What does the construction industry want from timber product suppliers?

In August 7, 2017
Sustainability expert Charlie Law shares how timber product suppliers can help the industry meet sustainability goals through responsible sourcing and education

The UK consumes circa 16 million m3 of sawn wood and panel products annually, the vast majority of which is believed to be used either directly or indirectly by the construction industry. But is the timber industry giving construction industry customers what they want with regards to sustainability?

This will probably depend on who you are talking to within the supply chain, but according to some senior sustainability managers from a number of major contractors, there are some fundamental requirements that must be met. The primary concern (other than getting the right timber on site at the right time) is that timber must be from a verifiable legal and sustainable source. For legality, it will need to meet the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation.

However, when talking about sustainability, contractors are not just looking at the environmental issues, such as ensuring the timber is harvested from forests that will be replanted, they want to ensure the wider social and economic issues are also met. Associated with this is local sourcing, which is becoming a key requirement for a number of construction clients. There are also the issues of resource efficiency, and alternative and innovative new products and how these may perform over time in a given situation.

Responsible sourcing

Members of the UK Contractors Group (UKCG, now part of Build UK) have previously issued procurement wording stating that:

‘All timber products purchased for either temporary or permanent inclusion in the works on UKCG member sites shall be legally and sustainably sourced, as defined by the UK Government Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET).”

Many contractors have qualified this by stating that they will only accept timber that has a full chain of custody via a third-party certification scheme that meets the requirements of CPET.

CPET requires that any approved scheme must meet its full range of sustainability requirements, such as:

  • Forest management planning to reduce net deforestation and restrict land use changes;
  • Minimising harm to ecosystems including protection of soil, water and biodiversity; and
  • Control on the use of chemicals and correct disposal of waste.

CPET also ensures traditional tenure and use rights are observed, consulting and working with indigenous populations who rely on the forest, labour rights (freedom of association, elimination of forced or child labour and discrimination), health and safety of workers, training, grievances and disputes. At the time of writing, CPET has only approved the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFCTM) schemes as being compliant with its requirements, achieving almost identical scores in the latest review from 2015.

In addition to these minimum requirements, many clients and contractors have specific project or company requirements that could include an FSC-only policy or a requirement for FSC® or PEFCTM project certification. For example, some clients and contractors are members of the World Wide Fund for Nature Global Forest & Trade Network, which promotes the use of FSC-certified wood.

Local sourcing

Another key requirement in recent years has been the move by contractors, in many cases at the request of the client driven in part by the Social Value Act, for more locally sourced products and services. The UKCG procurement statement was redrafted to include this with the additional requirement:

“We will give preference to schemes that support the principles of the Social Value Act, e.g., the use of timber and timber products which are assured as “Grown in Britain”’ – published on the Grown in Britain website. The majority of UKCG members subsequently signed up to support the Grown in Britain campaign and procure British-grown timber where feasible.

Grown in Britain also forms part of the social value assessment carried out by the Considerate Constructors Scheme. Grown in Britain is a not-for-profit organisation that is trying to reconnect the British public and business to our woodlands and the timber resources it can provide.

According to the Forestry Commission Timber Utilisation Statistics 2015 Report, only around 15% of the sawn softwood the construction industry uses is sourced from the UK. Although there are no specific figures for hardwood used in construction, the Forestry Commission Statistics 2016 state that UK-sourced hardwood made up less than 10% of the total hardwood market. Therefore individuals and organisations must insist on using Grown in Britain timber wherever practicable to improve these statistics.

Circular economy

With more focus on the circular economy, and the associated resource efficiency, clients and contractors are also looking to incorporate more reused and recycled material into their projects. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation describe the circular economy as ‘one that is restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles’. Although timber is the construction industry’s ultimate renewable resource, this does not mean it should be sent out as biomass for energy production, or worse landfill, after its first use. Many timber components can be either reused in their original form or recycled into new materials such as chipboard, keeping them at their highest utility and value.

There are a number of reuse organisations that will collect unwanted timber from construction sites and timber processors for reuse. One of these is the National Community Wood Recycling Project, which is a social enterprise that has been promoted by many in the construction industry as it helps to create sustainable employment for local people, especially those who might find it difficult to get into employment.

The timber industry should also be looking at how its products could be easily removed and reused at the end of their service life. This could include removable hoarding panels that may only be in place for a few months or floorboards that could be in place for a lot longer.

Timber delivery documentation

For contractors receiving deliveries on a construction site, the key to confirming whether a product is FSC® or PEFCTM certified (or GiB licensed) is the delivery ticket. All the above schemes require a minimum amount of information, including the claim and the certificate number, to be noted on both the delivery ticket and the invoice. However, all too often, timber, or more likely timber products, turn up on site without this minimum information on the delivery ticket. This needs to be addressed by the wider construction supply chain to ensure a full chain of custody is maintained throughout the supply chain. Also, one thing contractors would really like to see on delivery tickets is the volume of product (preferably against each item, but a total volume would be useful as a minimum) as this aids with the reporting required for project certification and industry monitoring.

Educating the wider construction supply chain

Where timber merchants, who generally meet the documentation requirements, are supplying materials to manufacturers they know are supplying into the construction industry, but are not part of the timber industry (for example, lift cars contain a surprising amount of timber and panel products), should impart their knowledge on the chain of custody and its requirements. This is something the Timber Trade Federation is looking at. Also, the Supply Chain Sustainability School (www.supplychainschool.co.uk) has some useful online training modules on the chain of custody and what is required, produced in association with Exova BM TRADA, which can all be accessed free of charge.

Alternative products

There will, however, always be situations where it may not be possible to obtain a specified product with the right sustainability requirements; for example, plywood is not manufactured in the UK, so a GiB plywood product would not be obtainable at this time. This is where the knowledge of the timber industry should really come to the fore, by suggesting alternative products that may suit a client’s requirements. For example, it may be possible to use an OSB board instead of plywood, as this would be available from a home-grown source.

Linked to this is the rise of modified wood products such as acetylated timber (for example, Accoya®) and thermally modified products (Brimstone and ThermoWood®). These are now increasingly being specified for external applications instead of other timber species due to their improved resistance to insect and fungal attack.

Where there is any doubt as to the proper application of a timber product, the contractor can always be referred to TRADA for their expert opinion. Call the TRADA Advisory line on 01494 569601.

This is an edited version of an article that was commissioned for the TRADA Yearbook 2017 (trada.co.uk)

Charlie Law
TRADA Board Member and Managing Director of Sustainable Construction Solutions
Tel: +44 (0)1494 569 750

What does the construction industry want from timber product suppliers? Available from <https://www.pbctoday.co.uk/news/plant-equipment-supplies-news/construction-industry-want-timber-product-suppliers/34330> [July 27, 2017]