SCOTLAND’S wealth of trees and forests has been described as ‘Green Gold’ – a national resource that can unlock environmental, social and economic riches.
And this rich resource is infinitely renewable, with many valuable end-uses – vital for a modern, industrialised society that takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. There is perhaps no greater responsibility than tackling climate change. A casual glance at any graph of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions shows forestry enjoys a unique position. While other sectors, such as transport, construction and agriculture sit ‘above the line’ (producing more damaging greenhouse gases), the forestry sector sits, alone, below the line as a sector that locks up far more carbon than it produces.
This fact is reflected in the Scottish Government’s ambitious tree planting targets.
While the driver is climate change mitigation, this initiative will help Scotland derive even greater value from its rich reserves of green gold. It will also benefit those who live and work in these buildings; modern, well-designed, wood-rich homes that cost little to heat and keep warm.
The plan to use more timber in construction is a big deal and can help meet the Scottish Government’s target to build 50,000 new affordable homes by the end of the parliamentary session in 2021. Wood offers a greener, more sustainable alternative to other construction materials like brick, steel and concrete.
Scottish sawmillers – including James Jones & Sons, BSW and Glennons - have developed independently-audited tools to measure the carbon life cycle of wood. Architects and those commissioning new buildings can use this practical information to understand the carbon impact of construction. The forest and wood processing industries are now challenging other building materials industries to set out what their carbon life cycle assessment is, and to include every aspect of the materials and building process.
The sector’s confidence comes from the knowledge that a tonne of brick requires more than four times the energy to produce than a tonne of sawn softwood. Concrete requires five times more energy than wood and steel 24 times more. In addition, wood’s thermal insulation properties are 5 times better than concrete, 10 times better than brick and 350 times better than steel.
Of course, if we use even more Scottish wood, this will bring even greater benefits for Scotland’s economy, giving a further boost to the £1 billion forestry and timber sector, and the environment.
As well as being energy-efficient, these modern homes are attractive to live in and can be built using wood in both sawn and engineered forms where wood is made into wall panels or large beams to create homes with bright, open spaces. Innovative companies like MAKAR are building unique contemporary homes and looking at new ways to build with wood across rural Scotland.
It’s not just homes in the countryside that can be built from wood. It can be used in urban areas too and the use of cross laminated timber (CLT) are allowing us to reach for the sky. Plans are under way for Scotland’s tallest wooden building to be built in Yoker, Glasgow, with experts in timber construction from Edinburgh Napier University working alongside offsite construction company CCG. The greater strength of CLT is allowing building to go higher, and Napier – whose Professor Sean Smith coined the phrase ‘green gold’ – leads the way in researching further opportunities in sustainable construction, timber engineering and wood science.
However, much more can be done to increase the number of warm, attractive and sustainable homes built from timber, in rural and urban settings.
Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood