Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence


Memorandum from Timbmet Group Ltd

  1.  Timbmet Group Ltd is the UK's leading importer and distributor of hardwood timber and wood products. The company is committed to pursuing a sustainable business agenda, as outlined in its environmental policy, and seeks to provide "responsible solutions" for a wide range of end uses. A significant proportion of the Group's turnover is directly related to the construction sector, through main contractors, sub-contractors and merchants. In light of recent significant concerns over the "legal and sustainable" sourcing of timber, particularly through government procurement processes, and the interest of the Committee to ensure that future building programmes are "completely" sustainable, an experienced timber trade view on delivery of sustainable housing should be of value to this inquiry.


  2.  Given the immediate and long-term environmental implications of the Barker Review conclusions, a national strategy for the development of a building programme that explicitly internalises the wide range of relevant environmental considerations is critical to the objective of sustainable housing.


  3.  The trade in illegal logging is estimated by the World Bank to cost developing countries between $10-$15 billion annually. Illegal logging has been attracting increasing attention since the late 1990s. It featured as one component of the G8 Action Plan on Forests, and led to a series of Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) conferences coordinated by the World Bank, including those in East Asia (Bali, September 2001) and Africa (Yaoundé, October 2003); others are planned for Russia and Latin America. Each of these initiatives has included a focus on the role of consumers in world markets in fuelling the demand for timber and thereby contributing to illegal logging.

  4.  Demand for timber for the UK Housing Market needs to be placed in the context of the European Commission's Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) published in May 2003. The Action Plan was approved by the Council in October 2003 and will lead to, amongst other initiatives, a licensing system to identify legal products in partner countries and license them for import to the EU; unlicensed products would be denied entry.


  5.  The Prime Minister's Commission for Africa (due to report at the time of the UK's presidency of the G8 and the European Union) is examining the options to re-invigorate international efforts to address poverty in Africa. One of the themes for the Commission is natural resources—such as timber. Whilst the Commission will not report until next year, it is clear that further efforts will be made to address illegal logging. The position of the timber consuming countries will be key to the recommendations. There is a very serious risk that unless there is consistency across all government departments and initiatives, such as sustainable house building, then the work of the Commission could be undermined. It is not implausible to predict a scenario where increased UK house building could increase demand for timber. Unless clear standards are agreed to purchase legal and sustainable timber this demand would be met by an increase in illegal logging and thus fuel the illegal trade in timber. Such a scenario would undermine the efforts of the Commission. It is therefore imperative that procurement of timber for house building insists upon the same basic standards that the UK government now do for it's sourcing of timber—see section on CPET.


  6.  Material use will have harmful impacts on the environment. An environmentally well-managed building project might seek to ensure no net environmental impact, a challenging aspiration. Realising this aim might be achieved through avoidance and minimisation/mitigation wherever possible, combined with offset of residual impacts. Such management, which is unusual in development projects, requires a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the environmental impacts of the development.


  7.  It must be a fundamental requirement of "sustainable housing" that timber and timber products used are demonstrably from legal and sustainably managed forest sources. Appropriate guidance covering from contract to delivery is critical to ensuring that this requirement is met.

  8.  The requirement can be made through appropriate contractual conditions, material specification, careful management of accurate supply chain implementation of the specification (allowing, if and as necessary, constrained flexibility to vary the specification in prescribed ways), and monitoring of performance to ensure that the specification has been delivered precisely.

  9.  The commissioning body sets the agenda: its sustainability requirement must be clear and unambiguous and phrased in tightly defined contractual conditions. The essential requirement is to ensure that legal and sustainable timber and wood products are used in projects. Guaranteeing that this is the case is not straightforward but DEFRA's Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) is in the process of developing clarifications and guidance (see next section).

  10.  Selection of architects, main contractors and developers needs explicitly to assess their ability to deliver a sustainable development. This task would be facilitated by an agreed sustainable building standard that includes assessment of the sources of timber and wood products and of the environmental impacts of their inclusion in a development, weighed up against other materials. The Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) provides a practical basis for such a standard (see section below).


