Mineral Products Association                            DEF0043

Written evidence submitted by the Mineral Products Association




Sustainable timber and deforestation




The Mineral Products Association is the industry trade association for the aggregates, asphalt, cement, concrete, dimension stone, lime, mortar and silica sand industries. The mineral products sector produces around 400 million tonnes of minerals and mineral products each year, the overwhelming majority of which supplies the construction sector, including buildings and infrastructure projects.[1]


Many of the construction projects our sector supplies also make use of timber. Concrete, steel, and timber will always all be necessary for construction. However, it is a common misconception that timber is an inherently more sustainable building material than concrete or steel, or inherently more suitable to decarbonised construction.


We welcome this inquiry as an opportunity to shine a light on important concerns about the sustainability of the UK’s demand for timber for construction, which could be exacerbated if the Government pursues a short-sighted strategy of further increasing demand for timber at the expense of other building materials.


Material Neutrality in Low-Carbon Construction


Government messaging on whether to prioritise timber specifically, or low-carbon building materials more broadly, has been somewhat mixed. While the Government’s Net Zero Strategy does express an intention to increase the use of timber in construction[2], BEIS recently stated that it is focussed on promoting the use of low-carbon construction products and processes in general, rather than specific material types.[3]


We believe the latter statement would represent a more sensible approach to decarbonising construction, as it recognises the important role that all building materials will necessarily play in a decarbonised construction sector, avoids unnecessarily fuelling demand for timber and thus exacerbating sustainability concerns around the global timber industry, and enables designers to make the best and most efficient use of all the materials available to them.


In any case, when a building’s carbon emissions are assessed on a whole-life basis, and additional environmental and practical factors are taken into account, there is minimal justification for an across-the-board policy of prioritising timber over low-carbon concrete. In particular, wood-based building products’ carbon emissions vary wildly depending on how they are disposed at the end of a building’s life.[4]


Benefits of Reducing Reliance on Timber Imports


The UK is already the second-largest net importer of forest products, including timber, in the world, with net imports of $8.4 billion.[5] Demand for imported timber is already increasing, with the amount imported into the UK reached a record high of 11.7 million cubic metres in 2021.[6] The majority (80%) of timber used in the UK is imported.[7]


It is clear, therefore, that even at current levels of demand, the UK timber industry will need to grow significantly in order to reduce this country’s reliance on imported timber. The exact level of growth necessary in the domestic industry will, however, depend on to what extent the Government intends to reduce the UK’s reliance on imports and focus instead on domestically-produced materials, and on what approach it intends to take to the decarbonisation of construction.


If the Government takes a ‘material neutral’ approach, equally favouring all kinds of low-carbon building materials, rather than promoting the use of timber over alternatives such as low-carbon concrete, then the UK timber industry will not have to grow to such an extreme level. It is also important to note that action now to grow the UK timber industry will only help reduce our reliance on timber imports in several decades’ time, as depending on the type of wood, trees for timber construction are generally felled 40-150 years after being planted.[8] By this time, the concrete and cement sector will have decarbonised.[9]


There are clear environmental and sustainability benefits to reducing the UK’s reliance on timber imports. There are legitimate concerns about the sustainability of timber production in other countries, and even timber that is branded as PEFC or FSC certified can partly come from non-certified forests – at rates as high as 30%.[10]


Furthermore, even if the UK is scrupulous in sourcing sustainable timber imports, this practice of ‘cherry picking’ sustainable timber off the global market could lead to a shortage of sustainable timber for other countries, pushing them into using (and increasing demand for) less sustainable timber. This risks fuelling global deforestation, damaging biodiversity and the ‘carbon sink’ effect of the world’s forests. In Brazil, deforestation in the Amazon hit record-breaking levels in the first half of 2022;[11] and of 90 major tropical timber and pulp producers, less than half publicly commit to protecting biodiversity, 44% have failed to commit to zero deforestation, and only 13% report actively monitoring deforestation in the areas they manage.[12]


Domestically-grown timber would also have fewer transport emissions than the majority of timber that is currently imported from abroad. For example, 95% of concrete used in the UK is produced in this country, with an average delivery distance of only 46km (12km for ready-mixed concrete).[13] 78% of cement used in the UK,[14] and over 90% of aggregates,[15] are also produced here. This means that concrete has low transport emissions, has a more secure and reliable supply chain, and contributes much more to the UK economy.


