Project certification can contribute to timber’s market momentum, says TTJ editor Mike Jeffree

The fact that over 100 people turned up on a chilly, damp late afternoon to witness the award of the first PEFC Project Certification of a major building tells a story.

The event, at London’s Building Centre, was clearly seen as significant across the wood and building sectors, as the audience included timber suppliers, manufacturers, industry and research bodies, architects, contractors, developers, local authorities and housing associations.

Building project certification, assuring the environmental credentials of every timber element, is not new. FSC has offered it for several years, and the London Olympics site was jointly FSC and PEFC project certified. But the first major stand-alone PEFC Project Certification (the project being Kingsgate House, a seven-storey, cross-laminated timberbased London apartment block) is significant because it shows the organisation looking to develop its role in the area, and critically because it brings project certification together with the growing use of engineered wood in UK construction (and further examples of this can be seen in our Floor, Wall and Roof System focus.

Architects, engineers and contractors, like Willmott Dixon, are drawn to such materials as CLT and glulam, particularly for medium to increasingly large-scale urban developments, for a range of performance reasons. It lends itself to prefabrication, resulting in quick build times. The Kingsgate architect also pointed out that it’s quiet to build with, a major attraction in urban centres where you’re working cheek by jowl with neighbouring buildings. In addition, it combines strength with relative lightness. So, if necessary, large sections can be hoisted over other buildings, structures can be built on shallower foundations, and components are easier to get to site. Willmott Dixon provided the staggering statistic that all Kingsgate’s main structural CLT elements were delivered in just 23 truck loads. Using reinforced concrete frame would have required 10 times as many, which probably wouldn’t have gone down so well with residents around the prestigious King’s Road location.

On top of all this, construction likes engineered wood’s all-round environmental story. It’s an inherently good noise and heat insulator, it’s low energy to transport and process and, of course, rich in embodied carbon. Kingsgate’s content of the latter effectively offsets the emissions the building will generate in over 20 years of use.

The added eco appeal of engineered wood is, of course, that it is virtually 100% certified, mostly under the PEFC scheme since it comes principally from mainland Europe. Now, with PEFC Project Certification coming to the party, that attraction could grow. The result, say PEFC and the engineered wood-using community, should be a virtuous circle. Project certification should contribute to the material’s market momentum, which means more buildings and more project certifications, including, says PEFC, joint PEFC/FSC efforts.

This is good for wood generally, first because these buildings are great adverts for timber’s overall technical performance, having become a favourite focus of the architectural and, increasingly, consumer press. At the same time, project certification will help broadcast timber’s environmental message further afield. When just individual products are certified, this tends to peter out at the construction site gate. When it’s the whole project, it’s more likely the contractor and architects will pass the message on, especially to valuable and influential corporate and government clients.