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Why timber stacks up in the construction climate change emergency

What small steps can the construction industry in New Zealand take to mitigating carbon emissions and help navigate climate change?

Timber stacks up in construction climate change emergency

The construction industry could pioneer a radical initiative that would significantly reduce carbon emissions that would not involve additional costs. Coincidentally, this pioneering initiative was always there before our eyes – we just couldn’t see the wood from the trees, literally!

Traditionally, commercial buildings have been built using high energy-intensive materials such as steel and/or concrete. Both materials come with high carbon emissions costs!

Concrete is the most widely used man-made material in existence and it is SECOND only to water as the most-consumed resource on the planet.

Cement, the primary component of the concrete attribute to 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to Think Tank Chatham House. China, currently possesses the highest CO2 emissions from the cement process, followed by India and the EU.

So, what’s so great about timber from a climate change capacity?

The benefit of using timber in the construction of commercial buildings is carbon sequestration – in laymen’s terms, carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide that will help defer or mitigate global warming. By using timber, you’re not only limiting the use of carbon-heavy materials but you’re effectively creating buildings that will act as carbon banks where carbon absorbed by trees could be stored for the long-term future.

How does timber stack up against steel?

There will be the structural debate from an engineering capacity timber is not as robust as steel. Hitchcock & King have thrashed out this debate across a number of categories including cost, speed of construction, sustainability and robustness.

But there are other reasons for using timber that is outside of the obvious carbon busting benefits. Forestry is a significant industry in New Zealand. It contributes to the following:

  • An annual gross income of approx. $5 billion
  • 3% of New Zealand’s GDP
  • Directly employs approx. 20,000 people  

Let’s start thinking about the materials we use more frequently and propel climate change across the entire construction industry!