The new Timber in Construction Roadmap outlines how the UK government intends to expand the safe use of timber and reduce embodied carbon in the built environment.

Since the built environment accounts for around 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, it must be decarbonised if we’re to reach net zero by 2050.

They acknowledge that, as well as planting more trees, good use needs to be made of timber. Increased safe use of sustainable timber in construction is a great step towards supporting the forestry and wood processing sectors to grow and innovate.

The sustainable construction debate 

The Timber in Construction Roadmap follows Architect Erin McDade’s claim, that: “The building sector is a significant part of the climate change problem” (The New Carbon Architecture).

Also, as highlighted by the Structural Timber Association (Structural Timber Market Research: Residential Sector), Arup and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) estimate that:

  • Global construction accounts for 38% of total global emissions
  • Over 50% of emissions are potentially from the embodied carbon associated with construction
  • 70% of this comes from six materials, including cement and steel

On the other hand, timber offers the possibility of “net positive buildings where carbon sequestered in the timber exceeds emissions over a building’s lifecycle”. Timber can often be reused at the end of a buildings lifecycle or recycled as biomass fuel to create energy after its life in construction.

What’s more, UK Government’s 2021 Net Zero: Build Back Greener Strategy recognised that “timber has the lowest embodied carbon of any mainstream building material.”

Metropolis also reported that the built environment was a focus at COP28, the UN Climate Change Conference. The Building Breakthrough, a global initiative encouraging near-zero emissions and resilient buildings by 2030, was introduced. Signed by 28 countries, this promotes sustainable building solutions. It also provides a framework for international collaboration, accountability, and reporting.

At COP28, Yasemin Kologlu observed a shift in how we talk about climate action: “The conversation is no longer only about buildings, but rather about the built environment holistically: infrastructure, transportation, even entire cities. The building sector presents a critical opportunity to close the carbon loop and lead actionable change across industries”.

Road running through woodland photographed from above

What is the Timber in Construction Roadmap?

The policy roadmap was created to action the commitments in the government’s Net Zero Strategy and England Trees Action Plan. The governments has:

  • Committed to growing and maintaining a sustainable and long-term supply of domestic timber and wood products in the 2023 Environmental Improvement Plan.
  • Awarded £7.6 million through the Woodlands into Management Forestry Innovation Funds to develop new technologies and working practices that boost homegrown timber.
  • A new statutory woodland cover target to increase tree canopy and woodland cover in England to 16.5% by 2050, which will stimulate tree planting of both hard and softwoods.

It’s split into seven priority themes around opportunities and barriers to the use of timber in construction in England. These were identified by government and industry in the Timber in Construction Working Group, including Timber Development UK:

  1. Improving data on timber and whole life carbon
  2. Promoting the safe, sustainable use of timber as a construction material
  3. Increasing skills, capacity, and competency across the supply chain
  4. Increasing the sustainable supply of timber
  5. Addressing fire safety and durability concerns to safely expand the use of engineered mass timber
  6. Increasing collaboration with insurers, lenders, and warranty providers
  7. Promoting innovation and high performing timber construction systems

In response, Timber Development UK CEO David Hopkins said:

“It is great to see the government make a firm commitment to expanding low-carbon timber construction in this policy document.

“By expanding low-carbon timber construction, particularly in the housing sector, we can decarbonise our built environment whilst simultaneously building high quality, efficient buildings.

“Expanding timber construction also offers a range of economic benefits, helping regions to ‘level up’ with green jobs, and creating localised manufacturing bases across the country which add value to raw timber products.

“Though there are many positives from the roadmap, it must be viewed as a good start rather than the finished article…”

Machinery hoisting cut wood in woodland

How does this impact Streif UK building systems?

After years of uncertainty around timber in construction from the government, the Timber in Construction Roadmap brings consistency with its commitment to expanding safe and sustainable use. This is an excellent foundation to future policy.

The government’s intentions to support those areas key to timber expansion are addressed. Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are mentioned often. And, in Priority Theme 2, the government pledges to support our sector “to deliver quality homes more quickly and more sustainably”.

This extra support is good news since the structural timber industry had a 22% market share of the UK housing market in 2022, with England lagging when compared to Scotland’s 90%.

That said, closed panel timber frames — such as those used for Streif UK’s sustainable building systems — are expected to be the solution of choice going forward. This is mainly because of the commercial pressures traditional masonry products bring (Structural Timber Market Research: Residential Sector).

Although the timber we use for our building systems doesn’t come from the UK, it does come from 100% PEFC-certified forests and we boast a fully sustainable timber supply chain from a supplier committed to zero waste.

As highlighted on the Planning, Building & Construction Today website, timber is ideal for reducing carbon emissions because it:

  • Acts as a form of carbon capture and storage — carbon dioxide sequestered by trees is stored in the wood product for the product’s lifetime.
  • Increases the number of trees grown in sustainably managed forests — this helps to sequester even more carbon dioxide.
  • Requires little energy throughout the supply chain of harvesting, processing and manufacturing.
  • Displaces carbon-intensive materials to reduce the carbon footprint of a building.

Our sustainable building systems offer all these eco-friendly benefits as well as reduced construction waste and fewer vehicles transporting to site.

Does the importance of sustainable timber in construction strike a chord with you? Contact the Streif UK team today to discuss your next green building project.