Quick wins on the road to net zero

net zero

Following the release of the Timber Industry Net Zero Roadmap, we take a look at some of the initiatives timber suppliers are already putting in place to lower their carbon emissions.

The Timber Industry Net Zero Roadmap was created to establish a clear route for the timber industry to achieve net-zero by 2050. Commissioned by TDUK and 11 other UK timber trade associations and organisations, the roadmap highlights key areas where the whole supply chain can make a difference, from sawmills and importers to merchants. These include:

  • Improving the efficiency of production and distribution of materials
  • Moving to electric-powered vehicles for the transportation of products, and hydrogen for harvesting
  • Moving production facilities to biomass CHP and other renewable energy sources
  • Working with the overseas supply chain to reduce imported embodied emissions.

Understanding emissions

To gain a full understanding of the size of the challenge, carbon emissions were mapped and measured across the supply chain for 12 months. Analysis of the findings shows that the timber supply chain is responsible for 1,575,356 tonnes CO2e territorial emissions – around 0.35% of the UK’s total.

A further 3,655,715 tonnes of imported embodied emissions come from the processing of wood products in their country of origin. Combined, these figures make the timber industry responsible for around 0.68% of the UK’s total emissions.

This is very low compared to other manufacturing industries such as UK steel and concrete production, which are responsible for 2.7% and 1.5% of UK emissions respectively.

However, the Roadmap has set out to challenge the idea that there are few opportunities to further reduce the timber supply chain’s emissions.

Of the total consumption emissions, 49% are generated by the transport of timber products, and 34% are embodied in imported materials. The remaining 17% are the result of waste and production processes within the UK industry.

TDUK Sustainability Director Charlie Law says: “There are some really quick wins in [the report] for businesses – wherever you are in the supply chain – which can be put into practice now. And if you reduce your carbon, you reduce your costs.

“You could change the heat energy source for your factory processes, reduce the waste from product manufacture, or reduce your energy use by using better lightbulbs – there are literally thousands of ways to start. This includes for the single biggest contributor to the timber industry’s carbon profile – transport.

“While there aren’t yet many fully electric HGV options, there are ways to be more efficient, use less diesel, and reduce both emissions and fuel costs.”

The Roadmap comes with 10 high-level recommendations, and includes free tools to help businesses better understand their own emissions profile.

More information on the Timber Industry Net Zero Roadmap is online at www.timberdevelopment.uk/resources/net-zero-roadmap

Get low-carbon skills in place

TDUK has also unveiled a Timber Skills Action plan, in partnership with the HCI Skills Gateway, aimed at equipping the industry with the skills to increase the use of timber and achieve net-zero targets.

Timber could be a key solution to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Engineered products like Cross-Laminated Timber can capture and store carbon in the built environment, resulting in a net benefit of 754CO2/m2 reduction compared to other forms of construction.

Image: Archwood Group has already installed a biomass boiler at its factory in Chirk, north Wales.

The Action plan provides an industry-agreed breakdown of the skills and knowledge required to build with timber, enabling built environment professionals to confidently incorporate timber into building designs.

David Hopkins, Chief Executive of Timber Development UK, says: “The construction industry faces a steep climb to achieve net-zero targets. Timber provides a ready-made solution that doesn’t rely on greenwashing, speculative innovations, or progress in other industries to deliver genuine carbon savings in the short and medium term.”

A number of timber industry suppliers are already working to transition their businesses towards low-carbon construction by creating more sustainable building products and lowering the carbon emissions generated by their manufacturing processes.

Harness solar power

Timber product manufacturer Archwood Group has installed more than 2,000 solar panels at its factory in Chirk, north Wales, to reduce their carbon emissions and further plans to switch to 100% renewable energy.

The total system size is 1MW and offers a payback period of three years. The solar panels will generate 40% of the factory’s total energy requirements, which is enough to power 250 homes annually and provides an annual saving of 175 tonnes of CO2e.

Lee Burford, Director of Operations at Archwood Group, says: “We will be able to fully monitor the panels’ energy generation and efficiency to ensure the system is delivering the intended results.

“This shows how renewable technologies represent value for money over conventional fossil fuels. Investing in the green transition is worth every penny.”

This is Archwood Group’s second renewable source, having installed a biomass boiler at the Chirk site.

The first steps to net zero newbuild homes

In County Wexford, southeast Ireland, work is underway on ‘Project Net Zero Home’, a newbuild house aiming to achieve net zero carbon design principles.

The timber frame house is being built using engineered wood products from MEDITE SMARTPLY. It will employ a whole-life carbon methodology to provide a true picture of the home’s impact on the environment over its entire lifetime. This includes its reuse, demolition and disposal.

SMARTPLY OSB and MEDITE MDF products being used include PROPASSIV for the walls and ceilings, and ULTIMA for the flat roof and garage. MEDITE products include VENT for the walls, flat roof and garage.

Image: A 1MW solar panel system has been installed at an Archwood Group factory to reduce the company’s carbon emissions.

David Murray, Head of Technical Affairs and Ireland Sales says: “The house has been designed using ‘Fabric First’ principles, which involves maximising the performance of the components and materials that make up the building fabric. The project will demonstrate how engineered wood products can maximise airtightness and occupant comfort, while eliminating thermal bridging and other moisture-related risks.

“Wood is a fantastic building material. Not only is it natural and renewable, but its unique ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere enables us to turn our timber frame homes into long-term carbon sinks that lock away carbon deep within the building structure. When the building finally reaches the end of its life, these wood products can be safely reused or recycled.”

MEDITE SMARTPLY’s mission is to move towards carbon neutrality by 2030 by working with suppliers to reduce its impact on the environment. The company also plans to run customer workshops with clients to identify areas where support can be given, and is also committed to being a net-zero manufacturing company by 2050.

Chris King, Managing Director of MEDITE SMARTPLY, says: “Our business has been sourcing 100% green electricity since 2021, which has helped to further reduce our carbon impact. Currently, 95% of energy sourced by MEDITE SMARTPLY used across our direct operations is renewable.”

Embodied carbon is critical

John Smith, Technical Director of Donaldson Timber Systems, says embodied carbon is critical to the success of the journey to net zero carbon homes.

He explains: “From 2025, newly built homes will need to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with a 75% reduction in carbon emissions to 2021 levels in England and Wales, and a 57% reduction in Scotland. Reducing the requirement for energy in the home is the first step, before introducing low and zero carbon energy sources.

“In a new home completed to 2021 standards, embodied carbon from construction, end-of-life demolition and disposal is around 15% of whole-life carbon emissions, with the rest from heating and power.

“When we factor embodied carbon into the zero-carbon journey, timber really comes into its own. Using a timber frame build system for a 2021 newbuild home reduces the embodied carbon by around five tonnes compared with a masonry construction home of the same fabric performance.

“Timber can also lower or offset its embodied carbon thanks to sequestration – absorbing atmospheric CO2 while the tree is growing and storing it until the timber is incinerated or goes to landfill at the end of its use. Around one tonne of CO2 is stored in every m³ of timber.”

John continues: “While we’ll continue to campaign for the legislation of embodied carbon, many organisations will conclude that they need to consider the full process to meet their sustainability goals.

“That’s why we’re [helping to] measure the sequestered and embodied carbon for all our build systems. Through experience, measurement and science, we can demonstrate that timber offers an ideal solution to achieve true net zero carbon targets.”