Saving the planet

21 August 2019

When I was 16 I was sleeping in until midday, waiting for my GCSE results and wondering how I could get out of finding a holiday job – I certainly wasn’t contemplating sailing in an emission-free yacht across the Atlantic to attend a climate conference in the US.

Unlike the teenage Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, I had no thoughts about saving the planet. To be honest, in those days (I am talking quite a long time ago now!) not many people did.

It’s all change now, of course. From David Attenborough shocking us into belated action with images of plastic waste in the oceans, to record-breaking temperatures in July, to Extinction Rebellion activists taking over the streets of London, you would have to be living in a cave not to notice a shift in the collective mindset.

Of course, timber, when legally harvested and from sustainable sources, has always had good environmental credentials. As we often say and read, it is the ultimate renewable resource. In some respects we’ve started to take that as a given and have switched attention to timber’s many other attributes – thermal efficiency and so on.

But this stirring up of environmental consciousness means it is back on the agenda. In our annual Timber Construction Supplement, which accompanies this issue, architect Michael Green says building with engineered wood will help prevent climate change. Meanwhile, Andrew Carpenter at the Structural Timber Association flags up the government’s 2050 carbon neutral target and notes that specifiers are re-tuning in to timber’s environmental credentials. Price & Pierce’s experience at the Specify event in London backs this up – sustainability was a key focus for specifiers, they say.

And in this issue, David Hopkins explains how the APPG for the Timber Industries is bringing together experts from across the timber supply chain to investigate how timber can help save Britain’s housing crisis – and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to boot.

Lucy Kamall also brings us up to speed on the, let’s be frank, so far slow-moving FLEGT initiative. The TTF has a new Department for International Development-funded project to increase customer and specifier awareness so that when more countries do issue FLEGT licenses, the market is ready and willing to use their products.

The renewed attention on the environment does not take focus from other issues, of course. It is welcome news that all the timber fire doors that underwent fireresistance testing by the government have been given a clean bill of health. In fact they all exceeded the minimum 30-minute burn time requirement.

The less good news is that the industry still faces an uphill battle convincing government that its ban on the use of combustible materials in external walls over 18m tall is over zealous. Södra’s Jeremy English shares his views on that in this issue.