The road to net zero is paved with timber

timber forest

When you want to create a net zero carbon supply chain, sustainable timber has a lot of advantages. Timber Development UK is working to unite the whole timber supply chain behind the creation of a formal roadmap to help us reach net zero as an industry by 2050. Charlie Law, TDUK’s Sustainability Director, explains.

Timber has long been a fractured industry. Our supply chain consists of many thousands of businesses – big and small – which can make the kind of collective effort required to achieve net-zero carbon emissions as an industry quite difficult.

With Timber Development UK, this is changing. Merging TRADA and the Timber Trade Federation to create the largest timber supply chain organisation means we now have the ability to tackle the big challenges we face as an industry. One of the first big projects we’re taking on is the creation of a zero-carbon roadmap for the timber industry.

TDUK has committed to support its members in halving their greenhouse gas emissions before 2030

TDUK has committed to support its members in halving their greenhouse gas emissions before 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050

The UK government has committed to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and has a legal commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035. Every industry – including timber – now needs to play its part and work hard to find ways to achieve these ambitious figures.

To support the UK government’s sustainability efforts, TDUK has committed to support our members in halving greenhouse gas emissions intensity before 2030, and to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050. We will also disclose our progress on this challenge on a yearly basis.

Over the past six months, we have brought together a partnership across all the trade associations which work in the timber supply chain, from forest through to construction site. This is a multibillion-pound network of thousands of businesses, all working together to create our zero-carbon roadmap.

Where are we now?

Creating a thorough and comprehensive net-zero carbon roadmap is a complex undertaking, and we are only at the start of the journey. We are currently canvassing our members to find out more about their emissions profiles and to understand where the industry’s material carbon emissions come from.

While timber as a material is inherently low-carbon, emissions are created during the felling, manufacturing, processing and transport stages, and we need real data on exactly what generates these emissions before we can explore how they can be improved.

All parts of the supply chain need to work together to reduce emissions

Gathering members’ data

We are still at the early stage of gathering this data, but from the Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that are already available online, we’ve seen that there is a fairly even split between production emissions (from factories where electricity is used to run machines, or where gas or biomass is used for kiln drying), and the transport emissions generated by delivering timber from one part of the supply chain to another.

While some of the possible changes may require waiting for new technologies, such as large-scale hydrogen truck fleets to help reduce transport emissions, there are many ways in which our members can begin to take steps to reduce their emissions. Some have switched from running their factories on mains electricity and gas kilning to biomass and combined heat and power and are already seeing significant savings in emissions.

Scoping out changes

Gathering all our members’ data allows us to scope out the potential carbon – and often financial – savings available from making these changes. It also lets us identify ways in which other members can follow suit to decarbonise the industry while also offsetting any initial investment with the energy savings potential over a specific payback time.

Once we have gathered all our members’ data, we will identify opportunities for decarbonisation and look at other possible mitigation measures we can put in place. We can then carry out some scenario planning to see the different routes the industry can take to achieve net zero, and how quickly those would have an impact.

Then we can move onto the next step – creating a public net-zero carbon roadmap and user toolkit to support the timber industry in reducing its carbon emissions.

Essential targets

Our goal is to have the timber industry’s net-zero carbon roadmap finished and available by the end of 2022. The roadmap will then set out what the timber industry’s current emissions levels are, and the work that needs to be done to meet our targets.

Meeting these targets is essential not just for the environment but also for businesses. From large financial institutions seeking to meet their ESG commitments, to politicians needing to act on their constituents’ concerns, right through to individuals choosing to vote with their wallet, by understanding our carbon footprint as an industry and as individual businesses, we can start to target the key areas of carbon intensity and bring these down in line with our 2050 target.

We look forward to working with our members, and the wider timber supply chain, to demonstrate that timber is the ultimate, low-carbon solution.