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Use Wood To Achieve Zero Carbon Construction

As the spotlight falls on Forestry, as one of New Zealand’s biggest industries to help revive the economy post lockdown, the New Zealand Forest Sector Forum is asking the question – why isn’t NZ using more locally-sourced wood, and getting behind its zero-carbon construction properties?

We’ve got to use more wood in NZ, reversing the reliance on concrete and steel in our construction. Only by doing this will we mitigate the effects of climate change, increase the use of a naturally renewable resource and strengthen regional economies.

Not only is wood locally produced, supporting approximately 30,000 jobs, but wood is the best choice for the environment. For every tonne of wood material used in construction, it is estimated that 5.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide are saved from release into the atmosphere, and wood requires less energy to produce than any other building material. Basically, trees eat carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it up in wood. The more wood you use, the more carbon is removed from the atmosphere.

On the flipside, concrete (8%) and steel (5%) account for an estimated 13 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally between them. Both require huge amounts of fossil fuels and energy to extract, transport and process. Carbon dioxide is also a significant by-product of both. Most New Zealand cement is imported from Malaysia, while our steel mostly comes from China.

Using locally grown timber helps reduce its carbon footprint, as there are no emissions from transporting timber from offshore. This also helps with the government’s suggestion NZ needs to increase our value-add, by processing within NZ and creating manufacturing jobs.

With such a reliance on concrete and steel in current construction, the NZ Forest Sector Forum is asking the question – why don’t New Zealanders use more wood? It’s a locally produced, more environmentally friendly product, which builds our regional communities.

There seem to be three main parts to the answer. Firstly, we are still waiting for the government’s leadership in setting zero-carbon construction rules. These rules will enable buildings to be constructed with minimal environmental footprint. Clear articulation of government’s objectives for the environment and employment is needed, set out in the NZ Building Code.

Secondly, responsibility also lies with architects, engineers and quantity surveyors. We need to change the way these experts think about construction. Much more education is needed on the value of wood and how to use it. The wood sector has made a good start on a re-education programme but needs much more pro-active government support through vocational training, higher education programmes and professional development incentives.

Thirdly, change is also in the hands of the NZ consumer. Why would we not choose NZ wood products over imported alternatives, in the buildings we commission and the homes we live in, while also benefiting from the jobs it creates and the carbon it offsets?

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