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Treated wood and tackling climate change

The Wood Protection Association (WPA) believes that making the most of wood to tackle climate change goes ‘hand in glove’ with making the most of wood protection technology. WPA Chief Executive Gordon Ewbank explains why.

There is an urgent need for government to get to grips with setting out a plan on how its zero carbon commitment can be achieved. Wood’s sustainability, carbon storage ability, low-embodied energy production and sheer versatility make it a standout choice as a construction and landscaping material. The ability to enhance its durability and performance using wood protection technologies adds significantly to its versatility and efficiency.

The most effective way to use treated wood in a CO2 reduction strategy is use it in place of ‘carbon intensive’ materials. The European confederation of woodworking industries, CEI-Bois, has calculated that the substitution of one cubic metre of concrete with the same volume of treated wood will save CO2 emissions to atmosphere by 1.1 tonnes. If this saving is added to the 0.9 tonne of CO2 already locked into the wood, then by substituting treated wood for a man-made material will prevent the emission of 2 tonnes of CO2.

The International Institute for Environment & Development calculated that it would take just a 10% increase in the number of houses in Europe whose main structural components are wood to reduce CO2 emissions equivalent to around 25% of the global reductions prescribed in the Kyoto Protocol which came into force in 2005. Clearly, the climate crisis has moved on since then but the point about the contribution that wood and long-lasting treated wood can play is still relevant to the binding commitment made by UK under the Paris agreement.

A recent study by BRE Centre for Sustainable Products further underlines the value of treated wood in tackling climate change. The study found that a terrace made from preservative impregnated softwood had a global warming potential 200% lower than a terrace made from concrete slabs and 700% lower than composite plastic decking.

A warmer, wetter and more extreme climate for the UK is now inevitable according to Defra’s Climate Projections. An increase in temperature and rainfall will heighten the potential for fungal decay and insect attack in components made from un-treated softwoods of low natural durability. Roofing timbers exposed to wetting from leaks are particularly vulnerable. Almost every stick of softwood currently used in roof construction today is untreated. When it costs just £40 to pre-treat the wood in a typical house, the continued use of unprotected wood seems increasingly unwise.

Preservative pre-treatment and modified wood technologies make it possible to use lower cost, low durability softwoods in a wide range of construction applications that would otherwise not be possible. The use of wood protection technology to deliver products with a predictable service life justifies the use of wood in the face of competition from less sustainable man-made materials.

For the complete feature read the Autumn Issue of Timber Trader UK

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