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The importance of timber cannot be described fully enough. Since the ancient times man has discovered the beauty and strength of timber making because it is theideal material for constructing houses, worship centres, bridges, sea ports, animal shelters and many more.
But as world population level grows and as income increases the clamour for timber in the construction industry has also grown in leaps and bounds. There is therefore the need to learn more on how to conserve this valuable resource and how to make the harvesting of timber a sustainable process.
In recent decades a barrage of scientific information concerning the need to conserve natural resources swept through learning institutions and government agencies. People continue to talk about it because it something that can be seen and felt everywhere.
For urban dwellers the decline in air quality and the pollution of rivers and streams are very much evident. For those who live outside urban centres the change of weather patterns wreak havoc to their farms and source of livelihood.
This is not only true in the United Kingdom or Australia. This phenomenon is known all over the world. Young and old are aware of the problem. There is a general understanding that the burning of fossil fuel is the root cause of the problem.
The burning of fossil fuel produces greenhouse gases that blanket the atmosphere. It is like creating an artificial climate wherein the heat that is produced by the sun’s rays are trapped within the earth’s ecosystem and could not escape. As a result the temperature of the planet increases.
The phenomenon is now known as global warming and it is being blamed for abnormal weather patterns and super typhoons that have brought a great suffering and destruction to almost every country in the world.
The study of this phenomenon has reached a point wherein scientists are able to determine the exact correlation between greenhouse gases and global warming. As a result a new buzzword has taken conservation societies by storm and the term is carbon footprint.
This is clearly an attempt to create some form of accountability because of the fact that everyone shared one planet and yet different countries contributed varying degrees of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
One of the experts who weighed in on the issue is Dr. Stephanie Baldwin of UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. According to Baldwin, “A carbon footprint is the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, emitted over the full life cycle of a process or product.
It is expressed as grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour of generation (gCO2eq/kWh), which accounts for the different global warming effects of greenhouse gases” (Baldwin, 2006, p.1). Thus, one can gather all the information regarding the use of fossil fuel in a given location and come up with the carbon footprint of that region or that nation. A reduced carbon footprint is much better for the environment.
Now, there is no need to elaborate the fact that a forest cover is very important when it comes to the planet’s ecosystem. A casual survey of the world’s barren landscape reveals that quality of life is difficult to sustain if forests are denuded by illegal logging and other destructive farming practices. It is also important to point out that trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
But there is a deeper connection between trees and the environment. When a full grown tree is harvested it becomes one of the most coveted products from nature.
This is because timber is not only a sturdy material; it is also a thing of beauty. When an engineer incorporates timber and wood products in the construction of a home and large buildings one can easily say that it is more beautiful compared to structures made of concrete.
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Timber and the Construction Industry
The Industrial Age changed the way man harvested raw materials from forests. In the past cutting trees and hauling them from the mountains to cities was a cumbersome and backbreaking process. But after the invention of machines that increased the work efficiency of man, it did not take long before people began to clear forest as if it was child’s play.
The speed of exploitation of forest cover was not only due to the new-found power to harvest timber at a quicker pace but also because timber is one of the reliable construction materials found in nature. The desire for wood products increased dramatically since then.
It has to be made clear that more or less 80% of the world’s original forests have already been destroyed of the 20% that remains, “nearly 40% is under threat mainly from large-scale logging to satisfy the demand for paper, construction and other uses” (Morton, 2002, p.195).
Importance of Timber
Even in the industrial era of the 19th century “timber was used widely for the construction not only of roofs but also of furniture, waterwheels, gearwheels, rails or early pit railways, sleepers, signal poles, bobbings and boats” (Illston, 2010, p.403).
Even in the 20th century the use of metal and plastics did not significantly reduce man’s appetite for more timber and timber continues to be a major construction material and used on a massive scale.
Consider for instance that in UK alone the demand for timber and wood-based panels is on the rise since the beginning of the 21st century. In 2006 “the value of timber and panels consumed in the UK had risen to £2.7 billion, comprising £1.5 bilion for timber and £1.2 billion for panels (Illston, 2010, p.403).
In the UK timber is being used by different industries but the bulk of the material goes to the construction industry.
Another legacy of the Industrial Age is the use of fossil fuels to power factories, and cars. However, the burning of fossil fuel has unwanted by-products and when released to the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other air pollutants can easily degrade the quality of the air that people breathe.
