July's TTJ features the first in a series of articles with Wood for Good's Dave Hopkins. In this piece, he highlights the huge potential of the campaign's Lifecycle Database.
While all signs show that construction activity is on the up, there are growing concerns that sustainability may be left by the wayside. Reforms to the Infrastructure Bill that will lessen the carbon requirements of small developments, as unveiled in the Queen’s Speech, are the latest blow to the green agenda, and a worrying step that will put Britain’s low carbon homes programme back a decade.
Earlier this year we commissioned research with parliamentary specialist Dods to source the opinions of 100 MPs about their priorities for the development of new homes. Our survey found that more than half (57 per cent) ranked the environmental sustainability of building products and materials among their bottom two concerns, while only a third (36 per cent) placed the energy efficiency of new properties in their top two. Cost emerged as the most important criteria, with 54 per cent of respondents naming it as their first or second consideration.
However, as the timber industry knows, cost and sustainability should not be mutually exclusive. We have at our disposal an endlessly renewable resource, proven to be an effective carbon store which requires minimal energy inputs to produce and can actually help to reduce construction costs by lending itself to prefabrication and speeding up build times
Wanting to understand what was stopping widespread adoption of timber, more than two years ago we entered into prolonged conversations with specifiers about their experiences and what would help them to choose wood as the primary material in high profile developments. Our discussions revealed that, while many were convinced of the various benefits of timber, they often lacked the empirical evidence to endorse its use. What would benefit them was a single, convenient hub that brought together environmental performance information on wood products commonly used in the UK and could be applied to their own projects.
Thus began an ambitious project to create the Lifecycle Database, a catalogue of the Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) data of major timber products, including modern-engineered solutions such as cross-laminated timber and glulam, and proprietary materials, all free-to-use and available on Wood for Good’s website.
With the support of industry bodies including Scottish Enterprise, Forestry Commission Scotland, the TTF and TRADA, and global sustainability consultancy, PE International appointed to oversee the collection and analysis of the data, this April we were able to launch the LCA datasets.
As the largest resource of its type in the UK, simply having the Lifecycle Database at our disposal puts the industry in good stead in being able to quantify the environmental performance of timber in construction – and that’s without even accounting for some of the excellent results that have emerged from the analysis.
Every timber product assessed was found to have a carbon negative rating on a cradle-to-site basis, which means the amount of carbon absorbed and stored in the timber is greater than that emitted in production and transportation, demonstrating how timber should be seen as a sustainable solution for the future.
As part of the next phase, Wood for Good is putting together User Guides that will support those in the construction and design process to interrogate the EPD-style datasets and model the impacts of the life-cycle performance of their developments. We’ll be making these brochures available free to download in the near future.
But beyond engaging with potential end users, we appreciate that without a broader, pan-industry education campaign the database will not reach its potential. There’s an opportunity to use the data to help the industry market its own products, which in turn should help stimulate demand. It’s our goal that everyone involved in the timber industry fully understands and can make best use of the data to support their own activities. We have an army of sales personnel on the road every day who can spread the word to their customers far more effectively than a centralised campaign can.
To this end, we are set to host a half-day workshop for the timber industry at London’s Building Centre to ensure that the impact of the LCA database is fully understood, and its findings can be used to support the sales and marketing activities of the whole supply chain. The intention is to use these sessions to find out how organisations currently engage with customers and to develop materials that would benefit this approach, which Wood for Good will then produce.
This is an exciting time for timber. In coming together and making best use of the data at our disposal, together we should be able to position timber as the first choice material for sustainable building.