How did you find yourself in the timber industry?
I started out aged 17 working with coppiced hazel and softwood thinning. My first engagement with the timber construction industry was when I joined the Welsh timber charity Coed Cymru Cyf in 2010. The charity focuses on creating and managing Welsh woodlands for multiple benefits.
From there I was involved with ‘Tŷ Unnos’ – literally translated as ‘a house in one night’. The name was chosen to convey a fast and adaptable building system making use of local material and local labour, all based around Welsh timber. It led to the development of a fully certified volumetric offsite system, where buildings left the factory fully finished and fitted. That’s when I got involved with post occupancy evaluation, design for manufacture and assembly, plus disassembly & reuse and the Passivhaus energy efficiency standard.
I’ve also worked on European technical guidance, thermal modification of Larch for joinery with Bangor University, a Wood Encouragement Policy with Wood Knowledge Wales, which was adopted by Powys County Council in 2017 and, more recently, joined TRADA in 2018 to focus on education and engagement in universities. The rest, as they say, is history!
Do you have a takeaway message for the industry?
Absolutely. It’s all about collaboration early on. If we work together across disciplines we will have more fun, be more productive, less wasteful and create better buildings that are both energy and resource efficient and beneficial to human and planetary health.
To join in, keep an eye on the new Timber Development UK website for the collaborative opportunities arising when we launch in September. https://timberdevelopment.uk
Connect with Tabitha Binding on LinkedIn
The STA echoes this collaborative approach, working closely with members, stakeholders and the UK construction industry to address the issues that timber construction faces. The STA’s mission is to enhance quality and drive product innovation through technical guidance and research, underpinned by a members’ quality standard assessment – the STA Assure Membership and Quality Standards Scheme.
For more information visit: https://ttf.co.uk/
The Structural Timber Association has been invited to participate in the Timber in Construction Working Group which brought together key industry stakeholders to develop a policy roadmap to help the Government safely increase the use of timber in construction, a crucial step in achieving the UK’s Net Zero target for 2050.
The Timber in Construction (TiC) working group is tasked with identifying significant actions that should be taken by the Government, the construction industry and the timber industry in order to increase the number of timber and hybrid structures built in the UK. To identify the key actions to take, a full understanding of the barriers faced in the construction industry is crucial. During a recent luncheon, the STA asked Mark Wakeford, Managing Director at Stepnell, what barriers he believes are preventing more widespread use of structural timber:
“Many of the contractors I represent struggle to use structural timber systems, as it costs them far more to insure than ‘traditional’ methods. There are, of course, some insurers that will back timber projects. If you can get the right information to the right people in the right insurance roles, we can expect a greater structural timber uptake. Bridging the knowledge gap between the timber and insurance sectors will be key.
“Aside from that, I think that solving the skills shortage will be crucial. Although the skills shortage is being felt across all materials, it is much easier to find a bricklayer than a CLT installer, for example. As such, this issue needs to be tackled sooner rather than later to see some success.”
The TiC working group has two primary objectives – to foster collaboration between sectors to develop a clear policy to increase timber in construction and to produce a policy roadmap to outline a clear implementation plan. Oliver Schofield, Co-Founder of Lignum Risk Partners, offered an interesting solution to increasing the use of structural timber in the UK and improving the accountability for material usage:
“We need to have a standardised system in place that provides insurers with access to much more robust data. Don’t be mistaken, many insurers would like to support timber projects but without the data or knowledge, it is difficult for them to do so.
“I think that the most effective solution would be to introduce a blockchain that can be used as a record. Everybody should be obliged by regulation to record their use of materials, whether sustainable or not. This will not only ensure that no corners are being cut, but it will also equip insurers with a wealth of data that is desperately needed.”
Many figures within the timber construction industry believe that boosting market confidence with lenders, insurance companies and warranty providers is the best route forward for a wider uptake in timber construction. Mike Ormesher, Director of the Offsite Homes Alliance, feels that more must be done to aid the education and understanding of timber and hybrid construction to alleviate any safety concerns:
“There must be an open channel of communication to help insurers and investors understand timber construction and allow facts to dispel the misconceptions of structural timber. Perhaps the use of workshops, seminars, webinars and physical roadshow demonstrations is the best route forward to improve this knowledge base of using structural timber in construction.”
Suzannah Nichol Chief Executive of Build UK voiced concerns over whether the construction sector is approaching challenges with those outside the industry in the correct manner:
“Within the construction sector, we spend a lot of time discussing issues that are not directly within our control, instead of addressing those we can influence head on. I believe that the issues with insurers and financers are exacerbated by the poor level of communication between the industries. To deal with this, we need to be speaking in a language that those outside the industry understand. Instead of shouting loudly about all the problems in construction, we should be speaking in simpler terms about what ‘good’ looks like in the industry in terms of build quality, materials, and competence, explaining what we are doing about each of these and what we need others to do.
To this day, certain terminology used within cross-industry discussions and documents confuse even those within construction, which will only add layer upon layer of confusion to those outside of it. We need to be clear about standards and competence, while communicating in layman’s terms to improve clarity across the board.”
While the policy roadmap produced by the Timber in Construction working group will not be Government policy, it will be submitted to ministers for approval. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) advises that increased use of timber in construction is required to achieve net-zero, suggesting that timber-frame new build houses need to increase from 28% to 40% by 2050 to achieve these carbon-neutral goals. This may sound like we have a great deal of time, but in reality, these changes must be implemented immediately to allow ample time for the environmental effect to be felt.
The STA works closely with industry stakeholders to address all the issues that timber construction faces in the industry, including those regarding insurance. The association continues to commission and compile a significant amount of research resulting in guides and whitepapers that provide a better understanding of the use of timber in construction from a risk management perspective. This research gives factual scientific data and statistical evidence to present to the insurance sector. The STA will continue to raise the profile of timber as a safe construction material, backed by scientific data and will support the TiC with this evidence along with its in-depth knowledge of the structural timber industry.
To find out more about the STA and to view research documentation and reports, visit: https://www.structuraltimber.co.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.