Sustainability Inside Out

Sustainability Inside Out

ARTICLE · By Timber Trade Federation · 28 April 2020

Most merchants are familiar with sustainable timber certification. Yet there is a deeper story behind the production and distribution of wood products which could help merchants with marketing.

Laura Qualters, National Technical Manager at Marley explains that the sustainability debate is moving on:  “With so much work on sustainability having been done in the timber sector over many years, there can be no doubt that buying solid timber products that come with FSC® and/or PEFC™ certification, such as Marley’s CitiDeck decking, represent the best option for the environmentally-conscious merchant and builder.  The embodied carbon in solid wood is also becoming important to architects because of RIBA’s 2030 Climate Challenge.”  The architects’ body declared a ‘climate emergency’ last summer, challenging its members to calculate the embodied carbon in the materials they specify.

To respond to customer queries, merchants can obtain Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) from a number of Timber Trade Federation member suppliers, on products including Metsä Wood’s FinnJoists and James Jones’ JJI-Joists.

BSW took the step of producing an EPD for their British-grown construction timber, which includes its carcassing, some years ago, as BSW’s Hamish Macleod, Director of Public Affairs, describes: “The EPD describes the environmental impacts associated with the production of one cubic metre of our sawn, kiln-dried and planed timber.  Architects often specify home-grown timber so it’s important for merchants also to understand its environmental benefits. The research behind the EPD proved that our sawn and planed kiln-dried construction timber is both a carbon-negative and an energy-negative material. It stores 6-7 times more CO2 in the wood than is released from its harvesting, processing and transport,” he states.

Serious investment is being made by timber suppliers in constantly decreasing their carbon footprint, as Mike Glennon, Joint Managing Director of carcassing and fencing producers Glennon Brothers, relates: “Recent investments in a £14 million biomass Combined Heat & Power Plant (CHP) and Progressive Kiln at our Troon plant in Scotland has multiple beneficial ‘green’ outcomes,” he comments. “Using our wood residues on site generates electricity powering the entire Troon plant.  Excess power is also exported to the UK National Grid. The heat generated is used to dry all our construction timber: previously this process used gas.  Using wood residues such as chip, butt-chip and bark has also reduced road haulage by 50%, further reducing CO2 emissions. This significant investment will further improve our product quality, and increase our kiln drying capacity by an additional 50,000m3,” Mike Glennon adds.

At the other end of the supply equation, insulation is a key factor in reducing climate impacts in finished buildings.  Steico UK’s woodfibre insulation boards keep homes cool during the summer months and warm during the winter.  “Due to its vapour permeability, woodfibre insulation helps to regulate humidity within a home’s internal environment, mitigating the risk of mould, condensation or dust mites,” says Craig Colligan, National Sales Manager, Steico UK. “For building occupants, this helps reduce respiratory ailments such as asthma.”  The Steico wood fibre insulation range includes boards for use between internal studding, for sarking, and for use on internal walls.

Wood is already known for its carbon storage abilities, yet the density of wood products has an additional impact on the ability to store carbon. Rob Toy, director of Devon Hardwoods, who supply local independent builders merchants in the south west, comments: “Hardwoods, being generally more dense than softwoods, are even greater carbon stores, and the more dense the species the better.  Customers can rest assured that, as signatories to the TTF’s Responsible Purchasing Policy with all the due diligence it involves, our sourcing of sustainable hardwoods meets the highest standards.”

Understanding the back story to the supply of different timber products often reveals new angles for marketing.  A product such as UPM’s WISA Birch plywood is one such example.  Birch is a plentiful species in northern Europe, as UPM’s Sales Manager for UK & Ireland, Joan Bailey, relates: “Birch twigs, branches and tree stumps are left in the forest to support biodiversity, as insects and fungi feed off the wood.  The wood waste from WISA plywood production is utilised in a biomass boiler, providing power for the factory and, through the grid, for the local community.  Wood waste is also used in pulp production and, ultimately, a biofuel is then made using the waste from pulp production. There is very little waste.”

Hanson Plywood’s  Panguaneta poplar-throughout plywood also offers marketing scope. The species of poplar used is a fast-growing Italian variety specifically developed for the plywood industry, available with PEFC™ or FSC® certification.  Managing Director Gary Scott, comments: “Panguaneta’s lightweight, uniform-faced plywood is made from Poplar harvested in Northern Italy, where they protect the biodiversity and natural habitats around this renewable, sustainable resource.”  Panguaneta poplar-throughout plywood is in the ULEF (ultra low formaldehyde emissions) category.

Understanding and leveraging the marketing potential of suppliers’ pro-climate actions is ultimately the name of the wood sales game, as Toby Lewis, Head of Merchant Sales at SCA confirms: “Sustainably-grown softwood is one of the most climate-friendly building materials in the world.  SCA was the first Swedish company to calculate the carbon footprint of its products, from our tree nursery to delivery to customers. We’ve also helped interested customers to calculate their own contribution to carbon footprint through delivery to site,” Toby Lewis says.  “Merchants can use positive environmental stories to help market their timber offering. Talk to your supplier and use their training schemes, such as our Smart Timber programme, to make sure you have all the facts you need to make the most of wood sales.”

This article was originally published in Builder Merchants News in April 2020.