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  • 2021: Tackling climate change with timber

2021: Tackling climate change with timber

2020 is a year we will never forget. Aside from the obvious talking point, 2020 was also one of the hottest years on record. Climate change is real, and time is running out.

Last year, there was a real momentum building towards a green recovery. 2021 has the potential to turn things around, and therefore climate change is a critical focus for the timber and forestry industries this year. Solid efforts will be made to decrease carbon emissions throughout the year, culminating with the United Nations’ Climate Conference, COP26, taking place in Glasgow in November.

So, what are the timber and forestry industries doing in 2021 to get the UK closer to its net zero target?

1. Planting more trees 

The UK is highly dependent on importing timber, with 80% of all timber used sourced in this way. This caused supply issues for the construction industry at the onset of the pandemic, and Brexit has further hindered the supply chain.

Increased tree cover in the UK would create a natural carbon store and if managed and harvested appropriately, trees can also be used to produce more home-grown timber.

tweet from during the APPGTo make it happen, there needs to be political buy-in, achievable targets and robust management and harvesting. These were the key points made by Caroline Ayre, Confor’s national manager for England, and Tom Barnes, managing director at Vastern Timber, at a recent meeting for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting. 

Scotland leads the way for timber and forestry in the UK, closely followed by Wales. 2021 began positively for the Scottish forestry sector. The Growing Rural Talent initiative, in partnership with Confor, Scottish Forestry, Forestry and Land Scotland and Skills Development Scotland, will award subsidies to forestry firms who recruit young people. This will allow Scotland to keep striving towards its earlier net zero target of 2045 by planting more trees and producing more homegrown timber.

In England, tree planting has not been as successful. Despite a government pledge to increase tree planting, it was reported last year that England is falling short of the target. £92 million will be made available from April this year with the intention to plant 7,500 hectares a year to meet the 2025 target for woodland cover.

2. Building with timber

Creating new buildings or retrofitting existing buildings with low-carbon, renewable building materials is key to reducing carbon emissions in the built environment.

The construction industry must challenge the status quo if it is to reduce its carbon footprint. Innovation is increasing in construction and the tools are there for anyone who is serious about creating sustainable buildings.

The government kicked off the year with the early release of the Future Homes Standard. It contains some encouraging guidance around Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and the use of timber. But scrutinous climate change group, Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN), pointed out a missing ingredient: embodied carbon.

Embodied carbon, defined by the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) as ‘the total greenhouse gas emissions generated to produce a built asset’, was highlighted in responses to the Future Homes Standard consultation. Yet, it has been neglected from the new standard.

Low carbon heating and energy systems are imperative, but it is not the only way to reduce harmful emissions. By taking a fabric first approach and choosing a natural and renewable material such as timber, embodied carbon is reduced.

Timber structural systems, such as timber frame or cross-laminated timber, not only embody carbon (at around 20 - 60% per building) but also deliver the benefits of modern methods of construction. Choosing build systems like these reduces build time, reduces waste, improves safety and causes less disruption in the local area.

Launched amid the pandemic, the Wood CO2ts less campaign was well received throughout the construction industry. It aims to promote the use of all wood products as low carbon materials, and illustrates how using wood can help to reduce CO₂ in the atmosphere and slow climate heating.

Work continues this year with more supporters and champions, pushing the agenda on the importance of increasing timber’s use in construction.

3. Talking timber in 2021

Tropical forests play a critical role in supplying timber but remain at risk from illegal logging and poor practices. Wherever unregulated logging takes place, it impacts the people, the economy and the environment.

To encourage discussion on this topic, the Conversations about Climate Change exhibition will open virtually on 12 February 2021. A collaboration between the Timber Trade Federation (TTF) and the Building Centre, it will be a showcase of design objects created from tropical hardwood that highlights the urgency of the climate change debate.

From theory to practice, the Riverside Sunderland: University Design Challenge also launches in February. Quoted as “the most ambitious city centre regeneration project in the UK”, Riverside Sunderland has teamed up with MOBIE and the Confederation of Timber Industries.

Open to built environment students and 2020 graduates, the collaborative challenge requires teams to design a 3-bedroom family home and an indicative masterplan, including landscape and greenscape. All designs must make use of timber or timber hybrid, use MMC and exceed the RIBA 2030 challenge.

Wood for Good is proud to back this initiative and eagerly anticipates the submissions, proof that homes can be and do so much more.

4. Timber solutions in 2021

On the same day the Future Homes Standard was announced, so was a new national construction products regulator. One of the initiatives born out of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the regulator will ensure homes are built with safe materials. Dave Hopkins, TTF CEO, welcomed the regulator and shared that the TTF will be working closely with the Construction Products Association, the government, and across the timber supply chain.

The Structural Timber Association CLT Special Interest Group continues its work in 2021 to provide guidance and evidence to support the fire safe design of mass timber High Rise Residential Buildings (HRRB) and commercial buildings.

Following a review of the ban on the use of combustible materials in and on the external walls of buildings in 2020, the construction industry is still awaiting the government’s response.

Also flying the flag for fire safety and timber is the British Woodworking Federation (BWF). This year will see the 9th Fire Door Safety Week in September. The BWF’s work to ensure fire door safety is given the attention it deserves is coordinated with numerous training opportunities and expert guidance for anyone responsible for the design, manufacture, installation and maintenance of a fire door.

5. Celebrating timber in 2021

Despite last year’s challenges, the construction industry continues to produce exemplar homes and buildings using timber. In the face of Covid-19, climate change and Brexit, there is much that deserves to be celebrated.

Kicking off 2021’s celebrations was the STA’s Structural Timber Awards, which took place virtually on Wednesday 27 January. Both the winners and those shortlisted demonstrated innovative ways to build with timber, creating more sustainable and healthier buildings.

On 24 February, the Architects’ Journal Retrofit Awards will see entries including alma-nac’s ‘house within a house’ contending for a prize.

Later in the year the Wood Awards will take place. Going beyond the structure and interior of a building, the Wood Awards also has categories for smaller projects such as garden studios, furniture and products.


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