How does timber play a part in sustainable housing?

The timber industry used to have a big image problem. It was seen as the chief cause of deforestation, both at home and in the Amazon rainforest. Since then, we’ve seen timber shake off its role as an environmental villain and become a truly sustainable material in many parts of the world.

26th June 2015

However, the issue of sustainability has fallen off the political agenda in recent years, especially in terms of construction. Targets for every new home to be zero carbon by 2016 and improved energy efficiency were unceremoniously scrapped in this year’s budget. Additionally, with the current focus on housebuilding quantity rather than quality, green building has taken a back seat.

Nevertheless, timber plays an important part in sustainable housing. We explore why this material is so valuable in the green building industry, and how timber merchants can use sustainability as a selling point.

Timber’s green credentials

Timber is more sustainable than many other building materials in multiple ways:

-          Near carbon neutral. Timber is the construction material that’s closest to being carbon neutral, as long as trees are replanted after deforestation. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by trees during their growth and the carbon is locked away in the form of timber. However, other life cycle processes mean that the material is unlikely to be completely carbon neutral.

-          Low embodied energy. Embodied energy is the total energy required to produce a good or service. This includes energy from transport, storage and processing. Timber has very low embodied energy compared with bricks and steel, as processing is relatively simple and timber mills are often located near the point of harvesting.

-          Biodegradable. Untreated timber is biodegradable, therefore the environmental costs associated with disposal are few and far between.

-          Reuse potential. Timber products often have great reuse potential (depending on how they’re treated). Recycled or reclaimed timber can be used for flooring, furniture, wood chips, and much more depending on the type and condition of the wood.

The role of timber merchants

Ultimately the sustainability of timber housing depends on the source of timber. Ensuring that supplied timber is from legal and sustainable sources can be tricky, but certification schemes such as those from the FSC and PEFC are a great starting point. Under EU law, timber traders must keep a record of the operators who supply their timber products, and who they sell the timber products to. In turn, the operators must perform due diligence checks to ensure their timber isn’t illegally sourced.

Knowing the origin of any timber products you sell is great for credibility. Additionally, there are significant PR and marketing benefits to be found if your timber products are sustainably sourced.

Timber certainly has a significant role to play in sustainable housing, but as we’ve explored in this article, it’s the source of the timber that determines how ‘green’ it is. Merchants and builders should not forget that sustainability relates to the entire life cycle of the product, so improving timber reuse and recycling rates is key.

After more ways to improve your marketing results as a timber merchant? Stay tuned to the Integrity Trader blog for our upcoming series on digital marketing. 

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