  11.  Not least because timber used in the UK construction sector comes from around the world, guaranteeing acceptable sources of timber and timber products can be especially challenging. These challenges are being addressed through DEFRA's Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET), which is charged with developing guidance to be used by buyers in central government departments and agencies and suppliers to ensure compliance with central timber procurement policy. Consultation with DEFRA is critical to this inquiry.

  12.  Government procurement policy requires that only legal and sustainable timber and wood product be purchased for government projects. Currently, it is a contractual condition that timber is legal, with preference given to sustainable timber. Evidence to support the legal, and if relevant sustainable, claim is required. Phase I of CPET, which will report by mid-October, will detail: what is considered to be legal and what are the documentary evidence requirements to support the claim, including whether the evidence needs to be independently verified; and, also what is sustainable and what are the documentary requirements to support the claim, including whether the evidence needs to be independently verified. Critically, Phase I will present a methodology for assessing forest management certification schemes, and will apply this to the most widely available schemes in order to determine whether and to what extent they meet the government requirements for legal and /or sustainable timber.

  13.  Current policy implementation guidance will be revised on the basis of Phase I recommendations and findings. Phase II of CPET is critical to the successful development of robust guidance. Phase II must set criteria for "other" evidence, that is other than certification scheme guarantees and recognised independent verification processes. Phase II aims also to provide a "help" service, training and promotion. It will also be responsible for setting and reporting against performance targets. Consideration should be given to extending the scope of Phase II to provide advice to the supply chain and private sector timber users in general. Currently, funding for CPET Phase II has not been agreed. Providing a well-funded CPET service is critical to ensuring guaranteed legal and sustainable timber and wood product is used in "sustainable housing".


  14.  Ensuring that legal and sustainable timber and wood product is used in developments is an important part of a "sustainable solution". Ensuring the highest possible environmental performance of the building is also an important part. This would entail establishment of agreed performance requirements that must be met by developments and refurbishments, set in a framework of robust assessment against prescribed criteria. The agreed sustainable buildings standard would usefully be modelled on the independent BREEAM standard, which is currently applied to many building types, including homes (EcoHomes) and offices and industrial units.

  15.  The BREEAM approach assesses a buildings environmental performance on the basis of energy use, pollution, transport, land use, ecology, materials, water, and health and well being. Credits are awarded for each of these aspects according to the meeting specified performance criteria. The scores are then weighted according to overall environmental importance of the aspect, resulting in a grand score, which is categorised as pass, good, very good or excellent.

  16.  From the timber use perspective, there are several shortcomings of the current approach, which would need to be addressed in producing a sustainable buildings standard. Account is taken of the source of timber in the materials aspect of the rating system, as is the contribution of timber to the overall sustainability of the development or refurbishment project. As currently structured, it is possible to achieve an excellent rating while performing very poorly in the materials aspect. A revision to ensure that minimum performance requirements are met in the materials aspect is necessary.

  17.  A further shortcoming is in the way timber from a variety of sources is evaluated in the current rating process. The process values certain certified timbers above all else, and differentially values other timbers (non-certified, or certified by excluded schemes) according to whether they are of temperate or non-temperate source. Given the short supply of certified timbers, the complexity of sources of timber from around the world and the variety of credible means to independently verify that timber is legal and from well-managed or near well-managed sources, the current BREEAM approach is significantly limited. A revision of the standard for the purpose of delivering sustainable buildings needs to introduce some of this complexity into the assessment methodology. This will certainly introduce complexity into the standard and make the assessment process more demanding on auditors and contractors but it is essential to achieving the goal of sustainable construction. Any such revision will be facilitated by the recommendations of CPET Phase I.

  18.  An advantage of the BREEAM standard is the inclusion of "whole life considerations": a life cycle assessment, from cradle to grave, of environmental impacts. Whether timber or wood product remains as part of the building at completion (building or finishing elements, as in the BREEAM standard) or is a temporary works material (such as concrete shuttering, construction site hoarding, which can be included in the BREEAM standard as "major" building elements), environmental assessments of their sourcing, use and ultimate disposal is essential. For temporary usage in particular, consideration and implementation of reuse and recycling options needs to be a requirement of sustainable housing construction (for instance, integrated into the BREEAM standard).


