Today is World Environment Day, a globally recognizsed day for individuals, organisations, companies, and countries to take action and raise awareness for our environment. This years theme is biodiversity, a concern that is both urgent and existential. Recent events such as bushfires around the world, locust infestations in East Africa, and now the global disease pandemic are all a response from nature. We haven’t taken care of our fragile planet and we are now feeling the effects. World Environment Day is an important day to challenge the way we do things, across all industries and sectors, and highlights the importance of our environment. The construction industry in particular has a lot of work to do in this area and there are many challenges to overcome before it becomes a sustainable industry. That’s why we are dedicating this piece to talk about sustainability in construction as it relates to biodiversity.
In support of this year’s World Environment Day theme, we are going to take a look at timber, one of constructions most sustainable and widely available materials, and sustainable forestry. Forests are an essential component of our planets biodiversity. Approximately 80% of all terrestrial life on Earth lives in forests. For the health of our environment and for the sake of all species that call forests their home, we have to do better at taking care of them.
It might seem counter intuitive that we are promoting timber as the sustainable path forward due to the growing problems of deforestation. It’s true, deforestation is having a tremendously negative impact on the environment and making a substantial contributing to climate change. Each and every day, humans fell approximately 100,000 acres of forest. This is an unsustainable path that destroys the thriving biodiversity of the forests. It’s for that reason that we must take responsibility for how we source timber and nurture our forests in the process. That’s why organisations such as the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative exists: To protect and preserve our forests in a world where the consumption of timber is inevitable. By working with these organisations, we can ensure that the forests where our timber originated are adequately protected, conserved, and restored. This will allow forests to thrive while we can make us of its resources. If we don’t take responsibility for how we source our timber, forests will perish, and the environment will not last long.
As an industry, we have a responsibility to act. If we can increase the use of timber as a building material and take full responsibility and accountability for where the timber in our buildings is sourced, we will start to see significant progress towards a more sustainable industry.
No innovation needed
Timber is an undisputed champion in sustainable construction materials. It’s extraordinarily versatile, naturally renewable, and incredibly carbon effective. Every cubic meter of timber stores roughly 1 tonne CO2, thus preventing it from being emitted into the atmosphere. Additionally, timber has the lowest embodied energy of all mainstream building materials on the market today. For comparison, producing an equivalent amount of steel would require 24 times more energy.
Before launching head first into the pursuit of a new innovative material, spending years of R&D budget to solve your sustainability issues, take a look in your backyard and you’ll find that nature has already provided you with the goods.
Sustainable features aside, timber has proved itself as a strong material in its own right. First of all, it’s highly durable and cheap to maintain. Buildings with a timber frame can stand for centuries. Just take a look at structures such as the Tudor buildings. Timber has a strength to weight ratio of about 20 percent higher than structural steel and approximately five times higher than non-reinforced concrete. Additionally, timber provides natural thermal properties that aid in insulation. The timber frame itself allows more space for insulation than brick buildings, making timber buildings better insulated. This reduces the required energy to heat and cool the building, adding to the sustainability tally. A Swedish study in 2001 found that over their life cycle, timber buildings energy efficiency compared to buildings based on more carbon intensive materials, resulted in the equivalent energy of 27 years of heating.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel when nature already provides us with the goods.
Safety and quality
Naturally there are concerns as to the fire safety of a building with its entire frame constructed from timber. However, there is no data to support that timber as a construction material is at a greater fire risk than other materials such as concrete and steel. Timber framed buildings can be applied with the same fire retardant as any other buildings with equal effectiveness. In fact, timber is sometimes considered safer than steel in regards to fire risk. That is because timber burns in a much more predictable way. Once steel hits a certain “flash point”, the frame collapses dramatically.
There is no doubt that forests play a vital role in the survival of our planets biodiversity. As we now know, by ensuring sustainably sourced timber in our buildings, we can create harmony between nature and the construction industry. This won’t solve all the industries sustainability challenges, but it is a step in the right direction.
There are already construction companies taking action to make greater use of timber in their buildings. Last year, the world’s tallest timber high rise was confirmed in Norway, measuring at 85 meters. This buildings was designed by Voll Architects, and was built using only sustainably sourced timber.
In London, Canary Wharf Contractors are pioneering sustainable buildings by requiring that all their timber must be 100% FSC certified, ensuring it is sustainably sourced and the forests are handled responsibly. To ensure the success of this requirement, Canary Wharf Contractors adopted a modern construction software tool to track their timber deliveries in real time. This allowed them to identify when unsustainable timber was delivered to their sites by accident and to rectify these mistakes immediately, causing minimal amount of waste.
Finally, we wanted to share what some of our team have to say about World Environment Day and the #ForNature movement.
As a species, we reached a critical time. On one side, every year we reach the Earth Overshoot Day earlier and earlier. On the other side, we have been polluting our planet so much that we were able to affect its climate. If this trend continues, then either we will soon run out of natural resources or our planet could become inhospitable for us. Either way, it is time for us to take a decisive action.
Having a purpose adds a lot of value to my work. Even more considering that our purpose at Qflow is to work toward a sustainable future. This is what keeps me awake at night.Michele Furlan, Machine Learning Engineer, Qflow
All life on Earth is part of our ecosystem, we have no choice but to share the burden and suffer the consequences of our actions and how they impact the environment. To guarantee the best life we can achieve I believe that we need new technologies to emerge and better systems to come into play with which we can achieve greater and accelerated growth without sacrificing sustainability.Carlos Azevedo, Software Engineer, Qflow
At Qflow we are driven by our mission to transform the way we build our cities, for the benefit of the people and the environment. We are delighted to be able to take part in the #ForNature movement and support World Environment Day. We hope that this will inspire our peers in the construction industry to do the same.
For more resources and to learn more about how you can support World Environment Day, please visit: https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/.