Sustainability – building with timber for a zero-carbon future


The use of correctly designed and engineered timber solutions is a key driver in the delivery of net-zero by 2050. While insurers are wary of the risks associated with structural timber, the insurance and construction industries need to take a collaborative approach to promote the use of sustainable materials.

We are at a crossroads in the UK and on a global basis: the world has woken up to the detrimental impact that we are having on the planet and recognises that it is time to act. As individuals we can make a difference in how we behave, in the choices that we make and with our actions; however, this is not enough.

It is at the centre of government that the most decisive action is needed to arrest the march of climate change. The Committee on Climate Change highlighted that the built environment contributes up to 40% of the UK’s total carbon emissions – a figure which includes both embodied and operational carbon. Accordingly, the government has set out its plans and timeframe for its new Future Homes Standard, which aims to ‘radically improve’ the energy performance of new homes, making them ‘zero-carbon ready’ by 2025. Similarly, buildings are being driven toward net zero in the commercial/education sector. Driving down emissions

It is encouraging to see that the government recognises the need for low carbon materials, such as timber, to achieve greener homes. Modern methods of construction is also on the agenda, as timber represents an obvious, sustainable and environmentally friendly building solution in this sector, which could also help the nation to drive down its carbon emissions in the urgent timeframe that’s currently needed. Unfortunately, concerns regarding its fire safety performance seem to be curtailing its wide-scale adoption across the construction industry. At the heart of a safe building is good design and construction, no different to any building technology. To this end, careful selection of supply chain and early engagement with the stakeholders, insurers and lenders alike, is critical. Mitigating fire risks

The Structural Timber Association has embarked for many years on a continuous improvement programme addressing concerns on the fire resilience of timber in construction. With an increased focus on fire safety in construction, key research was commissioned by the STA into fire resilience of structural timber systems.

This resulted in the publication of the first structural timber pattern book which demonstrates the fire resilience of different structural timber panel systems for when a building is in use. A similar research and testing programme is under way with mass timber systems, the results of which will be published later this year. These research programmes complement the acknowledged fire mitigation process for structural timber buildings during construction, the site safe programme.

The STA Site safe programme recognises un-protected timber can be vulnerable to the risk of fire and is a process to ensure the building is constructed in accordance with 16 safety steps to mitigate risks of fire spread. Building the future

The property investment market, often driven by client requirements, is starting to demand low to net zero carbon timber buildings. The implementation of additional risk management via quality programmes can provide assurance to stakeholders involved in providing insurance cover for timber construction. As well as appreciating the financial benefits involved in supporting sustainable projects, lenders and insurers must begin to assess the future costs they’ll be liable to, should extreme weather and rising oceans become more common. Ultimately, these companies hold their own destiny, as well as their future profitability, in their own hands. Now is the time to invest in building in timber for the prosperity of the country and its residents, for employment, for the economy and ultimately for safeguarding the environment, today and tomorrow.

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