18 Sep

Carbon Footprint of Timber

This month, we’re looking at the carbon footprint of timber and the effect the transportation of timber is having on the environment, ultimately discussing whether or not timber is an environmentally friendly option for your project.

Government targets to combat climate change

As humanity’s impact on the earth became more clear, the UK government started setting targets to cut our emissions and lessen the damage we’re causing to the environment.

As long as the timber industry is sustainable – that is, for each tree cut down for timber, another tree is planted to maintain a balance – then the timber industry is actually a useful tool for managing greenhouse gases and meeting these targets; trees absorb carbon dioxide and sulfur and release oxygen, so an increased demand for trees would mean more trees are planted, thus reducing the carbon dioxide in the environment and producing cleaner, safer air.

However, while an increased demand for timber is beneficial, if the carbon footprint of timber is larger than the amount of carbon the timber’s forestry is absorbing, then timber would not be environmentally friendly and would not assist in meeting the government’s targets. To fully evaluate the usefulness of the timber industry for reducing carbon emissions, we’ll need to look at timber’s carbon footprint.


What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is simply the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the activities of an individual, organisation or company. With regards to timber, this means looking at the carbon industry as whole, including the direct and indirect emissions from the transportation of timber.

carbon footprint

Timber’s carbon footprint

Timber has a relatively small carbon footprint, particularly in comparison to other building materials such as concrete, metal or plastic, all of which require quite a lot of energy to extract the raw materials. The stages of timber’s carbon footprint are:

  • Growth
  • Curing and cutting
  • Transportation
  • Construction

However, as we’ve already discussed, the growing of timber is positive for the environment, and actually reduces timber’s carbon footprint. Curing/cutting timber and using timber in construction all require very little energy, with only very basic equipment required, which leaves transportation as the main source of timber’s carbon footprint.


The transportation of timber

The emissions from transporting timber are made up of direct and indirect emissions. Direct emissions refer to things such as the fuel used by lorries, while indirect emissions are in reference to factors such as the upkeep of vehicles and road maintenance. Here we’ll look at all of these factors:


The fuel consumption from lorries transporting timber is usually higher than the average lorry because timber lorries have to navigate rural roads, hilly terrain and gravelled forest roads, all of which are harder on the lorry’s engine and require more fuel consumption. This is the biggest output of greenhouses gases, making up a reported 49% of timber’s greenhouse gas emissions during transportation.


Manufacturing and maintaining lorries

Because of the rough terrain requiring more work from the lorries’ engines, timber lorries have a shorter lifespan than the average road haulage vehicle, lasting around 770,000 km rather than the standard 1,000,000 km. This makes the manufacturing and maintaining of timber lorries a more frequent occurrence, and is responsible for 29% of the greenhouse gases emitted during transporting timber.


Constructing and maintaining roads

Minor public roads leading to timber forests are subjected to frequent heavy loads, which makes them more vulnerable to wear and tear, and will need to be repaired regularly, resulting in the emission of greenhouse gases.


So, is timber environmentally friendly?

While the transportation of timber undoubtedly contributes to greenhouse emissions, when you put the transportation of timber into the bigger picture of timber use, there is a substantial environmental benefit of timber production and use.

As well as actively reducing carbon dioxide emissions while growing, when used in construction, timber serves as an excellent replacement for more energy-intensive materials such as concrete or steel, resulting in a severe reduction in greenhouse gas emissions within the construction industry. In fact, on average, building a house from timber instead of bricks can reduce carbon emissions by ten tonnes, while replacing one cubic metre of concrete with timber can save a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions, all of which make timber a very environmentally friendly option for any project.

environmentally friendly

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