With the built environment’s increasing focus on sustainability, it’s been heralded as a golden age for timber. A quick health-check of the industry shows that’s certainly hard to dispute – albeit with a few minor caveats.

Take housing as a starting point – widely recognised as the driver of the rise in construction output. The latest figures put timber’s share of the new build market at 23.6%, up from 22.8% the previous year.

Although not as high as its peak of 24.5% in 2008, it’s encouraging to see market penetration creeping back towards prerecession levels. After the financial crisis saw British builders revert to type with slower methods of brick and block the current need for speed seems to have pushed increasing numbers toward timber frame methods.

Grasping those final percentage points to take a quarter of the UK housing market is looking more and more possible as major residential developers increasingly turn to wood. Persimmon now delivers more than a third of its properties in this way, with output from its Space4 factory expected to reach 5,000 units by year end. Meanwhile, the first phase of the UK’s pioneering ‘eco-town’ in Bicester is placing timber at its heart, with Stewart Milne Timber Systems set to deliver almost 400 homes for the scheme.

The picture we get is of a solid, growing industry – and that’s before we even take activity in other sectors into consideration, such as the scores of new schools and commercial buildings using timber methods and the vast range of refurbishment and interior design projects consisting almost entirely of timber products.

Of course, the current trend for using timber is no guarantee that growth will continue. To ensure the industry’s long term success, we need to make sure timber comes to be regarded as the material of choice for creating a sustainable built environment, regardless of market confidence or sentiment.

Despite sitting under a shared banner, a disparity exists across the various organisations and companies, with many working in isolation. Yet, to give the industry a competitive advantage over other building materials, it’s imperative that everyone starts thinking about how their activities can complement their neighbours to make timber a compelling choice.

Our belief is that to do this, the whole supply chain needs greater collaboration and co-ordination.

Under the Timber Accord, the various trade bodies representing the forestry and wood industries have made excellent steps towards more collaborative practices that see all parties working towards shared interests and strategic goals. The result is better use of funding and resources, reduced duplication and a stronger, joined-up approach that helps to promote our common missive: increased use of timber in construction can meet low-carbon objectives while supporting the continued recovery of the UK economy.
But this effort should not stop with the trade bodies. For our message to travel further, it needs to be repeated, frequently, with consistency and clarity, by companies across all areas of the supply chain.

We have in our supply network and sales teams a huge army of advocates, many of whom have direct access to end users and are engaging with buyers every day. If everyone is repeating the same key messages, day in, day out, the impact will be that much bigger than when operating in silos.

It’s this approach that Wood for Good is taking with its Lifecycle Database, the UK’s largest register of lifecycle assessment (LCA) data of any material sector, which covers many of the main timber products used in the country. We recognise that while the database on its own is an excellent resource for specifiers and developers, it will only realise its potential if all of us understand and can articulate the LCA benefits of timber to all of our customers.

Last month Wood for Good hosted a half-day workshop to engage our supporters and find out what they need to help bring this database alive for them and their customers. This session has now been held, and proved very informative in finding out what would help to unlock the database findings to promote their own operations.

We’ve taken this feedback on board and are currently creating a suite of education and marketing materials for different levels of customer engagement to be rolled out later this year. This will allow everyone to communicate the benefits from the Lifecycle Database on the same terms. Hopefully, by focusing on lifecycle, timber’s golden age will last longer than one economic cycle.