Why now?

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The UK Government has announced that it has a target to achieve Carbon Net Zero by 2050; yet at present, there is no road map to how this will be achieved.

There is a real risk that we will not meet these targets and the opportunity to address the global climate change issue will be lost. Will future generations look back at 2020 and see it as the year the construction industry failed them?

We are at a crossroads in the UK and on a global basis: the world has woken up to the detrimental impact that we are having on the planet and recognises that it is time to act. As individuals we can make a difference in how we behave, in the choices that we make and with our actions; however, this is not enough. It is at the centre of government that the most decisive action is needed to arrest the march of climate change.

Crucially, with the global population increasing and steadily becoming more urbanised, there is an urgent need to change how we build high density and single-family housing. There is an obvious answer: to use renewable, sustainable and environmentally positive materials produced in such a way that there is a lighter impact on the planet.

One such material is timber, however there is a misconception by certain parties that have a clear agenda as to timber’s suitability as a major construction material; consequently, timber is considered a risk for some insurers and finance houses to support or to invest in timber construction projects. A basic lack of understanding of the facts put us in danger of creating problems for the future of the economy and the environment.

The construction industry has a tremendous opportunity to make a significant and meaningful contribution to the delivery of the whole climate change agenda. That is why we – the construction industry – owe it to future generations to challenge these misconceptions and demonstrate to the financial and insurance industries that timber is a viable and sustainable long-term solution to the country’s environmental and housing crises.

With ambitious targets set for the UK to reach carbon net zero by 2050, timber is the primary building material that will help the country reach its targets: it is sustainable, replenishable, and can be positively recycled at the end of use. Opponents may point to the risk of fire; however, self-interest has caused some to ignore the body of evidence that exists regarding the very predictable nature of timber and how it performs. Furthermore, the impact of good design, engineering, detailing and construction has been wilfully overlooked.

Whilst timber is the chosen building material for many of the country’s leading housebuilders, there is a whole world of construction that could benefit from the learnings this progressive sector has made by adopting offsite and MMC techniques. These insights could have a profound effect if they are extended to the wider construction market, where the full impact of timber on the carbon footprint of a project will have a demonstrable benefit.

This is in harmony with the Government’s agenda of Building Back Better – with its emphasis on green initiatives – which clearly recognises that there is a need to create jobs to avoid a financial downturn. But we should be creating those jobs to ensure the green transition happens as quickly as possible, which in turn propels us towards net zero carbon. Sustainable projects are a critical way that the Government can create jobs and replenish local economies to protect communities from future environmental and health hazards.

In the current economic climate, it is noted that investors – both corporate and individual – are demanding better standards from the companies and funds they hold. Positive financial returns are naturally expected, but there is a growing interest in seeing environmental, sustainable and governance (ESG) principles being applied. This may be commercial pragmatism in response to public and government sentiment, but it cannot be ignored; viable, reliable and robust solutions are available today and for a renewable future.

Indeed, according to a recent article in the Financial Times (13th April 2020), the majority of ESG funds outperform the wider market over 10 years. This study of sustainable funds counters claims that ESG investment comes at the expense of performance. What’s more, with a growing focus on the effects of modern ways of life to health and mental well-being that the recent pandemic has only served to amplify; it has been proven that timber structures provide for a better living, working and learning environment.

This is a huge year for climate and the financial services sector holds the key. The Time for Timber campaign has been founded to directly target the financial and insurance industries, to counter the misconceptions around timber and deliver a compelling narrative about its place in the sustainable buildings of our future.

Now is the time for timber. Now is the time to invest in building in timber; for the prosperity of the country and its residents, for employment, for the economy and – ultimately – for safeguarding the environment, today and tomorrow.