New Ideas for a New Age
David Hopkins, Chief Executive of Timber Development UK, says the housing supply chain must turn its attentions to the climate benefits of wood.
The new president of RIBA, Simon Alford, said in a recent blog that he wanted the body to become “the Institute of Ideas” in our post-COVID-19, post-Grenfell and climate change-influenced world. Whilst innovation may not be the first thing one might associate with the wood trade, a change in perception of the climate benefits offered by timber will surely drive further ideas to increase the volume of carbon capture and storage of wood in housing.
The UK’s Climate Change Committee has already identified using more wood in construction as one of the simplest, most effective mechanisms for capturing CO2. Storing CO2 in wood fibre, where it remains for the useful lifetime of the timber in a building, and then recycled through the circular economy into other timber products, or eventually reclaimed for energy, wood should be the developer’s first choice. This goes not simply for building fabric, but for all other feasible building components, from windows and doors through to flooring, stairs, cabinetry and kitchens.
The timber industry needs to more actively challenge the wider construction sector to adopt as much wood as possible in their specifications, everywhere from housing to fit-out. This is something that, as we change our identity to bring in TRADA members and become Timber Development UK, we have front and central of our agenda. We have already re-formed the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Timber Industries and are working to engage a greater range of stakeholders throughout the specification chain with wood’s benefits.
Particular product groups are likely to be key to progressing the climate change debate in housing. Britain is reputed to have some of the leakiest, coldest homes in Europe. The wider housebuilding sector often associates ‘insulation’ with products such as mineral wool. Yet the many local authority climate change officers, tasked with reducing emissions locally, may be willing to hear new ideas from wood fibre insulation producers and timberframe housing providers. Using such materials to insulate housing stock, old and new, brings a double benefit, locking away CO2 in the insulation itself, as well as through the thermal value of its installation.
The forward development pipeline for housebuilding remails strong, looking ahead into 2022, according to industry analysts. Some, though, are predicting that growth in 2022 will be perhaps less rapid than demonstrated by 2021’s rebound, following the pandemic. We are still encouraging timber buyers to keep closely in touch with timber suppliers, as the supply situation across the whole basket of timber products is likely to remain tight at least until the end of spring 2022. Planning will thus be to your continuing advantage. Commentators also believe that, following cost increases that have been well beyond the bounds of normality during the pandemic, there is likely to be a correction in the marketplace at some point during 2022. However, with construction demand continuing apace, both at home and globally, and particularly as timber’s climate change benefits to housing become more evident post-COP26, when that correction will happen is still the subject of debate.
As an organisation, we too need new ideas for the timber age. As we welcome in former TRADA members into Timber Development UK, we are also altering our organisation’s structure. There is a much greater emphasis on timber’s benefits to economic, environmental and social sustainability, and our new Sustainability Director, Charles Law, is masterminding our approach to questions such as timber’s role in the circular economy. Rest assured our new and expanding organisation will ensure that the business climate is as good as it can be for the timber supply chain.