Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) SBE0056
The most important things are:
The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) is a charitable organisation incorporated by Royal Charter and is the professional body for the materials cycle from extraction, through characterisation and manufacture to use and end of life. Our more than 15 000 individual members work in a variety of sectors including packaging, polymers, construction materials, wood/natural materials, ferrous and non-ferrous metals and mining/raw materials extraction and processing in a variety of roles from chief executive to student and from independent consultants to academics and practitioners. IOM3 has prepared evidence as response to the request from the Environmental Audit Committee seeking evidence as part of their inquiry into the sustainability of the built environment
This response from the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) has been produced from input from our Wood Technology Society and Construction Materials Group, our huge thanks go to Dr Daniel Ridley-Ellis FIMMM from Napier University in Edinburgh.
There is some early progress in addressing the skills gap with new investments in this area, but we expect this will continue to be a limiting factor. We have yet to see much progress in improving regulations and standards, there is a sense that they are not keeping up with need or with innovation
Some of the ways in which materials influence the carbon impact of buildings are commonly discussed, but some rarely are.
There are carbon impacts (and other environmental impacts) that arise from land use associated with raw material production. Some are direct and some are indirect. Where these happen in the UK these can be addressed through creation of a properly integrated land use policy that removes counterproductive friction between agriculture, forestry, and other land uses. Where this occurs in other countries this is more difficult to monitor, but it should, nevertheless, be better understood and discussed. This includes the potential unintended consequences of, for example, carbon offsetting projects abroad that displace the previous forest uses and require the local communities to turn to more problematic ways of generating income and satisfying their own material needs. Too simplistic a focus on carbon accounting can potentially create worse sustainability outcomes. In order to have some positive influence on what happens in other countries we need to reduce reliance on material imports, that only come from a limited number of countries.
The embodied carbon and energy from manufacture and transport is commonly discussed, although it is not clear how to apportion ‘ownership’ of this for wood products or to properly account for this downstream (especially to incentivise circular economy and extended building lifetime). There is also the danger that, if a material is viewed as being carbon negative, then there is a reduced incentive to use it efficiently, and even the incorrect notion that the more that is used in a single building the better it is.
The material impact on energy efficiency of buildings is also commonly discussed, but less commonly discussed are the impacts of maintenance and occupant behaviour.
The material aspects of building adaptability, flexibility and repair are vital considerations but are only recently being discussed.
Significant progress has been made in recycling at end of building life, especially for wood waste, but the level of reuse needs to be improved. This does, however, seem not to be widely known and there is still perception of large amounts of wood waste going to landfill, and a lack of appreciation of the kinds of materials that can be made from wood waste.
Part of the overspecification problem is assumption that (perceived) ‘quality’ materials will last longer when in fact it is people’s behaviour that tend to shorten the life of materials and buildings. There is also a danger that the discussion around materials misses the affordability angle because of this assumption that (perceived) ‘quality’ leads to sustainability. Further, the undeserved description of some materials as being ‘low quality’, ‘disposable’ and ‘destined for landfill’ risks creating that very problem. Two particular examples are the very common descriptions of UK grown timber, and of the board products produced from forest thinnings, sawmill co-product, and recycled wood.
The issue is complicated by the fact that many materials used in construction are composite in nature and hence more difficult to assess both the carbon footprints and ease of re-use or recycling. Assembly and disassembly can be more complicated.
Biotic materials are an essential part of achieving the net zero ambition, although there is not yet a common agreement on what “nature-based” would mean (plantation forestry of non-native species for timber production being regarded by some as not ‘natural’ for example). This current lack of consensus is one of the reasons why a properly integrated land use policy is required.
But biotic materials (and afforestation) can only be a part of the solution, and not be seen as a fix for unsustainable behaviour and resource uses.
Additionally, there seems to be no overall understanding for the limits of nature-based systems to provide all the things they have potential for – in the short or long term. There needs to some strategic priority since there is not enough for everything. There also needs to be more focus on extended life, reuse, and recycling of ‘renewable’ materials, since they are only ‘renewable’ to a certain extent.
Some countries seem to have had some success with a wood first policy, although we would put retrain and renew first. We need a planning system that encourages design for reuse, disassembly and flexibility.
Work is needed to make building regulations and construction product standards more compatible with reuse.
Standard floor (live) design loads could be reassessed since they are a potentially unnecessary cause of sustainability and material scarcity for buildings.
Habitual over-specification should be discouraged through better messaging, education and training.
Research should be incentivised to enable use, in construction, of a wider range of home-grown timber, from forests not managed primarily for timber. This should be linked to wider forest policy and timber availability forecasts.
Carbon accounting for wood is less about the methods, and more about the decisions of the boundaries. This is other reason why an integrated land use policy is required.
Embodied carbon is only part of the picture, and there needs also to be a material scarcity factor.
Probably yes, if it can actually be done, but the land use impact is the bigger thing missing.
We suggest that “imported” vs “domestic” is too simplistic a view since for some locations, imports come from much shorter distances than domestic sources or via transport modes with less impact.
This seems to be in a very bad situation at present. Urban trees are not properly valued, and even when investment is made in planting them, they are often not properly maintained. Proper practices for working around them are frequently not respected causing (sometimes fatal) damage to the trees, and this is definitely one aspect that is missing from the education and training of most building professionals.
If there is some green space at development stage this is often quickly removed by residents to make way for vehicle parking, so measures to reduce the need for private vehicles are important here.
Re-use and refurbishment should be the higher priority, but these need to be suitable dwellings for the housing need – not investments for landlords. The more fundamental problem is people’s behaviour, and in satisfying housing needs. Buildings that are valued as homes first and foremost will be the ones that last the longest.
Make it easier to satisfy the regulations for such buildings
Invest in R&D to make it achievable for more buildings
Wider policy that supports people living and working in the areas with existing buildings that could be improved rather than demolished or neglected
Tax incentives (including VAT)