Across the country, local governments are increasingly looking at ways to improve their operations by initiating policies with results that include reducing their carbon footprints, maximising the effectiveness of their budgets, creating healthier environments and supporting their local communities. If Australian councils adopt a Wood Encouragement Policy (WEP) they can achieve some, or all, of these objectives.
This article explains how Planet Ark are helping them do so, through their Make It Wood campaign.
Timber is the only major building material that helps tackle climate change. It is a naturally renewable resource. As trees grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, through the process of photosynthesis. About half of the dry weight of timber is carbon. When the tree is responsibly harvested the carbon is locked in the wood and remains there for the life of any products made with that timber.
In addition, the production and processing of wood uses much less energy – known as embodied energy – than most other building materials, giving wood products a significantly lower carbon footprint. As a result wood can be used as a low-emission substitute for materials that require larger amounts of fossil fuels to be produced.
As a rule of thumb, if you convert one cubic metre of a solid material, such as concrete of brick, for a cubic metre of timber, you will eliminate approximately one tonne (1000kg) of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere.
Bold Park Aquatic Centre, City Beach WA Photography: Emma Van Dordrecht – F22 Photography
We also know that wood is good for our health – it effectively helps to bring the benefits of time spent in nature into the built environment – and can reduce stress responses including lower blood pressure and heart rate. It is strong and light – about one fifth of the weight of concrete, and it is durable – the oldest timber structure in the world dates back to AD 670. Wood is also a natural insulator – its thermal resistance is approximately 15 times higher than concrete or masonry – which will help to reduce the cost of heating or air-conditioning.
Most buildings using wood are prefabricated offsite and are much faster to build, which will save you time and money. By building in timber, not only do you reduce your carbon emissions, but you can also reduce the time and cost of construction.
A WEP generally requires responsibly sourced wood to be considered, where feasible, as the primary construction material in all new-build and refurbishment projects. As such is it not intended to be a draconian, all-encompassing dictum, but rather seeks to ensure that wood is at least considered as the primary structural component in these buildings.
The adoption of similar policies around the world is growing steadily, including Canada, Japan, France, Finland, Netherlands and the UK, who are all encouraging the use of natural, timber-based products in construction.