Health issues are one of the major talking points when it comes to the need to reduce dependency on fossil fuel. But aside from health issues there is the cost involve in using fossil fuel.
It is therefore important to know that the use of timber in the construction industry contributes to the degradation of the environment. Obviously the use of forest products such as timber is much different from the use of synthetic materials.
In order to produce plastics a tremendous amount of energy is needed from mining the raw materials to the processing of the same before the finished product is made available in the market. Timber on the other hand is a natural raw material that requires minimal energy to cut down and use.
Nevertheless, cutting down the tree is not the end of the process. Timber must be transported from the forest to the processing plant before it can be used for construction purposes. Consider for instance that “timber used in UK construction is often imported from Canada, and although a container ship is a relatively energy-efficient mode of transportation, the energy cost of shipping a tonne of timber from British Columbia is 1.0 GJ or gigajoule (Smith, Clayden, & Dunnett, year, p.40).
In order to clarify the significance of this piece of information builders must come to realize that 1.0 GJ is the same amount of energy that is used to manufacture a tonne of cement (Smith, Clayden, & Dunnett, 2008, p.40). With regards to conservation and sustainability it is better to use local wood products in order to reduce energy consumption.
The need to conserve the world’s remaining forest is something that cannot be ignored by governments, corporations and individuals. Nevertheless, it is impossible to tackle the problem of denuded forests and global warming without a joint effort by every stakeholder. Everyone is affected by the rapid decline of forest covers and the slow destruction of the planet due to uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources
It is good to know that there are several major consumers of timber that took the initiative when it comes to creating a more sustainable way of using forest products. For instance, “major consumers such as IKEA, B&Q and Meyer International (UK’s largest timber importer” have introduced purchasing policies to limit their use of wood from environmentally damaging sources” (Morton, 2002, p.195).
The impact of such initiatives was felt instantly. Consider the fact that tropical timber use in the United Kingdom, Germany, and The Netherlands dropped by a significant 36% before the turn to the 20th century (Morton, 2002, p.195). This is a commendable achievement but much more is at stake and there are so many players that has to come in and join the fight against the unsustainable harvesting and use of timber.
Experts said that there are three mutually supplementing actions that must be look into in order to develop a plan that can reduce the negative impact of the world’s appetite for timber. The first step “is an immediate improvement in the management of tropical most forests for high quality hardwoods” (Constanza, 1991, p.488).
The second step “is to deflect commercial logging from primary forests to secondary forests” (Constanza, 1991, p.488). And the third step “is a phased transition from tropical plantations (preferably on degraded lands) as a necessary, prudent and sustainable source of tropical timber” (Constanza, 1991, p.488).
It is therefore imperative to acknowledge that the need for timber will never end. Thus, the need to create a management plan that would ensure that future generation can still have access to forest products.
A major step in the conservation efforts is the recycling of timber. Consider the implication of recycling in the reduction of timber consumption. Instead of importing and using a fresh batch of timber for creating furniture and construction of buildings, an efficient way of recycling or reusing timber taken from other sources can greatly reduce the need to cut new trees.
According to one report, “In St. Edmundsbury a pilot furniture recycling scheme is estimated to have reduced bulky household waste for disposal by 10 percent” (McLaren et al., 1999, p.174). This means that waste timber need not go directly to the landfill. They have found a way to reuse waste timber by turning it into wood chips and recycled as wooden board.
It has to be pointed out that timber is difficult to recycle. Timber are processed without thinking about the consequences when it comes to ease of recycling or reuse. (McLaren et al., 1999, p.175). But this does not mean that innovative design cannot solve the problem.
A company called Crocodile Packaging produced “collapsible reusable packaging boxes” (McLaren, 1999, p.175). In a traditional design packaging crates are used only once but with this company, the boxes are made from plywood or chipboard and therefore it can be reused more than 40 times (McLaren, 1999, p.175).
Just think of the money that can be saved using recycling of products that are continually in use. Packaging crates is just one area that designers and manufacturing firms must look into. There are other wood products that can be reused or recycled.
Companies are aware that if the cost of production is reduced then they can increase their profit margin. Another incentive for recycling is the rising cost of the use of landfills. Companies are charged a higher levy if they continue to dump their waste in public landfills. Since this is part of the cost of production then many firms will have to consider recycling as a way to keep their expenses down.
