Remember when all you had to keep timber customers happy was to give them the right quantity and quality at the right price? Now that’s just the start. Increasingly they want to know whether the forest of origin is certified, plus chain of custody details. And what about embodied energy, carbon loading and how many “eco-points” it could net builders under, for instance, the BRE’s Environmental Assessment Method?

The list of demands is beginning to look never-ending. But as the Timber Trades Federation conference heard last week, the trade has to meet them. If it doesn’t, other materials suppliers will.

wood for good managing director Charles Trevor highlighted areas where the timber business is still coming up short in providing the market what it needs with findings from a focus group exercise his organisation undertook with TRADA. This underlined that architects, engineers and contractors still have misconceptions about the performance of timber and less confidence about using it than steel or concrete.

Tom Paul of the Kingspan Group construction business laid out his sector’s demands in no uncertain terms. He wanted the timber industry to provide comprehensive lifecycle analysis information so builders could gauge wood’s ‘cradle to grave’ environmental performance and he said it had a year to get cracking, or risk being sidelined.

Some comments at the conference made uncomfortable listening. But the upside, said speakers, was that if the timber trade did meet customer demands, its unrivalled sustainability gives it a huge advantage.

Hopefully TTJ’s own Wood Futures Conference on November 8 in London will give the timber sector more insight into what customers are looking for. The theme is the challenge and opportunity created for timber by growing environmentalism and the drive to sustainable construction and development. Speakers range from environment minister Phil Woolas to Louise O’Neill of Marks & Spencer. We’ve even got Guy Thompson of The Concrete Centre to give his industry’s perspective on sustainability issues. Some of the talk will be tough, but it will be well worth hearing.