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Opinion Piece

Collaboration is key if construction wants to hit net zero

Burry Port Community Primary School, designed by Architype; © Architype

David Hopkins is CEO of Timber Development UK, the leading voice for the £10bn UK Timber supply chain. A passionate campaigner for the decarbonisation of construction for over 20 years, David also sits on the Government’s Timber in Construction Working Group and is a Director of the Confederation of Timber Industries.

Timber Development UK formed in 2022 from the merger of the two largest and longest-established organisations in the supply chain: the Timber Trade Federation (TTF) and Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA). It’s the foremost UK organisation for timber knowledge, publications, resources and expert guidance.  

https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-hopkins-bb6b906/

Timber has come of age. There is a real buzz about building with timber right now. At this year’s Futurebuild, timber featured in presentation after presentation as a key solution to the climate crisis. And you couldn’t miss all those striking exhibitor booths, stylishly and simply built from timber.

We formed Timber Development UK (TDUK) last year to be a centre of excellence for using timber as a core building material. It seems our timing couldn’t have been better.

The world has woken up to the fact that timber is a sustainable, low-carbon construction material. Not only can it help the built environment reach net zero: it connects our living and working environments to the natural world.

How we’re helping our sector to work together

The built environment is currently responsible for around 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions in the UK – many millions of tonnes of carbon every year. Our goal is to position timber as the first-choice building material to help combat this. We are working towards this in three main ways:

  1. Connecting the Supply Chain
    We’re bringing the links in the supply chain closer together. Our membership now covers companies from sawmill to specifier, we are providing a home for everyone involved in timber construction: whether they are on the supply side or the design side. This allows us to improve dialogue and understanding between each of those points on the chain and build a smoother path towards successful timber construction.
  2. Leading Best Practice
    We publish a wealth of essential guidance, including technical publications, case studies, wood species info and construction safety advice. From timber engineering manuals and primers on CLT to cladding advice, we provide authoritative practical information. It is free to download for members and we have an ambitious publishing schedule to help members overcome any topic which is currently acting as a barrier.
  1. Accelerating a low-carbon future
    We are sharing understanding of the environmental benefits of timber in outputs such as our Carbon Impacts Paper and our Net Zero Road Map. We team up with partners such as Edinburgh Napier University to provide educational materials that help upskill the industry in this vital area.

We also now run the annual Wood Awards – in partnership with American Hardwood Export Council and The Carpenters Company – which celebrates and promotes the best inspiring timber buildings, furniture and interior design. 

The UK will not achieve its net zero ambitions unless the supply chain works together. We must have full transparent knowledge and understanding at every step of the way. There are obstacles to increasing the use of timber – and other low-carbon natural materials – and these can only be overcome by collaboration. That is why TDUK exists.

What we’d like to see more of…

There’s more and more evidence in the wider industry that collaboration is the right way to go. Take any of the impressive developments that have recently emerged in the built environment sector: collaboration and cooperation always lie at their heart.

For example, the recently announced Phoenix Development in Lewes looks set to be the largest timber development the UK has ever seen. It is currently awaiting planning permission but, fingers crossed, it will provide 700 sustainably sourced timber-frame homes. The developers, Human Nature, hope to kick-start a whole new revival in sustainable forestry in southeast England.

This inspiring project depends upon close collaboration: teams of some of the UK’s brightest architectural practices and engineers will all be working together, including ingenious TDUK members Eurban and Whitby Wood.  

Another example of industry collaboration is our recently launched website, Fire Safety: Wood In Construction. This fills a much-needed void: it provides comprehensive guidance on how to build fire-safe timber buildings.

It is designed to be accessible for any level of understanding, with top-level information that any client would find helpful, through to technical specifics that engineers, architects and contractors need to know.

Written by technical experts from across the UK and Europe, it was reviewed by UK industry peers and has been made possible through funding from TDUK, Swedish Wood and the Structural Timber Association. It’s essential reading, and a timely response to one of the greatest perceived barriers to timber construction.

Where to next?

TDUK itself has recently published a landmark document – one that couldn’t have come about without focused cooperation and collaboration. The Timber Industry Net Zero Roadmap is the result of the hard work of a slew of knowledgeable, dedicated contributors from across the timber sector.

It has measured all areas of emissions from within our supply chain and establishes a clear route to net zero by 2050 for the industry, highlighting the key areas where the timber sector can make a difference.

While it makes clear that timber’s carbon footprint is tiny compared to many other construction materials, it nevertheless outlines where timber needs to improve – and the quick wins it can achieve. We cannot rest on our laurels of having a low carbon material, we also need to look at all the other areas of business where emissions may occur.

At the risk of blowing our own trumpet, it’s an example of the kind of conscientious support that construction industry players need to be providing for each other. Only by working together, sharing information, passing on tips and lessons learned can we begin to build a better world. With wood, of course.

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