Moreover, domestic production for any building material should make it easier to trace that material to source, and verify its sustainability. For example, 100% of surveyed production in the mineral products sector is certified as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ under the BES6001 framework standard for responsible sourcing,[16] meaning a bag of UK-produced cement, for instance, can be traced back to the quarry the raw materials were sourced from.


Drawbacks of Dramatically Increasing Domestic Timber Production


It is important to note the trade-offs involved in dramatically increasing the size of the UK timber industry. The Government has set a target of planting 7,500 hectares of trees per year in England by 2024-25, a figure that already represents a three-fold increase from current rates.[17]


We fully support this ambition, but we also recognise that increased tree planting serves a number of different public goods, such as increased biodiversity, carbon sequestration, better water and air quality, and the restoration of native woodland. The mineral products sector has been committed to biodiversity and restoring quarry sites to nature for decades, with 8,300 hectares of diverse priority habitat created on MPA members’ sites already, including thousands of hectares of broadleaved woodland. More than 11,000 more hectares of priority habitat have also been committed to in approved restoration plans, again including thousands of hectares of woodland.[18]


Commercial forestry for timber production is not necessarily optimised for these environmental goals. For example, as little as 15% of the carbon sequestered in a standing tree will remain stored in a finished wood building product, meaning that timber exploitation can negate a woodland’s role as a carbon sink.[19]


A ‘materials neutral’ approach to decarbonising construction, which does not artificially further inflate demand for timber, will allow the Government to pursue these important goals in a balanced way, rather than increasing pressure to dedicate more and more tree-planting towards increasing the supply of commercial timber for construction. This is a significant concern as current rates of tree-planting are well short of the Government’s short-term ambitions.


Moreover, pressure to increase UK timber production could hinder efforts to ensure UK woodland is managed sustainably – only 58% of English woodland is currently in sustainable management, and according to the National Audit Office, DEFRA already treats bringing existing woodland into management as a lower priority than encouraging tree-planting.[20]


Concrete and Cement


Concrete, and the cement used to make it, are essential materials for our economy and way of life. An inherently local material, it is produced from around 1000 sites nationwide, supporting jobs in local communities. Over 95% of concrete used in the UK is produced in the UK, whereas the majority of timber and steel is imported.[21]


The concrete and cement industry has already cut carbon emissions by 53% between 1990 and 2018, and has set out a clear roadmap, including decarbonised transport and electricity, low-carbon cement and concrete designs, fuel switching, and CCUS, to achieve net zero by 2050.[22] Concrete also has the added environmental benefits of carbonation, its capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere; and thermal mass, its capacity to moderate fluctuations in outside temperature and therefore reduce the need for heating and cooling.[23]


Concrete is also 100% recyclable. Almost none goes to landfill, and over 90% of hard construction and demolition waste, including concrete, is recycled as aggregates in the UK.[24] Concrete is a highly resilient material enabling the design of safe, long life, adaptable, and energy-efficient buildings, which are resistant to the effects of fire, water, and rotting.




This inquiry raises very important concerns about the future of the UK’s and the world’s forests, and the role of timber and other building materials in the necessary decarbonisation of construction.

The UK’s reliance on timber imports puts environmental and practical limits on the role that timber can play in the net-zero future of construction. It makes it more difficult to trace and therefore guarantee the sustainable nature of the timber we import, especially as imported wood products come from a very diverse range of countries.[25] The distances involved mean these imports generate significant emissions from transport.


