In the current climate of global warming, the need for the building industry to respond by using sustainable, low-carbon materials in construction is gaining increasing acceptance throughout the world.
That raises interesting questions about the âWood Firstâ rule â the idea that sustainably sourced timber should, where feasible, be considered as the primary construction material in all new build and refurbishment projects.
In the United Kingdom, Wood for Good, an organisation set up by the Timber Trade Federation and the Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor), supports such an idea.
Accordingly, the industry body has launched a âWood Firstâ campaign, calling for the rule to be implemented in local planning authority guidance throughout the UK.
Wood for Good says the concept of embedding wood as a preferred construction material in planning is already gaining traction. It says that in France, the wood first rule has been implemented as a key element of climate policy, while several boroughs in the UK â including a major London borough â are considering different versions of the rule. Meanwhile, current proposals from the European Commission will enable the carbon stored in harvested wood products to be taken into account in national carbon budgets.
According to David Hopkins, Wood for Goodâs head of external affairs, the low carbon properties of timber have been documented in a number of scientific and academic reports. Along with its thermal insulation properties, he says, wood actively mitigates against the effects of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen during the growth process, resulting in carbon being âcapturedâ and stored in timber products.
âIncreasing forest cover is recognised as one of the most effective weapons we have in the battle against climate change, and the best way to achieve this is to stimulate demand for sustainable timber and wood products,â he says. âThe introduction of a Wood First rule will help to make this happen.â
Hopkins says such a rule would benefit local authorities by increasing the speed of construction, thus driving efficiency as well as creating homes and buildings that consume less energy because of timberâs âexceptionalâ thermal insulation properties.
Add in wider economic, biodiversity and community impacts, he says, and it is âobviousâ that âto start with wood firstâ is one of the most effective ways to build a low-carbon future.
Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, agrees.
âIt is about time we put Wood First in this country,â he says. âThe forest based industries play a vital role in the rural and wider economy in the UK yet they receive little attention or support.â
What About Deforestation?
But what about negative effects, such as deforestation? Charles Thwaites, the Executive Director of the Forest Stewardship Councilâs UK National Office acknowledges that this is a significant issue, but says it reinforces the need for best practice in sustainable forestry.
âDeforestation is still a major issue in many parts of the world with devastating impacts on the environment and local communities,â Thwaites says. âNevertheless the Forest Stewardship Council is convinced that timber harvested in a responsible manner can be environmentally appropriate, beneficial to local peoples and make a fair economic return.”
He noted that when timber products are sourced from forests that are properly managed a meet the standards set out by the Forest Stewardship Council, their use in building will provide a massive boost to sustainability.
âAnd this is why we support Wood First,â he says.