The world is slowly waking up to the benefits of timber; it’s renewable, incredibly versatile, and helps to protect the planet for future generations. It’s also one of the oldest surviving materials for fencing and landscaping, which is a testament to the material’s sturdy and resilient qualities.

BSW Group, one of the UK’s largest integrated forestry businesses, believes it’s the role of companies like itself to demonstrate how beautiful and comfortable landscapes can be developed with minimal impact on the environment. This is why, during the COP26conference, we joined forces with Roderick James Architects and other companies in the home building sector to construct the innovative COP26 House, putting theories into action and showing the world how we can build sustainably through the use of homegrown timber.

With population growth, increased life expectancy, and urban expansion putting pressure on our planet’s finite resources, the importance of radically rethinkingour approach to fencing, landscaping and construction projects has never been greater.

The very act of growing trees benefits the environment, and timber removes more CO2 from the atmosphere than it adds through manufacture. Trees store CO2 within their trunks, branches and leaves, while timber continues to store that carbon once those trees have been harvested. What’s more, by acting as a replacement for carbon-intensive materials, such as steel and concrete, timber doubles its contribution to lowering CO2.

World studies have shown that bringing nature closer to us can also have a positive effect on our health. Not only is timber considered to be hypoallergenic, helping you to avoid allergic reactions, but the use of wood products can also improve air quality by moderating humidity.

Timber is also a great choice as it has natural insulating properties, even for chalet construction in some of the world’s coldest climates. It also lends itself to off-site prefabrication, offering a more agile and speedy solution than other, more labour-intensive processes.

In terms of construction specifically, timber has found a new niche in the construction of modern, mass-scale commercial buildings since the start of the Millenium. It’s a material quite literally on the rise, surpassing its previous limit of two or three stories to create buildings of much greater height. In fact, Tokyo has plans to construct the world’s tallest timber-framed tower, named W350 – a 350m high skyscraper standing 70 stories tall and almost four times the height of today’s tallest timber-framed building, the Mjøstårnet in Norway.

It’s thanks to ongoing research and development that timber has advanced in such a way. For example, the tiniest tweak to a seedling can transform the timber used to support a 70-story building, like the W350.

With these benefits in mind, there’s no denying that timber is an attractive material. However, while significant progress is being made, other materials still have a strong share of the market, despite concrete, for instance, accounting for an estimated eight per cent of globalCO2 emissions.

So, what’s stopping a bigger switch to wood? The initial cost may be the top of the list. After all, it’s a high-quality product with a stunning finish, commanding a higher price tag than that of concrete. To keep up with demand the UK also imports around 80 per cent of its timber, which increases its price due to transportation costs, while the increased amount of carbon emittedbecause of this means imported timber takes more of a toll on the environment too.

So, it is only by planting more trees in the UK that homegrown timber can become a more credible and affordable alternative to other materials and timber imports. Itis essential that we also use what we already have as efficiently as possible.

Take our approach at BSW Group, for example. Sustainability is a fundamental part of our business,and our integrated capabilities ensure we have a partner, and a market, for every part of every tree. We grow-to-size, harvest to order and replant to replenish.

It’s also important to consider that timber has a host of advantages that belie its material costs. For example, a building constructed from Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) weighs around 80 per cent less than concrete, resulting in considerable savings on the cost of foundations and transportation. What’s more, its thermal efficiency helps to reduce both heating bills and carbon emissions, while its off-site construction method contributes to faster lead times.

Innovation will remain crucial as we strive to unlock further efficiencies for the timber industry. I’m confident that if we continue to invest in British timber’s potential and develop its capabilities, we will soon reap the benefits of sustainably sourced timber on a mass scale. 

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