At COP26 in Glasgow, positive messages about timber were impossible to avoid. Whether in the COP26 House, the Built Environment Virtual Pavilion or the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, low-carbon solutions for the built environment invariably called for timber technology. Here’s our round-up of the top timber-related events, announcements and innovations from the 26th UN Climate Change Conference.
The Wood for Good Conference took place in the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) in Glasgow, where attendees could enjoy a smorgasbord of timber technology and an equally wide-ranging programme of presentations and presenters. Topics ranged from sustainable forests to cutting-edge timber technology, UK schools to global real estate portfolios, cities to smart energy homes. If you want to see for yourself, you can do so here.
Andrew Waugh of Waugh Thistleton Architects opened the conference with a whistle-stop tour of his practice’s 20-year timber-building odyssey. From the UK’s first-ever cross-laminated timber (CLT) building in 2003, to the 10-storey residential Dalston Works in North London in 2011, Waugh brought us up-to-date with news of London’s tallest engineered timber office building under construction in London’s Shoreditch and a 2,500-home mixed-use scheme in Bergen Sweden planned to grow out of a lake.
Attendees heard that the Department for Education, in looking to find a school solution that was ultra-low embodied carbon, net-zero in operation and offsite-friendly, had plumped for timber. Presenting on the DfE’s Gen Zero research and development programme, DfE design adviser Beverly Quinn told the conference that their findings would be spread across other government departments. Pilots and pathways to get the various elements of Gen Zero into both new-build schools and retrofit programmes are the next step. (If you're interested in hearing more about the classroom, you'll find more information in our next December newsletter.)
For a full round-up of the Wood for Good Conference, read our coverage.
Organisations from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand joined forces to launch a manifesto for governments around the world that calls on them to use more timber in construction. Growing our low-carbon future: time for timber sets out the climate benefits of deploying timber, rather than concrete and steel, and proposes a plan that policy makers should adopt.
The manifesto, which was developed by a global alliance of timber bodies including Wood for Good, points out that timber products absorb and store more carbon than is spent in manufacturing and installing them. The document also debunks the idea that higher-rise timber buildings are less fire-safe than steel- or concrete-framed ones, highlighting the fact that buildings of over 18 storeys have been constructed with engineered timber products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT).
Policy makers are urged to adopt five measures to help speed up national and global journeys to zero carbon: making life cycle assessments and embodied carbon mandatory; using more timber in new-build and retrofit; leading the way with public procurement; improving timber reuse and recycling, and upskilling for new and existing roles in the timber sector.
With the UK importing virtually all its structural timber, the Transforming Timber programme is investigating how we can deploy more home-grown timber in our buildings. The initiative took a significant step forward with COP26, gaining funding to construct a two-storey, two-bedroom prototype which deploys different forms of engineered timber.
Led by CSIC, Transforming Timber is supported by Edinburgh Napier University, ECOSystems Technologies, the University of Edinburgh, and SNRG. The £1.45m funding for the prototype came from Innovate UK’s Small Business Research Initiative.
The prototype has cross-laminated timber (CLT) walls, glue laminated timber (glulam) floors and nail-laminated timber ceilings and roof, together with wood fibre wall and roof insulation. Virtually all the wood is home grown (just the beech nails for the nail-laminated timber came from overseas).
Homegrown timber was also the star of the COP26 House , designed by Roderick James Architects and erected on a brownfield site in the centre of Glasgow. Based on a standard design by the architects, the one-bedroom modular timber house follows Passivhaus principles, ensuring its operational carbon credentials are as impressive as its embodied carbon ones.
Designed as a ‘kit of parts’ to suit self-builders, the home also benefits from wood fibre insulation in its floor cassettes, walls and roof. Even the roofing material is head-treated timber, with the same panels used for the external wall cladding too.
Scottish minister Mairi Cougeon, cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands, visited the house with Peter Smith, architect, from Roderick James Architects and Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall, calling it “an inspiring example of Scottish innovation”.
Once COP26 was over, the little house was destined for a new life; it was to be dismantled and reassembled in a 12-home development near Aviemore.
On 10 November, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) unveiled its Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap, which provides a summary of where we are now and what needs to happen to reach net zero by 2050. A formal launch, detailing next steps, is planned for 8 December.
Involving over 100 organisations and backed by heavy-weight clients including Landsec, Lloyds Bank, Lendlease, Grosvenor and Stanhope, the Roadmap quantifies the emission reduction required in each built environment sector to hit the right trajectory. It considers not just domestic emissions but those related to imported products and materials too.
Among the urgent actions the Roadmap calls for is the immediate instigation of a national domestic retrofit programme. As well as setting the context, defining details on data collection and providing pointers for policy makers, the Roadmap sets out specific recommendations for 14 key stakeholders. Immediate actions for architects include implementing net zero skills and training plans, carrying out whole life carbon estimates as part of initial site appraisals and establishing energy intensity and embodied carbon targets for all projects.
Wood for the Trees is a 10-part series exploring UK forests and their futures. In the run-up to COP26, the people behind the series, film-maker and forest school leader Charly Le Marchant and Tom Barnes, manager of Vastern Timber sawmills, spoke to a range of forest experts to ask what their policy recommendations to the Government would be. With suggestions ranging from a Britain-first policy for specifying timber on public projects to limiting the grey squirrel population, there were also some linking themes among the ideas put forward.
Dr Gabriel Hemery, co-founder and chief executive of environmental charity the Sylva Foundation called for joined-up thinking across Government departments, while Jez Ralph of Timber Strategies wants to see forests and agriculture considered together as one ecological unit, rather than being siloed. Both Alastair Driver, director of Rewilding Britain and Suzi Maritineu of charity Trees Sister and The Tree Conference called for the Government to put its money where its mouth is in terms of increasing tree planting and the UK’s canopy.
At a local level, Doug King Smith who owns and restored Hillyfield Woodland Farm called for the recognition that forests and woods are an amenity as well as a resource and that woodland restoration should be prioritized over planting. He believes that every child should have access to a forest school. Chris Smaje, smallholder and author of Small Farm Future, believes that a carbon tax would help to incentivize local production or timber and agricultural products.
On the day after over 100 world leaders signed up to reversing deforestation by 2030 at COP26, the Timber Trade Federation UK (TTF) launched a tropical timber accord proposing an international legal framework and overseeing body for the timber trade.
Speaking at the launch of Global Forests Need Global Governance: Tropical Timber Accord at COP26, TTF CEO David Hopkins applauded the leaders’ deforestation pledge but added: “We want to highlight the fact that to achieve that and to achieve those goals we need to put some of the detail behind those pledges into action.”
The tropical timber accord, which has been written through a series of TTF-led workshops with trade associations and companies in the tropical timber sector, aims to build on existing frameworks and national governance. And crucially, it involves the creation of an international secretariat.
“You need one office with a remit to do that and crucially it needs to be a global office…with full representation from producer and user countries around the world,” said Hopkins.
A lack of global governance means that currently timber from illegal deforestation can make its way into supply chains, which undermines sustainable business models and prevents benefits being driven back into forests for the benefit of the environment and communities.
With its timber-framed transparent domes, timber decking and accompanying soundtracks from nature, the COP26 Built Environment Virtual Pavilion is a relaxing place to hang out. The virtual pavilion is still open to visitors who can hop from the main dome, where designer Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs fame will give you an introduction to the pavilion, into one of the 17 surrounding domes each of which holds information about an exemplary project from around the world.
There’s plenty of wood in evidence among the projects on show. Visit Hope Rise in Bristol, a net zero social housing development, designed by ZED PODS, whose superstructure is constructed from cross-laminated timber (CLT). Or White Arkitekter’s 20-storey Sara Cultural Centre in Skelleftea, Sweden, the world’s tallest timber building – which also has a negative carbon footprint.
Home-grown UK timber is also showcased through the University of East Anglia’s Enterprise Centre in Norwich, designed by Architype. The internal stud partitions for the building, which was built to Passivhaus standards and achieved a BREEAM Outstanding rating, came from locally sourced pine.
Other projects on show include Amsterdam’s Bridges of Laminated Timber (BoLT), designed by Arup for Dutch highway and infrastructure authority Rijkswaterstaat; the Heart of School, Green School in Bali which is built from bamboo’ and the Natural Capital Laboratory which is looking at high-tech ways to rewild land in the Scottish Highlands.
Those keen to learn more about these and other projects can do so: the pavilion is still open for visitors.