From the timber mill to the job site: Bowens delivers sustainable building materials

12 April 2021

Nicole Bittar

When you use timber in construction, you're doing something good for the environment. In fact, embodied carbon emissions in the construction sector account for over 23 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. Simply using timber where possible helps this $360B industry improve its environmental footprint.

The folk at Bowens know a few things about Australian timber and the trades. Bowens is a fourth-generation family business with a significant history, founded in 1894. Today Bowens is an industry leader in supplying the largest variety of quality timber and building supplies to trade in Australia.

The sheer volume of timber going through the doors of Bowens – and onto construction sites – mean that this family business is in a good place to comment about sustainably sourced timber and how they’re putting it into consumer’s hands.

Bowens truck leaving timber yard

Responsibly sourced timber is the only renewable mainstream building material available – the ultimate renewable. Growing trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and then wood products store that carbon – so-called biogenic carbon – in anything from framing to decking, fencing or kitchen benchtops. In fact, about half of the dry weight of timber is carbon.

Supporting sustainably sourced and grown Australian timber, Bowens plays a crucial role in the supply chain, linking timber from the mill to the sales floor. Andy Bowen, Chief Investment Officer elaborates for us.

“Bowens purchases timber products at substantial volumes direct from Australian mills and is the key supplier to all types of builders from DIY to small-medium sized to commercial and Australia’s largest volume builders. With timber specialists on staff, Bowens ensures products are quality tested for moisture content and integrity before being delivered to site.”

Jeff Harvey in forest

The production and processing of timber uses much less energy – called embodied energy – than most other building materials, giving wood products a significantly lower carbon footprint. Because of this, timber can be used to substitute for materials that require larger amounts of fossil fuels to be produced.

In 2020 Australians spent a lot of time at home, especially those in Victoria, where Bowens’ 16 stores are located. It was an opportunity for people to do things around the home. As a result, they saw a spike in Google search terms related to timber, particularly decking. Andy tells us that these searches led to more and more projects in homes.

“There was a large increase in DIY projects and products purchased to make improvements around the home, particularly deck restorations and non-toxic Treated Pine Sleepers - ideal for raised vegetable gardens”.

“There were also a lot of DIY installations of residential decking – Spotted Gum is one of the most popular timber decks installed,” according to Frank Di Stefano, Timber Expert at Bowens.

In fact, one of the top timber-related search terms on Google was timber decking-related. The article on Make It Wood about the top timbers to use on a decking was very popular, one of the most read pieces of 2020. Frank explains the seasonality behind it.

Truck driver for Bowens

“The demand for decking has been enormous as a result of both DIY and builder contracted work for home improvement projects. COVID aside, the demand for decking is always seasonal. We see increased sales for decking from September onwards in Victoria during the warmer months where there’s a heightened focus on outdoor entertaining.”

Certain timbers are more popular than others, and this depends on what is sourced locally. Frank gives us the local insight for Victoria. “Spotted Gum is a popular decking timber for those wanting to stick with an Australian timber. Its striking colour palette in the browns make it a beautiful choice with excellent durability.”

Bowens has recently launched their online retail site which is a new step for the company as well as revamping the trade portal. While you can’t replace the instore expertise, you can certainly enjoy the convenience. At a company like Bowens, the instore experience includes literal lifetimes of experience.

With such a long history and over 1000 employees, there are undoubtedly some great stories in terms of longevity. Jeff Harvey, who has been with Bowens for 60 years, is one such team member as Jack Bowen, Chairman at Bowens tells us.

Jeff Harvey walking in forest

“Jeff Harvey, who joined Bowens in 1961, celebrated 60 years with the company on the 13th of February 2021 After completing his three year cadetship, Jeff Harvey worked in Sales and was responsible for Despatch. In the early 2000s, under Jeff's supervision, Hastings recorded its first ever $1 million sales month.”

“Following this role, Jeff transferred to the Support Office to take on the role of Group Product Manager for flooring, before moving into his current Timber Specialist role.

Today, "Harvs" works part time in this role passing down his decades’ worth of industry knowledge across the business to staff and customers.”

For team members like Jeff to stay with Bowens for so long says a lot about the organisation. The role that Bowens and other such retailers play in linking our sustainably grown and produced timber to building sites and homes continues to be so vital. So here’s to another 60 years, Jeff!