Carbon Questions

Understanding and measuring the carbon in your products is of huge significance. Stuart Devoil, Group Head of Marketing at James Latham, highlights the importance of getting your carbon calculations correct.

Reducing the environmental impact of what we do is the crucial issue of our time. And, thanks to high profile events like COP26, we are seeing more companies touting their green credentials and launching new initiatives.

However, while the focus has been there recently, it does raise questions. How much of this is greenwashing? How much true understanding is there within the construction industry? What is the level of knowledge and awareness at customer level?

To address these questions, we wanted to take the initiative. A long-standing business, with a history of innovation and partnering with our suppliers, we felt that Lathams would be one of the best placed businesses to meet this challenge.

It is why we developed our own carbon project, working closely with academics, our supply chain and innovative, exemplar companies in the built environment. By developing our own insight into the issue, upskilling our teams and helping our customers, we can play our part in driving improvement and lasting change.

On the academic front, we partnered with the BioComposites Centre at the University of Bangor to carry out detailed research into the embodied and biogenic carbon impacts of the products that we supply. What this means is reviewing our products in two ways – the carbon impacts of the extraction, manufacturing transport and storage of the materials, and the 'locked in' carbon, also known as sequestered carbon.

It is the first phase of this project and we decided to focus on our timber range, which represents just over 70% of our total product lines and would give us a significant understanding of a large proportion of our stock. Of course, timber has the added benefit of being highly efficient for carbon capture and storage.

We felt that it wasn't enough to update our technical information and product guides – we needed a way to make the information more visible and relatable to our customers. Our first step was the creation of our easy-to-understand carbon calculator.

It calculates environmental impact by looking at the full carbon footprint of products as described above – the locked in carbon and the carbon emissions created at every stage from production to delivery to our depots.

In addition to the carbon data itself, every product that we've measured is awarded a rating from one to four (one being the highest, four being the lowest). This is based on the confidence we have in the data used for the calculations.

The higher the score, the higher the quality of the data points that have been reviewed, for example an audited and published Environmental Performance Declaration (EPD). This makes it very easy to look at a product and understand where it ranks in terms of sustainability and what kind of performance can be expected from it.

We have created our own labelling system which has been added to quotations, delivery notes and other key documentation to make it easier to track the environmental rating of the products that are being specified and used. We know that others offer similar carbon data but feel that the addition of a confidence rating makes this more unique. Our customers know that we've carried out the due diligence to make sure that these products are manufactured and perform in the way that should be expected. As well as the environmental side, we also check our products against a range of other measures, such as ensuring that they are ethically sourced.

Our project doesn't stop here. In phase two, we're taking a good look at our composite products and will work towards the same goal of creating easy to understand ratings for those too. We're also continuing to work with the industry and will be sharing some of the insights from our research. This includes the creation of a 'Think You Know Carbon? guide that we'll be making available for download and launch with a series of learning and networking events, as well as a significant presence at Futurebuild, from 1-3 March.

The guide will have everything that architects and specifiers need to know when it comes to selecting products with sustainability in mind, as well as some highlights of top performing products. We hope that others in the industry follow our lead and improve the transparency around these products. It is essential that we work together and reduce construction's impact on the environment. 

Read the full article, go to Structural Timber Magazine



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