The construction industry plays a crucial role in the UK economy. However, it is also a major contributor to carbon emissions, with large amounts of energy consumed at every stage of a build’s lifecycle, from individual components to materials production, construction itself, and demolition. Emissions are also produced during building operation and maintenance.
It’s clear that the industry needs to undergo a significant transformation to play its part in reaching the UK’s 2050 net zero targets. The industry must organise itself to respond to these changes – but the key question is what needs to be done to accelerate this process? What changes can be implemented now to meet these ambitious goals? Analysts suggest that timber could play a role – here, we’ll give a brief overview as to how.
Is wood the sustainable alternative?
It’s clear that we need more stringent guidelines to meet these targets. Current design standards need to be immediately adjusted to enable more efficient material selection and reuse. One material that is tipped as an important part of this shift is timber, and since, industry leaders have published a “global wood manifesto” to make the case for much greater use of timber in the construction industry.
Drawn up by trade associations from Europe, the UK, Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia, the document’s publication coincided with COP26. It describes how wood could be used to transform the built environment in line with the net zero by 2050 target. With claims like how wood is the “only” sustainable building material that can enable “substantial” decarbonisation, the document outlines some bold propositions about how wood could be a key tool achieving net zero.
The report details five recommendations that underpin the case for the rapid scaling up of the global forestry and timber industry. The argument is that this would support the construction supply chain to minimise emissions. These include:
- Embedding compulsory lifecycle assessments and embodied carbon thresholds within building projects.
- The increased use of timber within both new build and renovation projects.
- Encourage the growth of a bio-based circular economy through sustainable procurement.
- Facilitate the resource-efficient use of wood via recycling and take measures to increase access to post-consumer wood, which is an invaluable secondary resource.
- Upskill workers to create jobs and boost the development of a circular bio-economy.
The key sustainability argument is centred around the regenerative nature of wood. According to Andy Leitch, deputy chief executive of Confor, the Edinburgh-based timber trade association, “Confor has stressed the vital role that trees and wood can play in mitigating climate change over many years. Trees soak up, or sequester, carbon as they grow, wood products store carbon – and using more wood can substitute carbon-heavy materials like concrete and steel.”
Wood needs to be sourced responsibly
The case for greater use of bio-materials like timber in construction is certainly compelling. They have the potential to replace carbon-intensive materials and create greater opportunities for recycling. However, it is imperative that timber is sourced responsibly in order to fulfil its potential. Deforestation is an environmental issue in itself, and to be effective, reforestation initiatives will be essential. We’ll see how the plans unfold.