Fig.1. The use of wood pallets, a good example of recycling timber (A1 Pallets, 2011, p.1).
Future of Construction Industry
Aside from worrying about the increasing costs of fossil fuels there is another problem that plagues this planet. The continuous use of fossil fuels is increasing the levels of air pollution in major cities around the world. Urban centres will soon become uninhabitable if nothing is done to curb dependence on non-renewable energy sources.
While pollution is an urgent concern and scientists are working hard to develop renewable sources of energy that produce zero emissions, others considering more practical solutions. One of which is to develop “green standards” when it comes to the construction industry. The result would be the creation of green communities.
There are two reasons why there is a need for green communities or eco-friendly homes. The first one is due to the need to lessen dependence on fossil fuels.
The second reason is to reduce a community’s carbon footprint. This is easier said than done because modern man can no longer live without cars, TV, computers, and huge shopping centres. However, this is the step in the right direction.
In affluent countries around the world there is a demand for green communities. The demand comes from people who have a clear understanding of sustainable practices. These people are willing to pay a premium to be given the chance to live in a certified green community. This is therefore an incentive for contractors to build homes using recycled timber and the use of strategies that would eliminate timber waste.
Fig. 1. The UK is the top consumer of timber (Timber Trade Federation, 2011, p.1).
As the standard for constructing these types of homes becomes more sophisticated home owners will demand that green communities must exhibit the following features:
It is not sufficient to green just the building. The concept of green building needs to extend beyond the four corners of a structure, and a building should not be considered to be green unless it is location – and transportation – efficient, as well as resource-efficient.
Among other things, green building should contribute to reduced land conversion through more compact development and greater emphasis on infill and redevelopment of existing buildings and communities.
It also should decrease greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and energy consumption by reducing driving – ideally by being located in a mixed use, walkable community served by transit (Pollard, 2009, p.137). Green builders must come to understand the impact of traditional construction techniques.
According to one commentary, “The construction process and building use not only consume the most energy of all sectors in the UK and create the most CO2 emissions, they also create the most waste, use most non-energy related resources, and are responsible for the most pollution” (Natural Buildings Technologies, 2011, p.1).
It must also be pointed out that construction contributes to 7% of the total carbon dioxide emission in the UK.
If one will consider the criteria for creating a truly green community it would become a challenge to find a real example of a system where everything that was mentioned previously has been considered. It can be said that this level of commitment to building green communities only exists in a few cities in Europe.
However, this is a good start because building green communities is one of the conscious effort in lowering the dependence on fossil fuel and conserving the world’s forests.
One of the criteria that must be included in any green community manifesto is the commitment to use timber that comes from approved sources “from generally well managed sustainable forestry and not the clear cutting of ancient forest” (Morton, 2002, p.195).
It is has been made clear that a system can be put in place wherein construction companies can trace the source of the raw materials that they are using. If there is unity among construction companies and with help from the government, their partnership can create leverage in the construction industry making it more profitable to use timber from approved sources and not from illegal loggers.
Timber is one of the most sought after building material because it is sturdy and increases the aesthetic value of the structure. However, the use of timber creates a problem when it comes to conservation issues. Denuded forests are blamed for environmental problems.
Furthermore, construction techniques uses a great deal of fossil fuel. The burning of fossil fuel is linked to global warming. It is important not only to intensify conservation efforts to save world’s remaining forests it is also important to re-use and recycle timber in order to decrease carbon footprint.
A1 Pallets. (2011) Recycling Web.
Constanza, R. (1991) Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. New York: Columbia University Press.
Baldwin, S. (2006) Carbon footprint of electricity generation Web.
Illston, J.M. (2010). Construction Materials: Their Nature and Behaviour. Abingdon, Oxon: Spoon Press.
McLaren, D. (1999). Tomorrow’s World: Britain’s Share in a Sustainable Future. London: Kogan Page.
Morton, R. (2002). Construction UK: Introduction to the Industry. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Natural Building Technologies. (2011) Sustainable building solutions Web.
Pollard, T. (2009) Building greener communities: smarter growth and green building. Virginia Environmental Law Journal. 27, pp.125-145.
Timber Trade Federation. (2011). UK timber consumption from world sources by volume 2007 Web.
Smith, C., Clayden, A. & Dunnett, N. (2008). Residential Landscape Sustainability: A Checklist Tool. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.