UK needs to grow back better to build back better - Wood For Good Conference

08 Nov 2021

A focus on sustainable forestry from the ground up could be the key to building back better, one of the leading voices on timber architecture and construction said ahead of the Wood for Good conference running alongside COP26.

Catch up on the full conference below.

Andrew Waugh - co-founder of Waugh Thistleton Architects and a pioneer of low-carbon design - said that managing our homegrown timber resources from the forest floor up is critical to supporting growing demand from the construction sector as it looks to more widely adopt sustainable materials.

He said: “Forest practices need continuous improvement, and we need to work to ensure that the industry achieves the lowest carbon processes possible. More than 50% of European timber is still burned as a ‘green’ fuel and this is a travesty. We need to shine the light of thorough life-cycle assessments across the construction industry – timber included.”

UK timber has traditionally been used for non-structural applications, such as fencing materials and pallets, but emerging innovation in the sector is beginning to pave the way for the greater use of homegrown wood in building projects. The free one-day conference on 2 November aims to celebrate developments in the sector, with the event forming part of the wider BE@COP26 showcase on sustainable construction hosted by Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) during the first two weeks in November.

Last week, the UK Government revealed a new Net Zero Strategy that includes plans to increase the use of timber in construction, led by a new cross-government and industry working group. The plans also include financial support for timber products through a Forestry Innovation Fund, a policy roadmap on the use of timber, and a focus on modern methods of construction that encourage the use of more sustainable materials.



Andrew Waugh continued: “There are vast opportunities for homegrown timber to shape a better built environment, and with that comes a chance to rethink the way we plant trees and manage forests. We can grow more and grow better, with improved husbandry practices and increased biodiversity supporting the future of timber construction through local forestry. Scotland has vast outdoor spaces and the natural resources to lead this change, particularly as sustainability continues to sit at the top of the agenda.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that the UK still burns more timber than it uses for buildings, but by highlighting the opportunity and raising awareness of the engineering and design possibilities we are starting to see a shift. Much of that is led by technology which will be critical to growing the market; however, there is a lot of work to do to educate and upskill the required workforce.

“Offsite manufacturing and digital transformation will also play a big part in the wider use of timber and that can help to change some of the outdated perceptions of the industry. It’s such an exciting and rewarding career path and, with technology playing a bigger role than ever, we can not only create better quality buildings, but promote diversity across the sector with better working environments and conditions associated with offsite manufacturing.”

Representatives from the Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor), Stewart Milne Timber Systems, Cities4Forests, SNRG and ECOSystems Technologies also spoke at the conference, with talks exploring the ways in which timber can be used more widely to help future-proof the construction sector.



Alongside the conference, attendees had the opportunity to tour the range of prototypes and exhibits on display as part of the BE@COP26 showcase, including MultiPly – a carbon-neutral, modular wooden pavilion made entirely of American tulipwood designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects in partnership with American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC). All of the panels for the demonstrator were manufactured by CSIC at the Innovation Factory using the UK’s only full-scale vacuum press.

Continuing the focus on timber in construction, the showcase features the Innovate UK-funded Transforming Timber demonstrator which is the UK’s first two-storey modular home manufactured from homegrown cross-laminated timber. Visitors could also learn more about the NearHome prototype - part of the Scottish Government’s 20-minute neighbourhoods initiative, which shows how disused spaces can be transformed into sustainable, local work hubs – and GenZero, a low-carbon prototype timber classroom designed by the UK Government’s Department for Education.

The conference was backed by Wood for Good – the UK’s main campaign to promote the greater use of wood in design and construction. Sarah Virgo, campaign manager at Wood for Good, said: “Our aim is to make timber the construction sector’s first choice material by sharing and promoting industry knowledge and the conference will be an ideal forum for continuing that discussion. Trees naturally sequester carbon – every 1m3 of forest holds an estimated 0.9 tonnes of CO2 – and by using more wood in construction, the sector can help to reduce its environmental impact.”

Catch up on BE@COP26

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