Paul Cave, Sales Director at Koppers, explains why now’s the time for timber in UK construction.

Now that the ink has dried on the UK government’s Timber in Construction Roadmap, many in the sector will be feeling that the real work is just beginning.

A key question on the minds of merchants and suppliers will be their role in the sustainable supply chain for timber, one of the priorities in the Roadmap.

A crucial one is the answer – making timber accessible and affordable on a large-scale, not just for flagship projects, will be vital to unlocking its potential as a sustainable building material.

There’s a real opportunity for merchants and suppliers who act fast to embrace timber to tap into the increased demand that the legislative go-ahead for timber construction is sure to create.

Here, an important first step is becoming not only an expert in timber construction products, but also an advocate for their sustainability benefits and being able to ease any lingering concerns over safety and performance.

Counting carbon

The value of timber in cutting emissions in the built environment, which represents a quarter of the UK’s carbon footprint, is now common knowledge – treated timber has particular value because it keeps carbon sequestered in the tree's active life locked away for longer in a more durable product.

But the industry still needs to be able to quantify these savings and their contribution to emissions targets. This is where a timber supply chain supported by sustainability data and certifications is crucial to securing buy-in from businesses across the sector.

More than anything, this data needs to be robustly and consistently applied to timber products, so merchants need to understand the relevant standards and frameworks within which the data is applied. In the UK, there are two relevant industry standards: BS EN 195978 is the standard for whole life carbon assessments against which timber products will be measured, while BS EN 15804 governs the production of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that attest to a product’s sustainability credentials.

The Timber in Construction Roadmap sets out steps to build on these existing structures, engaging the industry to develop the approach to measuring embodied carbon, and establish timber’s role in reducing it. Becoming fluent in existing and future carbon measures will allow merchants to give the best advice to their customers and drive the uptake of timber on more projects.

Smart, secure supply

Where timber comes from is crucial to its value as a sustainable green building supercharger. Increased demand is a great opportunity to boost the UK market and, while ramping up production will have to be done carefully to protect biodiversity, merchants can help by promoting (literally) homegrown timber with their customers.

Building domestic supply will be a slow process, and for now the UK is one of the world’s largest importers of timber.

When it comes to international supply, now is the time to build awareness of what makes a truly sustainable supply chain and establish a clear and widely accepted best practice.

Safe and secure

Concerns around the fire safety and durability of timber, particularly following the Grenfell Tower tragedy which rightfully increased the scrutiny of all construction materials, has been one of the reasons that timber construction in the UK is lagging behind our international peers.

Progress in engineered mass timber, however, has gone a long way to addressing these concerns, as has progress in timber construction in non-residential projects.

What policymakers and industry voices are aware of is the need to address safety concerns, with an approach that brings together industry, academia and regulators to create safe and robust usage guidelines for timber.

This includes Koppers and the rest of the timber treatment industry – cutting-edge fire retardants for industrial timber are powerful safeguards against structural damage caused by fire. Chemicals in fire retardants react with gases and tar to convert them to char, reducing flame spread and combustion while retaining structural integrity. 

A working knowledge of strategies to protect timber, as well as familiarity with resources such as the Fire Safety Hub where businesses can upload safety data and best practice guidance, will help build the confidence needed for timber to have the right impact.

Sustainable growth

The time is now for timber in UK construction, but we can’t sit back and wait for adoption to grow on its own. The Timber in Construction Roadmap should be a starting gun for an effort encompassing industry and government to get timber off the ground on a large scale, because we all stand to benefit when it happens.