Recent pressures on supply chains in various industries following the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have also brought into focus the fragility of relying on imports – and as many other countries may seek to increase their use of timber in construction, global demand for timber could lead to supply pressures, or worse, increased deforestation.


However, while some increase in UK timber production as a means of reducing our reliance on imports would be welcome, the best way for the Government to address this issue would be to avoid unnecessarily fuelling UK demand for timber by prioritising it over other low-carbon building materials.


This would allow the Government’s laudable tree-planting ambitions to be focussed on a range of environmental priorities, such as biodiversity, rather than being overwhelmed by the need to dramatically increase commercial timber production. Moreover, due to the time taken between a tree being planted and felled, it is unclear whether increased tree-planting for commercial timber now would have any effect on our reliance on imports for the next several decades.


The Government can and should avoid unduly and artificially inflating demand for timber for construction by supporting alternative building materials, such as steel, cement, and concrete, in their drive towards net zero; ensuring assessments of new buildings’ carbon emissions accurately reflect the whole life of the building; and taking a ‘materials neutral’ approach that supports all low-carbon building materials, including low-carbon concrete.



September 2022

[1] https://www.mineralproducts.org/MPA/media/root/Publications/2021/Profile_of_the_UK_Mineral_Products_Industry_2021.pdf

[2] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1033990/net-zero-strategy-beis.pdf

[3] https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2022-07-07/32462

[4] https://www.iisd.org/system/files/publications/emission-omissions-en.pdf

[5] https://cdn.forestresearch.gov.uk/2022/02/ch9_international_fs2021.pdf

[6] https://www.forestryjournal.co.uk/news/19967375.record-levels-timber-imported-uk-2021-according-ttf/

[7] https://www.confor.org.uk/resources/publications/confor-publications/forestry-and-timber-qa/

[8] https://www.forestryengland.uk/timber-uses-of-wood 

[9] https://thisisukconcrete.co.uk/TIC/media/root/Perspectives/MPA-UKC-Roadmap-to-Beyond-Net-Zero_October-2020.pdf

[10] https://www.pefc.co.uk/chain-of-custody-logo-use/pefc-logo-use/; https://fsc.org/en/controlled-wood-FSC-MIX

[11] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/jair-bolsonaro-ap-amazon-rio-de-janeiro-luiz-inacio-lula-da-silva-b2121315.html

[12] https://www.spott.org//wp-content/uploads/sites/3/dlm_uploads/2020/07/SPOTT-Timber-and-Pulp-Assessment-Summary-2020-2-.pdf

[13] https://thisisukconcrete.co.uk/Local-and-responsibly-sourced.aspx

[14] https://thisisukconcrete.co.uk/TIC/media/root/Perspectives/MPA-UKC-Roadmap-to-Beyond-Net-Zero_October-2020.pdf

[15] https://www.mineralproducts.org/Industry-Overview.aspx

[16] https://www.mineralproducts.org/MPA/media/root/Publications/2022/MPA_SD_Report_2022.pdf

[17] https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Tree-planting-in-England-Summary.pdf

[18] https://www.mineralproducts.org/MPA/media/root/Publications/2020/MPA_Biodiversity_Strategy_2020.pdf

[19] https://www.iisd.org/system/files/publications/emission-omissions-en.pdf

[20] https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Tree-planting-in-England-Summary.pdf

[21] https://thisisukconcrete.co.uk/Local-and-responsibly-sourced.aspx

[22] https://thisisukconcrete.co.uk/TIC/media/root/Perspectives/MPA-UKC-Roadmap-to-Beyond-Net-Zero_October-2020.pdf

[23] https://thisisukconcrete.co.uk/TIC/media/root/Perspectives/MPA-UKC-Roadmap-to-Beyond-Net-Zero_October-2020.pdf

[24] https://www.mineralproducts.org/MPA/media/root/Publications/2019/MPA_Inert_Waste_Feb2019.pdf

[25] https://cdn.forestresearch.gov.uk/2022/02/ch3_trade_fs2021.pdf, p.20