Wood is enjoying a renaissance in popularity. No small wonder as architects and engineers increasingly focus on the environmental impact of the materials they use.

Wood scores highly as a sustainable material, but for many applications commercial softwoods and some hardwoods lack the natural durability to deliver the performance required. The risk of fire is also an acute design consideration. Fortunately, wood and panel products can be made highly resistance to decay, insects and fire by the use of wood protection technology.

Preservative and fire retardant pre-treatments and wood modification techniques are not optional specifications – they are essential to improve the value and performance of wood. "Realising the full potential of wood as a sustainable material goes hand in glove with realising the benefits of wood protection technology" says Ed Suttie of BRE who is to give the keynote address at the WPA "Making the Most of Wood" conference on 26 March.

The conference is being staged to champion the role of the timber treatment industry in growing demand for wood. It will also tackle head on the challenges faced by the industry and the opportunities that attention to quality and product performance will deliver.

There’s a lot happening right now in wood protection and the WPA is at the heart of all that’s going on. Our strategy is focused on the twin objectives of building confidence in the performance of industrially pre-treated wood and panel products and helping industry comply with the regulatory controls that affect it.

To these ends recent developments include: expansion of the WPA Benchmark quality scheme to embrace an approval scheme for wood preservatives in which the scientific data supporting the minimum retentions claimed by a manufacturer are verified by an independent panel of UK experts; the start of a long term durability field trial of UK softwoods that will see over 1,500 pine, spruce, Douglas fir and larch fence posts installed at two test sites over the course of the coming weeks.

The output of this trial will better inform the treatment specifications set in the wood preservation standard BS8417 and the techniques required to achieve them.

The EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) is the main regulatory preoccupation of the moment. Having an IED permit in place by 7 July is the law in all EU member states and according to the UK competent authority on IED, Defra, will require over 200 treaters across the UK to obtain permits by this date. WPA is extremely concerned about the inconsistent implementation of IED in the UK and the low numbers of plant requiring a permit declared by other EU member states, which places treaters in the UK at a competitive disadvantage. WPA is in the process of lobbying the Secretary of State responsible for IED to ask UK government to intervene in this situation.

Like no other period before, the coming years offer architects and engineers the widest choice of wood protection technologies to help them make more of wood as a sustainable material. In this respect, the processors and suppliers of pre-treated and modified wood products have a key, front line role to play in promoting correctly specified treatments and supplying materials that deliver the performance required. The reputation of wood and growth in demand for wood protection technology depends on it. The WPA has decided it is time to showcase and promote examples of excellence in our industry by establishing annual awards for process quality, marketing/customer service and a wood protection project. The winners of the inaugural awards will be announced at the Making the Most of Wood Conference.

To contact the WPA, which is dedicated to improving the performance of wood, email info@wood-protection. org.