Embodying the case for wood
Homes in the Leeds Climate Innovation District by CITU | Credit: CITU
Using wood in construction not only has the power to make a significant contribution towards net zero, but to enhance public health and wellbeing in the process.
One of the greatest opportunities missing from the climate change conversation is the need to reduce embodied carbon. While discussion around achieving net zero, particularly within the built environment, gains traction, by not paying closer attention to embodied carbon, the 2050 target feels even further from reach.
Embodied carbon is defined by the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) as ‘the total greenhouse gas emissions generated to produce a built asset’. This means knowing how much carbon dioxide (CO₂) is emitted from extraction, processing and manufacturing, transportation and assembly of every building product used.
According to the Institute of Structural Engineers (ISE), embodied carbon can contribute 10 to 20% of a building’s total carbon footprint, in a typical new office building, 50% of the embodied carbon is in the structure alone. Yet, mention of embodied carbon emissions was missing from the Future Homes Standard, released at the start of the year.
What can be done?
Low carbon heating and energy systems are important, but they are not the only way to reduce harmful emissions in buildings. Taking a fabric first approach and using more natural and renewable materials such as wood is essential for the construction industry to reach its emissions reduction targets.
Timber can help to reduce the embodied carbon cost of a building by:
- Acting as a form of carbon capture and storage as the carbon dioxide sequestered by trees is stored in the wood product created for the product’s lifetime.
- Increasing the number of trees grown in sustainably managed forests, which helps to sequester more carbon dioxide.
- Displacing other carbon-intensive materials such as cement and steel with wood helps to reduce the carbon footprint of a building.
Using timber structural systems, such as timber frame or cross-laminated timber, can reduce the embodied carbon emissions of a new building by around 20 - 60% per building. These systems also deliver the benefits of modern methods of construction, helping to reduce build time, reduce waste, improve safety and cause less disruption in the local area.
In the UK, the cost burden of poor housing on the NHS is estimated at £2.5 billion per year.
Health and wellbeing
In addition to timber helping to reduce CO₂ in the atmosphere, it can also contribute to healthier indoor environments. In the UK, the cost burden of poor housing on the NHS is estimated at £2.5 billion per year. Studies show that healthy homes contribute to better educational results, higher workplace productivity, lower energy bills, improved health and wellbeing and greater life chances.
Wood products in the home have been shown to improve indoor air quality by moderating humidity and lower the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation, helping to decrease stress and blood pressure and lower heart rates.
With health, housing and the environment being at the top of the government’s agenda, it begs the question: how can we afford not to use wood?
For more information on why wood is good for our carbon emissions, health and wellbeing: www.woodforgood.com or [email protected]
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