BSW Group SBE0065

Written evidence submitted by BSW Group

 

About the BSW Group

BSW Timber Group is the UK’s largest fully integrated forestry company, founded in 1848. In 2015, the Company acquired Tilhill Forestry, the UK's leading forestry management and timber harvesting and marketing company, and in August 2019 Maelor Nurseries, based in Whitchurch, Wales, joined the group. We have offices and sawmills across the UK, where we employ over 1,200 people, as well as Latvia and Slovenia. In February 2020, the company was acquired by Endless LLP, a change that allowed BSW Timber Group to continue its growth and contribution to the rural economy, most recently through the acquisition of Dick Brothers Forestry Ltd. and then the Building and Supply Solutions division of SCA Wood UK.

 

BSW Timber’s current turnover is over £500 million, and the company is responsible for the production of over 30% of the UK’s softwood output. Even with a national and international reach, being part of and contributing to the local community is an important part of how BSW Timber operates. Wherever we are based, we are committed to providing good jobs and training opportunities for young people.

 

 

Summary

 

 

 

 

Submission

 

1.      The Climate Change Committee’s UK Housing: Fit for the Future? report states that We cannot meet our climate objectives without a major improvement in UK housing… We will not meet our targets for emissions reduction without near complete decarbonisation of the housing stock[1].

1.1  Some of the Government’s measures included in the COVID-19 recovery plans are to be welcomed for encouraging and supporting through targeted funding the retrofitting of existing homes at higher energy-efficiency standards. A new policy introduced in 2020 to facilitate the reuse and conversion of existing office and commercial space to housing will also help improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings and reduce the need for new ones. However, despite repeated recommendations from the Climate Change Committee that embodied carbon be accounted in buildings’ rating, the Government’s only focus to date has been on the operational carbon of homes and commercial buildings.

1.2  There are at present no measures to incentivise the uptake of alternative low carbon materials and methods of construction, which is an essential step to drive the decarbonisation of the built environment. Most worryingly and despite the recent announcement of a new carbon reduction target by 2035, Government policy is still a piecemeal series of measures addressing individual issues rather than a comprehensive policy strategy that delivers the desired (and legally-binding) outcomes. 

1.3  This is a gross oversight from the Government: it fails to set the foundations for the building standards and construction methods of the future, and in so doing, it also fails to support the creation of green jobs and skills. This is a very short-term approach that perpetuates the use of materials and technologies that are not sustainable nor suitable for the decarbonisation targets the Government has set for itself.

 

2.      In recent years, there has been considerable progress in improving the energy efficiency of manufacturing and the overall carbon emissions of traditional building materials. However, about 14% of global carbon emissions still derives from concrete and steel.

2.1  This is why it is so important for Government to lead the shift to alternative low carbon materials. Examples from all over the world show that timber is the way forward to deliver safe, good-quality, and healthy low carbon buildings that not only store the carbon absorbed by trees, but also reduce the time, noise and cost of construction.

2.2  The amount of waste both during construction and at the end of the life of the building is also drastically reduced when timber is used. A report[2] commissioned by the Climate Change Committee and carried out by the BioComposites Centre, Bangor University, found that even using a timber frame, rather than masonry, results in a reduction in carbon emissions of 20% per building.

2.3  Wood building products are 10 times more efficient at thermal insulation than concrete or masonry, as shown by studies and the experience gathered from existing buildings in countries with extreme weather conditions, like Canada[3].

2.4  Mass timber buildings release at night the solar heat they absorb during the day and helps regulate the internal humidity of buildings, creating an altogether more comfortable environment to live or work in[4]. This means that building with timber will require less energy to warm or cool a building, reducing emissions but also providing a great solution for the many people in the UK who face fuel poverty winter after winter due to the poor quality of their housing.

2.5  One other important aspect of timber is its carbon storage capacity: on average one cubic metre of timber stores 0.9 tonnes of carbon. As an example, if 270,000 homes built every year in the UK were built using timber, it would be possible to store 3 million tonnes of carbon, rather than creating more emissions from using traditional concrete, steel and masonry[5].

 

3.      According to official Innovate UK data, the construction, operation, management and maintenance of the built environment is responsible for about 40% of all UK emissions and 63% of Britain’s annual waste. Adopting nature-based materials in construction is therefore crucial in realising the Government’s net zero target and building a truly circular economy.  As a timber products and forestry business, for the past few years the BSW Group has been advocating for a drastic increase in the use of timber in building.

3.1  Green buildings can no longer only be classified as such based only on their energy-efficiency level (operational carbon) but must take into account also embodied carbon. As outlined above, timber absorbs and stores carbon, and its thermal insulation quality reduce also the energy usage for heating.

3.2  Timber is also better suited, when compared to traditional materials, to innovative building methods, for example offsite modular, that result in lower costs and reduced building times, according to research carried out by WoodWorks[6]. Wood building materials are also easy to reuse and recycle, reducing the amount of waste from construction sites and demolition.

3.3  Increasing the use of timber products in construction would also result in better care of trees and forests. Timber is a renewable resource, but it requires planning and foresight: we need to plant today the trees for tomorrow. The UK is currently the second-largest importer of timber after China, so using more timber in construction would provide a strong business case to plant more trees in the UK, as well as support afforestation and better forest management across the globe. Both these outcomes are aligned with the UK Government’s tree-planting and decarbonisation targets, and international sustainability commitments.

 

Figure 1: Benefits of timber in construction. Credit: American Wood Council.

3.4 The normalisation of timber in construction, however, would not only support the net zero agenda. Its benefits would be seen in a stronger and “levelled up” economy with more investment and highly skilled jobs in rural areas; better and more green spaces; health benefits resulting from the use of wood in buildings (lower blood pressure and improved concentration among others)[7].

