Timber industry representatives have accused the government of breaking its promise to make all homes zero carbon by 2016.
According to the UK Timber Industry Associations’ Accord, changes to the Infrastructure Bill that relax zero carbon standards could push back the low carbon homes agenda by ten years. This is a coalition of trade associations representing the forestry and timber industries’ supply chains.
The Accord has written to building regulations minister Stephen Williams MP, urging him to reinstate embodied carbon in the zero carbon standard for new homes.
Embodied carbon – the energy used to make building materials – accounts for between 30 and 50 percent of a typical new building’s carbon footprint over its lifetime. Neglecting this could have serious consequences for the UK’s carbon footprint.
While work on developing a national materials standard continues, the Accord proposes that incentives be put in place to encourage the use of inherently low carbon building materials. They claim that this is easily achievable within the allowable solutions framework included in the Infrastructure Bill’s zero carbon standard.
The British Woodworking Federation’s (BWF) chief executive, Iain McIlwee, stated: “The proposed regulations are a throwback to the days when people incorrectly assumed that buildings consumed more energy than they were built with. We now understand that reducing embodied energy in construction plays a significant role in decarbonization. This decision to allow developers and homebuilders to ignore the true impact of future new homes on our carbon emissions creates a harmful void for the best energy-saving building materials, such as timber, and returns us to an era of single-issue green-washing.
“We must recognise and capitalise on this opportunity now, or risk falling behind our European competitors. Carbon accounting is standard practise in Germany; it is now required by law in the Netherlands, and it will be required by law in France next year. Our government appears to be waiting for Europe to drive change, and in the meantime, we will miss out on supply chain and business growth opportunities, as well as carbon reduction achievements, that are right now available for the taking.
“Timber that has been responsibly sourced is the most natural, renewable, and environmentally sustainable building material. The advantages are impressive and one-of-a-kind. As a result, we must ensure that the government understands this issue and that the Allowable Solutions framework incorporates embodied carbon into the definition of zero-carbon homes.”
“With [this] announcement, the Coalition has, in essence, abandoned its pledge to make all new homes ‘zero carbon’ by 2016.” David Hopkins, head of external affairs at Wood for Good, added. Housing and the built environment are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, but ministers have repeatedly watered down emission reduction targets, abandoning sustainability principles in the hope of encouraging more construction.
“By doing so, they fail to future-proof households against rising energy prices, fail to reduce emissions from building product manufacturing supply chains, and fail to build homes that will stand the test of time.” Sacrificing environmental sustainability in the hope of spurring a new wave of construction is extremely short-sighted and contradicts what peers in other European countries are doing.
“The UK government has a duty not only to reduce this country’s carbon emissions, but also to assist families in dealing with the rising cost of energy bills, with fuel poverty becoming a reality for many British households.” This includes addressing both embodied and operational carbon. When it comes to building homes for the future, it should not be an either/or situation. Timber construction can meet these priorities without sacrificing quality. Off-site engineering can reduce construction times by up to 14 weeks, resulting in significant cost savings, while timber also requires far less energy to produce and has some of the best insulating properties of any material.
“Low carbon can be achieved at a low cost and at a rapid pace.”