Despite recent attempts to discredit timber, we know our industry offers an effective and scientifically proven means of reducing built environment emissions.
Amidst a climate crisis, as a low-carbon, renewable material, timber offers some clear answers on how to decarbonise our built environment.
This has been recognised independently by the likes of the United Nations, the European Union, the Royal Society, the World Wildlife Foundation, the UK Climate Change Committee, and recently the Environmental Audit Committee.
With engineered timber alternatives to high carbon materials such as concrete quickly becoming more widely used and accepted, from CLT to glulam, it is unsurprising recently to see that entrenched interests are seeking to dig in their heels and push back against the scientific consensus.
This has been particularly pronounced in the last week with a report from BAR seeking to discredit the environmental credentials of CLT, along with a report from the ‘Carbon Accounting 4 Building Materials’ – a thinly veiled lobby group from a range of concrete associations across Europe – in a “peer-reviewed study” they commissioned from LBPSight, a private Dutch consultancy.
Usually, we don’t engage with these kinds of reports, even as they seem to be coming out of the concrete industry with increasing frequency. It feels similar to the early 2000s when news channels would give climate deniers and lobbyists oxygen even as the scientific consensus was clear around climate change.
We would rather focus our efforts and support on working towards true solutions to the climate crisis. However, we need to straighten out the facts and – together as the timber industry – call out the lies. It was less than a month ago that the concrete industry was called out in Buildings & Cities for their inaccurate claims, so this week has been disappointing, to say the least.
It should be clear to readers that these recent reports are based on misconceptions or outdated stereotypes about the modern timber industry, which is technologically advanced and creates sustainable, healthy and safe communities for the benefit of society.
There are 271 scientifically rigorous and truly blind peer-reviewed journal articles on the carbon capture benefits of mass timber systems available on Science Direct.
Instead of addressing this evidence, these latest studies commissioned by the aggregate lobby put forward falsehoods. They state that ‘most wood products are not recycled’, even as independent data suggests that less than 1% of waste wood ends up in a landfill. Instead, the vast majority of wood is reused or converted into secondary products.
They make assertions about the ‘uncertainty’ of forest resources, without acknowledging that forests across Europe are growing. They have expanded by 90,000 square kilometres between 1990 and 2015 – an area roughly the size of Portugal – thanks to sustainable forest management. This approach has meant the volume of wood and the weight of carbon stored in the biomass of European forests has grown by 50% over the last 30 years. All while the timber industry has increased outputs.
Instead of talking to the science, both of the reports aim to inject uncertainty into the market by imagining scenarios where timbers’ carbon performance would be impacted – where trees are harvested and not replaced, or old growth forests are harvested – all the while ignoring market realities, hard data, or the modern forestry practices which are in place preventing all these outcomes.
No room is given to analyse the impact of renewable vs non-renewable materials or even the pro-certification procurement policies in those states which are increasing timber construction.
It’s the last gasp of an industry with a high carbon addiction trying to prevent the growth of sustainable alternatives. It simply isn’t helpful in creating a more sustainable construction industry.
After all, concrete will continue to be in high demand. It is the second most consumed material on the planet after water and is currently responsible for at least 8% of global carbon emissions.
We need to find ways to minimise its impact – and yes, this includes using less concrete – and to start using low-carbon substitute materials such as timber. This is not music to the ears of those with entrenched interests, and we expect we will find in the future there are more of these types of reports.
However, we would suggest that concrete industry resources would be better spent on finding ways to minimise their own environmental impact – including overcoming their destructive addiction to dredging rivers and seabeds for sand, or consuming vast amounts of water and energy.
Within the sustainable timber supply chain, we don’t feel any need to commission expensive reports seeking to discredit the concrete industry. There is already vast amounts of scientific evidence out there highlighting the damage which it causes.
Instead, we will continue to support the industry to better measure, and regulate carbon impacts, through the likes of policies such as Part Z.
In a world where we properly account for carbon, we have no concerns that our products wont be able to compete.