Laying out the case for building with wood

Laying out the case for building with wood

ARTICLE · By Timber Trade Federation · 23 February 2022

The ‘Time for Timber’ manifesto outlines how wood is crucial if we are to decarbonise our built environment.

Just a few months ago, more than 120 world leaders gathered together in Glasgow to decide the policy path which would avert climate disaster. COP26 is significant as it is outlined as one of the final chances to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – and because for the first time ever, it featured a built environment day.

Our built environment is a significant contributor to global warming, responsible for nearly 40% of global energy related CO2 emissions. While the energy efficiency of buildings has been in the cross hairs of governments for some decades, another major contributor to these emissions – around 10% – comes from what is known as embodied carbon.

Embodied carbon arises from the emissions associated with the extraction, processing and manufacture of building products. It is a fact that the energy intensive materials of the 20th Century have been major contributors to our current climate predicament, from the petrochemical sourced plastics which pollute our oceans to the concrete and steel which define our cities.

It is widely known fact that cement is a major contributor to emissions and, if it were a country, it would be the third biggest carbon emitter in the world. Steel too is an intensely energy hungry material and contributor to global emissions. But It does not need to be this way. Within our built environment there exists an alternative with which we can build a new century more attuned with nature and the needs of the planet – timber.

Our manifesto, ‘Growing our low-carbon future: Time for Timber’, launched at COP26, sets out the case for how we can make greater use of wood to transform our built environment, and why we must if we are to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

Wood is the only sustainable structural material which can enable a substantial decarbonisation of the built environment based on existing business models and proven technology. Wood is a natural, cost-effective, and sustainable carbon-capture solution – as once managed forests are harvested they are replanted or allowed to regenerate naturally and carbon sequestration continues.

Wood products can also displace the use of carbon intensive alternatives such as steel, concrete and plastics, thus reducing emissions even further. Meanwhile as demand for sustainable wood products goes up it also encourages forest growth. This has been seen in Europe where forest areas have increased by 10% over the last 30 years, at a rate of 643 thousand hectares per year.

New technologies are also extending the use of wood through engineered timber with innovative wood products helping timber reach high into the sky – with some buildings already up to 18 storeys in height – as products such as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), Glued Laminated Timber (Glulam) and Laminated Veneered Lumber (LVL) bring the structural strength of steel and concrete with the added advantages of being light in weight, eliminating the need for substantial foundations.

Globally, we are seeing progress as more policy makers embrace timber and the policies which we promote. Within the likes of Europe and North America, and recently the UK, embodied carbon is being tackled. Embodied carbon entered the lexicon of Westminster just a few weeks ago as a bill to regulate embodied carbon was put forward by Duncan Baker MP.

Of course, the full range of construction materials we have today will remain important. However, when it comes to building in a climate crisis, it is clear now is the time for more timber. You can read the ‘Growing our low-carbon future: Time for timber’ manifesto on the Confederation of Timber Industries website: www.cti-timber.org.

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