Author: David Rowlinson
Using timber in green buildings is a key way for the forestry industry to assist in the transition to a low carbon economy. That’s according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Forestry for a low-carbon future: Integrating forests and wood products in climate change strategies report published this week.
“Forests are at the heart of the transition to low-carbon economies,” the report states. “Forests and forest products have a key role to play in mitigation and adaptation, not only because of their double role as sink and source of emissions, but also through the potential for wider use of wood products to displace more fossil fuel intense products.
“Indeed, a virtuous cycle can be enacted in which forests increase removals of carbon from the atmosphere while sustainable forest management and forest products contribute to enhanced livelihoods and a lower carbon footprint.”
According to the report, here in Australia the average use of wood products per unit of floor area has “decreased significantly over time”. Reversing this trend could have significant CO2 mitigation benefits.
The report also said that while the use of timber in high-rise buildings was currently the subject of a high level of discussion, buildings in the mid-rise sector (four to 10 storeys) could have greater mitigation potential overall “because they are more prevalent and thus represent a larger material volume”.
The report found that acceptance of wood as a building material has been low despite a growing body of evidence regarding its many environmental benefits and cost competitiveness. “The building construction industry is known for a tendency to be risk averse,” it said. It further highlighted that where green building principles to reduce energy use are used in conjunction with timber in construction, the outcomes can result in substantial climate change mitigation.
However, it said not all green rating systems for the built environment included the embodied energy of building materials as a factor in overall ratings. Instead, the majority focused on the operational energy use, not the embodied carbon footprint.