  19.  Timber and wood product from legal and sustainable forest sources can be an environmentally positive material of choice compared with alternatives. Life cycle analyses (LCA) indicate that a building constructed with a timber frame (an accepted modern method of construction) outperforms comparable steel and concrete framed buildings in terms of overall environmental impacts.[34]

  Exemplifying this, a recent study by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) indicates that wood in construction is better for the climate.[35]

  When you consider that the energy used in constructing, occupying and operating buildings represents about half of UK's greenhouse emissions, creative ways of reducing net emissions associated with construction are important to efforts to reduce and mitigate emissions.


  20.  In demanding that sustainable timber is used, a trade concern is that economic considerations will take precedence in final purchase decision-making. Based on experience with softwoods, much of the market believes that there is no "premium" cost for certified sustainable timber. This is not, however, true of hardwoods. A study by Mansell plc indicated an average cost difference of +10% between certified and non-certified softwood and hardwood product, with marked variation in individual cost differentials of approximately ± 30% (Simon Wright, personal communication).

  21.  A recent study of available data for tropical timber production[36] indicates that certified South East Asian suppliers need to charge a premium in the range 10-20% to compensate them for the net cost of sustainable forest management certification. This cost difference reflects, in the most part, costs of compliance with the certification standard, increased costs of production at source, through reduced yields (opportunity costs), as well as increased direct costs. A commitment to sustainable timber therefore requires a commitment to increased raw material timber cost. It is important to understand that this cost is a very small proportion of the total costs of a construction project, and an irrelevance as far as operational costs, which constitute a significant part of the life time environmental impact of a building, are concerned.


  22.  The knowledge base of public and private sector operators is inadequate to properly take account of sustainable timber specification. Although the private sector has a role to play in education, central and local government needs to consider how it can better equip its specifiers, planners and purchasers to participate effectively in delivering sustainable housing.

  23.  Timbmet Group has, through collaboration with Greenpeace, developed a training workshop for specifiers that aims to provide them with knowledge and understanding that will enable effective sustainable timber specification. In order that the workshop can reach a much wider audience, an interactive CD version of the workshop is in the final stages of development. The CD is due to be released at the end of November and disseminated widely, between November and January, to architects and specifiers in private practice and in local authorities, and construction companies, builders and joiners.

October 2004

In their "Environmental profiles of building materials, components and buildings" study (see—, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) scored timber highly in 13 environmental impacts studied, including climate change, pollution to air and water, waste disposal, and transport pollution and congestion. Timber was recognised as the only building material to have a positive impact on the environment due to the net assimilation of carbon dioxide by growing trees.

The ATHENA Sustainable Materials Institute (see has compared the environmental impact of constructing a house using wood framing, sheet metal framing, and concrete. The comparison looked at 6 key measures: embodied energy (all the energy used to extract, manufacture and deliver the product); air toxicity; water toxicity; weighted resource use; and solid waste generation. For the first five of these measures, the wood-frame house has least impact on the environment.—woodproducts—climatechange.pdf (Could wood combat climate change? D Macqueen, J Mayers & H Reid—4pp).

34   Life-cycle analysis (LCA) assesses environmental impacts of a manufactured product at all stages of a product's life including resource procurement, manufacturing, service life, de-commissioning and disposal at the end of the useful life of the product. Back

35   H Reid, S Huq, A Inkinen, J MacGregor, D Macqueen, J Mayers, L Murray, and R Tipper (2004) Using wood products to mitigate climate change: a review of evidence and key issues for sustainable development. IIED, London (January 2004, 90pp.); see and the summary at Back

36   Richards, M (2004) What do we know about the costs and benefits of tropical timber certification? Draft report commissioned by Timbmet Group Ltd (Oxford). Back

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