Embodying More than carbon

Embodying More Than Carbon

ARTICLE  · By Camilla Hair · 05 June 2020 

The RIBA’s 2030 Challenge to its members requires participating architects to take account of embodied carbon in the materials they use, reducing it by 50-70% before any offsetting is deployed. This means using wood at every possible opportunity within the design process.  Timber locks away CO2 in its wood fibre at a rate of roughly a tonne of CO2 per cubic metre of wood used. Yet timber and wood products embody much more than carbon. 

By altering attitudes and specifying regimes, architects’ projects can also be contributing to social value in producing countries, improving their economic and sustainability profile and bringing greater prosperity at local level. Let’s take Indonesia and some of its wood species as an example. A previous pariah amongst the global NGO community, Indonesia has come full circle in its sustainable forestry practices, so much so that the system which culminates in its manufacture of timber products for export is now in complete alignment with the stringent demands of the UK Timber Regulation (formerly the EU Timber Regulation, EUTR).

Tropical hardwoods have often been seen by architects and the specifying community as unsustainable and environmentally damaging.

Yet the European Union’s long-term process of engaging with hardwood producing countries, known by the acronym FLEGT, is producing radical reform of forestry, wood harvesting and production practices internationally, particularly in south east Asia and Africa.

“Indonesia became the first country to issue FLEGT licenses for its wood products in November 2016,” comments Shaun Hannan, director at Pacific Rim Wood Ltd, and a key player in the transformational change in the Indonesian timber supply chain which has taken place.

“It’s the result of a process on-going for some 18 years. After criticism of its practices in the early 2000s, Indonesians were quick to spot the market opportunity represented by changing their sourcing and factory production control practices,” continues Shaun Hannan.

“They are also keen to develop products for the European and global markets.

They have made vast efforts to implement root and branch reform, from forest concessions through to finished products,” he adds.

“Their FLEGT-licenced timber products now offer architects reliable wood products manufactured to the most demanding standards.

 Through engaging with, understanding and specifying Indonesian FLEGT-licensed wood, architects have the means to benefit local communities in Indonesia, where forest ownership is often on the micro-scale.”

The FLEGT licensing system originally emerged as part of the responsible sourcing-driven European Union Timber Regulation, and is designed in part to return economic benefits to local producers, encouraging them to value their forest resources.

The FLEGT system is based around legal harvesting. Countries start working with the EU under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). They then develop their own national timber sustainability and legality verification schemes, working closely with EU monitors.

After implementation and checking, a process which can take many years, the whole country’s timber supply is then licensed and accepted under EUTR/UKTR. Indonesia is the first country to be able to issue FLEGT licenses, with other countries such as Ghana and many across tropical Africa following hot on the Indonesian’s heels.

The supply of FLEGT-licensed tropical hardwoods which architects can specify with confidence is highly likely to increase in the next few years.

Risk management in timber sourcing is a key to maintaining the hard-won reputations of architects’ practices. Alongside FLEGT licensing, architects can check on the Timber Trade Federation’s website at ttf.co.uk to see if their timber suppliers are covered by its Responsible Purchasing Policy.

Acknowledged by authorities and NGOs as a rigorous system, TTF members have to submit their due diligence practices to random 3rd party independent audits. A basic tenet of TTF membership for companies like Pacific Rim Wood is adherence to TTF’s Responsible Purchasing Policy and submission of annual data on responsible sourcing and related actions.

The Federation also publishes an annual responsible sourcing report covering its member companies operating across Britain, both traders and merchants, thus providing a barometer of sourcing practice in the UK.

Indonesian FLEGT-licensed wood products now available in the UK include the Flamebreak™ range of light-weight hardwood core fire doors, with either a plywood or MDF  face; which are accredited under BWF Certifire. Plywood for use in general construction and also other specialist areas is also available; as are products for interiors.

“The Indonesian timber supply chain is dependent on many individual small farmers selling their wood to the mills.

That’s what makes their achievement of FLEGT-licensing status all the more worthy of support,” concludes Pacific Rim Wood’s Shaun Hannan.