Trade Body Accord Accuses Government Abandoning Sustainability

Representatives of the timber industry have accused the Government of reneging on its pledge to make all homes zero carbon by 2016.

Reforms to the Infrastructure Bill, which relax zero carbon standards, could put back the low carbon homes agenda by 10 years, according to the UK Timber Industry Associations’ Accord. This is coalition of trade bodies representing the supply chain of the forestry and timber industries.

The Accord has written has written to building regulations minister Stephen Williams MP, urgently asking for embodied carbon to be reinstated into the zero carbon standard for new homes.

Embodied carbon – the energy that goes into making building materials – accounts for between 30% and 50% of the carbon impact of a typical new building through its lifetime. Discounting this could have huge implications for the UK’s carbon footprint.

The Accord is proposing that incentives are put in place to encourage the selection of inherently low carbon building materials while work continues to develop a national materials standard. They claim this could easily be achieved in the allowable solutions framework that is part of the zero carbon standard announced in the Infrastructure Bill.

Iain McIlwee, chief executive of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) said: “The proposed regulations are a throwback to the days when people assumed, wrongly, that more energy is consumed in running buildings than in constructing them. We now know that reducing embodied energy in construction plays a huge part in decarbonisation. This move to allow developers and housebuilders to ignore the true impact of future new homes on our carbon emissions leaves a damaging void for the best energy-saving building materials such as timber and takes us back to an age of single issue green-washing.

“We need to recognise and nurture this opportunity now or we risk falling behind our European competitors. In Germany it is a matter of course to account for carbon in construction, in the Netherlands, it is a now a matter of law and in France it will be law next year. Our Government seem to be waiting for Europe to drive change, and in the meantime we will lose out on the supply chain and business growth opportunities and the carbon reduction achievements that are right there now for the taking.

“Responsibly sourced timber is the most natural, renewable and environmentally sustainable building material. The benefits are impressive and unique. So this is something we need to ensure Government understands and that the Allowable Solutions framework embraces embodied carbon within the definition of zero carbon homes.”

David Hopkins, head of external affairs, Wood for Good, added: “With [this] announcement the Coalition has, in essence, abandoned its pledge to make all new homes ‘zero carbon’ by 2016. Housing and the built environment is one of the major sources of greenhouse gases, yet ministers have repeatedly watered down goals to reduce emissions, abandoning sustainability principles in the belief that it will encourage more construction.

“In doing so, they fail to future-proof households against energy price rises, fail to reduce emissions from manufacturing of building products’ supply chains, and fail to build the homes that will stand the test of time. Sacrificing environmental sustainability in the belief that it will encourage a new wave of construction is hugely short-sighted and flies in the face of what of peers are doing in other countries across Europe.

“UK government has a duty, not only to cut this country’s carbon emissions, but to help families combat the cost of rising energy bills, with fuel poverty a reality for many households in Britain. This means tackling both embodied and operational carbon. It should not be a question of either/or when it comes to creating homes for the future. Timber construction has the ability to meet these priorities without compromise. Off-site engineering can slash build times by up to 14 weeks allowing for considerable cost-savings, while timber also requires a far lower energy input to produce and has some of the best insulating properties of any material.

“Low carbon can be achieved at low cost and high speed.”

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