 

4.      The built environment requires a systemic change to decarbonise and become sustainable, not dissimilar to the transition that saw the energy sector move away from fossil fuels and towards renewables sources, cutting 60% of its emissions. Only the appropriate policy and regulatory framework can achieve change on such a scale in the construction sector.

4.1  When it comes to timber building products, the first challenge is that of the perception: despite the circulation of inaccurate information, there are many studies and up-to-date data that confirm that wood building products perform incredibly well in fire testing and their behaviour in a fire is much more predictable than that of traditional materials[8].

4.2  The second challenge is that many of the timber products and related construction techniques are not very common in the UK and the skills they require are not as widespread as those for traditional methods.

4.3  These issues can be addressed by a change in the Government’s approach to planning and regulations. First of all, new policies and regulations on something as technical as timber building products and techniques should be based on evidence, which is easily available from countries like the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, as well as from within the UK. An example is the Powys County Council Wood Encouragement Policy, aimed at reducing carbon and supporting rural and regional employment and economic development[9].

4.4  The Government’s support for research and development efforts in the sector is just as important. In November 2020, Innovate UK has granted funding to a Scotland-based consortium to develop the first UK-sourced Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT); it is forecast that the first fully UK-made CLT structural elements will be available by 2023. More schemes like this one are needed to drive up the speed and scale of change[10].

4.5  Then, we urge the Government to show real leadership in the adoption of alternative low carbon materials by introducing requirements for public buildings similar to those currently applied in France, where any new public buildings must be built from at least 50% of natural materials. This would set the example for developers, increase confidence in these “new” materials and, very importantly, stimulate investment and uptake of the relevant skills in the construction workforce.

4.6  A secondary but absolutely essential outcome would also be that the insurance sector would have to engage more enthusiastically and fully with the use of timber in construction and make the appropriate products more widely and easily available.

4.7  Changes to planning system and regulations would also need to concern the sustainability and carbon ratings of any new buildings. As long as only operational carbon emissions are considered, the UK will not have the houses, offices and commercial spaces fit for the future.

5.      There is growing agreement among the timber sector, architects, engineers and environmentalists to use the Life Cycle Assessment as the main method to account for embodied carbon in materials and buildings.

5.1  As specified by the International Organisation for Standardisation’s official definition of Life Cycle Assessment this means the “compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life cycle”[11], including the impact on air, water and land and the use of energy and materials.

5.2  We support the use of the LCA to determine the embodied carbon of buildings and construction materials.

 

6.      The embodied carbon impact should account for the cost of manufacture and delivery to site, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee. Currently, most of the UK’s timber is imported and, while transport produces emissions, the amount of stored carbon in timber products is still greater.

6.1  The UK’s reliance on timber imports cannot be changed overnight but increasing tree-planting is critical to ensure an adequate domestic supply of timber in the future. This will reduce imports, emissions from transport, and reduce the risk of plant pests and diseases entering the country, while increasing the UK’s carbon capture and storage capacity.

 

7.      Conversion of use and refurbishment of existing buildings is in many cases the most environmentally friendly and efficient choice as it avoids releasing the carbon embodied in existing buildings. Additionally, the amount of waste (most of it non-recyclable) produced by the construction sector has been mentioned above, in paragraph 3.

7.1  Considerations about health and safety and cost of upgrades for an existing building must be taken into account and as such, there probably isn’t a “one size fits all” approach that can be applied. However, the UK Green Building Alliance has published guidance to help with this issue.

7.2  Timber has a big role to play in refurbishments too. Its low weight makes it an ideal material to adding floors to existing buildings.

 

8.      There currently are an estimated 11 million older homes in the UK in need of urgent retrofitting and upgrading. An issue on this scale cannot be addressed simply by pledging ever higher numbers of new homes. Initiatives, like the recently abandoned Green Homes Grant and the funding announced in March for retrofitting social housing show the right intentions but are simply not ambitious enough. Frequent changes in policy are also extremely detrimental.

8.1  There is urgent need for a new comprehensive strategy that 1) rates the existing homes in need of upgrade and establishes priorities 2) establishes the EPC ratings and environmental and energy standards the retrofitting work needs to meet 3) addresses the skills issue 4) states what materials and techniques are acceptable for the retrofit to ensure the targeted buildings are not left behind again in a few years’ time.

8.2  The maintenance of existing buildings in line with the net zero ambitions highlights once again the urgent need for a clear and far-reaching strategy that sets out clearly the objectives of the Government (low or zero carbon houses fit for the future, not just for now) and the path that will lead the country there (complete of policies about skills and training, embodied carbon standards for buildings, land use and environment, and planning regulations).

 

 

May 2021


[1] Climate Change Committee (2019) UK Housing: Fit for the Future? Accessible here

[2] The BioComposites Centre, Bangor University (2019) Wood in construction in the UK: An analysis of carbon abatement potential. Accessible here

[3] Data from naturallywood.com. Accessible on here

[4] Dovetail Partnership (2015) Building with wood. Accessible on thinkwood.com and here

[5] APPG for the Timber Industries (2019) “How the timber industries can help solve the housing crisis”. Accessible here

[6] WoodWorks – Wood Products Council, accessible here

[7] Information accessible from naturallywood.com

[8] American Wood Council and rethink Wood (2021) Mass Timber in North America: Expanding the possibilities of wood building design. Accessible here

[9] Powys County Council (2017) Wood Encouragement Policy. Accessible here

[10] Construction Index, Construction consortium targets greater use of home-grown timber, 24 November 2020. Accessible here

[11] Accessible here