SETTING YOUR STORE BY WOOD
Wooden supermarkets. How quaint and eco-friendly.
The sale of organic food will go through the roof. They'll all forget about the green-belt land we chewed up 20 years ago. We are on to a winner.
It's easy to be cynical about the motives behind Tesco and Asda's plans to build three all-wood eco-stores.
Today the marketing wars between the retailing big boys are being waged along 'green' lines and Tesco, which seems to be lagging behind, knows its new environmentally friendly shop in Wick, Scotland, will be lapped up by the punters.
Timber supplier Finnforest Merk thinks the decision to rely heavily on wood construction clearly shows the supermarkets want to embrace sustainability.
'We believe this is the start of a strategy of going with wood, ' says Warren Dudding, UK marketing manager of Finnforest Merk. 'The supermarkets are taking a step forward in a sustainable environmental strategy.'
Admittedly the new wooden Tesco, with its timber frame, cladding and roofing, will become the first of its kind to be built in Europe.
But is this project really going to be repeated on a mass scale across Britain?
Laurie Chetwood doesn't think so. The architect knows how the sector works, having already collaborated with Sainsbury's on its famous lowenergy store in Greenwich, which opened five years ago.
He says: 'I can't see Tesco rolling out wooden stores across its multibillion pound estate.
'If you are going to make a difference then you really need more than a one-off flagship store.'
And Broadway Malyan's retail director, Melvin Davis, agrees. He, like Chetwood, thinks true sustainability in a retail sense will come from totally reassessing how people shop and reviewing the basics of the supply chain.
He says: 'What companies must not do is concentrate on just one element. It's like people sticking windmills on their houses.
'I can understand why they are doing it, and I applaud them for taking it on board seriously. We've all got to start somewhere, but sustainability is a much, much wider picture.'
It does not seem, then, that the all-wooden store will herald the start of a revolution in superstore design. As Davis says: 'The basic requirement of a blind box is not going to change.'
But could the move signal something else instead? Davis added: 'It does sound like a sea change in the approaches to building technology and the principle pushing these technologies forward is a very good thing.
'You can't be hypothetical about this. You need a live research and development project from which you can learn.'
Clearly the giant retailers are coming under increasing pressure from both their investors and shoppers to do more in terms of green construction.
But even this latest, small step has not come particularly easily. At Bootle, in the North West, where Asda wants to build its first wooden store, there has already been a change of architects. The original designer, JM Architects, was replaced by Aedas shortly after submitting plans for a store.
It is understood the practice has now been asked to completely review the scheme.
The architects on Asda's other scheme, outside Oldham, are not known.
The news that the supermarket goliaths have started considering wood as their favoured 'sustainable' option has been seized upon and condemned by the evercombative Concrete Centre.
According to the organisation, Arup research proves that CO 2 emissions from timber-frame construction are actually higher than from 'modern masonry houses.'
The cause: more energy needed for cooling and heating.
Concrete Centre spokesman Steve Elliott says: 'Exactly the same argument applies for stores as it does for homes.
'Going down the lightweight timber road is unsustainable, as the supermarkets will find to their cost. Timber is not a long-term sustainable solution.
He adds: 'Many people are misunderstanding the difference between embodied energy and operational energy.
'The way a building works makes far more of an impact on the environment than in its construction.
'It's not just about the thermal mass of the materials either. What about the energy used in the transportation of timber from all over the world?'
Elliott also criticises how timber would perform in a blaze. He says: 'Timber is also unlike concrete in that concrete offers you four hours of fire retardant. Timber has to be coated, and where's the sustainability in that?'
But perhaps the last word should go to the ever-wise eco-superstar Ken Yeang, who is not convinced by the Concrete Centre's arguments.
He said: 'Timber can last a long time. You only have to look at the Liberty store in London, which has been around for nearly 100 years.'
Who would have thought the way forward for Tesco's new environmental drive could be Mock Tudor?