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Footprint interviews Wood for Good chairman Craig White

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While forthcoming LCA and BIM data will quantify timber’s numerous sustainability credentials, hybrid buildings will still be the way forward, says White

What are your ambitions for Wood for Good?

The aim is to grow the market for wood and promote it throughout the construction industry. We want to engage with anyone interested in using a renewable, sustainable, low-carbon material.

Have you got any specific objectives?

There’s a lot of innovation in timber engineering and there are a lot of architects, designers and engineers interested in using wood who haven’t used it before. The use of cross-laminated timber has grown significantly in Europe over the last fifteen years, and the opportunity to grow the use of CLT in the UK is an exciting challenge.

How are you going to engage with architects?

Wood for Good has historically focused on marketing and advertising. Now we’re starting to run CPD events across the UK which will engage the profession. We also have the Wood First campaign and Wood First Plus, which is going to provide LCA (life cycle analysis) data, carbon data and data for use in BIM. 

Do you think EPDs have a role?

Absolutely. That’s part of the Wood First Plus work. We will start with some lower cost generic EPDs; each manufacturer will then have to generate their own.

How are you going to stop this becoming a trade war with other associations?

The reality is that the entire industry is trying to find better quality, more affordable, sustainable materials. As designers, we have always worked in a hybrid way. We try to use materials as optimally as we can. Wood forms a part of that, and so do steel and concrete. Each material has its own set of performance criteria, appropriate in one context and not in another. We enjoy having the debate about what is the most sustainable material but it’s actually going to be a combination of them all.

The entire industry is trying to find better quality, more affordable, sustainable materials

What about Hackney’s Wood First initiative?

That generated an enormous amount interest. The intention never was to get Hackney to specify ‘Thou shalt only use wood in your buildings.’ A number of timber buildings were going up in Hackney, and the local authority was keen to develop policy guidance to encourage the use of more sustainable materials as developments came forward.

The idea behind Wood First was to use policy to encourage developers to think about materials choices. One would be wood, and we would like that to be a first choice. The intention was not to have that written into hard policy. Some local authorities adopt BREEAM as guidance. The materials on a development attract points. Wood has a very good profile under BREEAM. Over and above what BREEAM offers, wood’s carbon footprint is much lower than most other materials.

Does the Green Guide adequately take into account the positive effects of carbon sequestration of timber?

Wood First’s LCA work should help clarify this. Carbon sequestration in materials can either be counted or not. The bottom line is that if you burn timber, you get a renewable carbon credit, so the policy already accepts that carbon has been captured. Obviously we don’t want to burn all of our wood.

The built environment is good place to hold carbon over the long term. It is an insured asset which sits on somebody’s balance sheet. All we need to do is increase the use of timber by fairly modest percentages. Ed Suttie of BRE has calculated that the built environment could be banking 10 million tonnes of carbon per year. That’s a significant figure that shouldn’t be ignored.

Is promoting the manufacture of timber products in the UK part of your strategy?

There has already been some really good investment. Stuart Milne has invested in an automated process for timber stud work. The major capital investment required is a challenge. The strategy of investment in timber engineering in the UK  differs from Europe where there is much larger forestry cover. Britain has a different profile. 

The Forestry Commission’s work in Scotland on cross laminating Scottish Spruce has already shown that it can be done. There’s a demonstrator plant up and running in Scotland. In Wales, Coed Cymru has been cross-laminating with Sitka Spruce. The key challenge is finding a market that is differentiated from the volume market of imports from Europe. They can’t compete head to head so they need to find niche opportunities or develop systems of construction to move away from timber as a commodity and into solutions and products. 

Is Wood for Good planning to work with Grown in Britain?

We represent all timber, but we are very positive about Grown in Britain. The Grown in Britain campaign will raise awareness,  and while we won’t be directly supporting it by way of funding, we support the work that they do.

Will the new CE mark have an effect on architects specifying timber in the UK?

CE marking should offer more certainty to specifiers. Engineers have already had to address this because they have had to understand the impact of CE marking on their calculations. It will be easier for architects to specify, in the same way that certifications such as FSC and PEFC and CPET have impacted the timber market. Even though timber is an organic material, people want black and white choices, and the CE mark will facilitate that.

A London architecture practice has suggested the creation of a timber-first group for architects.  What do you think?

I think that’s great. At White design, we have been very pro-timber but we have also done steel, done traditional done concrete and we have done all sorts of things. Architects do not always determine the final material selection. Almost half of specifying choices are made by main contractors.

It’s great that people are so passionate about timber, and there will be a market from clients who want that. Inevitably there will be concrete foundations and all sorts of other bits. Hybrid use of materials is still the best way forward. If this were Sweden, you wouldn’t be asking me this question!  I congratulate those who specialise in timber-only buildings.


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