How can we solve the issues of carbon saturation in our forests? Is harvesting, replanting and building more timber structures the solution? Is now the time for timber?

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Forests are known as carbon sinks, due to their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. However a study has revealed that European forests are showing signs of saturation. Sustainability experts Andrew Wylie and Natasha Watson from Buro Happold discuss the issues and potential solutions.

The construction industry faces a major but potentially achievable challenge to ensure that sequestered carbon remains locked into timber buildings for generations to come.

As forests are capable of absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide as they grow, they are of key importance in our fight to reduce the effects of climate change and are known as carbon sinks. However recently, an article in Nature Climate Change ( dated 18 August 2013 reported that researchers (Gert-Jan Nabuurs,Marcus Lindner, Pieter J. Verkerk, Katja Gunia, Paola Deda, Roman Michalak and Giacomo Grassi) have found European forests are showing early signs of saturation, suggesting that they are not capable of sequestering as much carbon dioxide as previously thought.

The authors suggest maintaining this natural carbon sink by harvesting a select number of mature forests to promote continuous wood production. Sustainability experts at Buro Happold, Andrew Wylie and Natasha Watson agree with this approach suggesting that it’s time we used more timber construction as the carbon dioxide sequestered in trees as they grow, is locked into the building during construction and therefore for the rest of the building’s life. However in general, accounting for carbon sequestration is complex as poor disposal techniques at the end of the building’s life, such as sending timber to landfill, could mean all the sequestered carbon in the timber is released again.

The construction industry faces a major but potentially achievable challenge to ensure that sequestered carbon remains locked into timber buildings for generations to come. Possible solutions include building in flexibility enabling buildings to be adapted for multiple uses and increasing the value that the building and/or its components have at the end of their life This can be achieved through the development of reusable timber components that can be installed on a new project.

Buro Happold promotes replacing traditional carbon intensive materials in construction with timber, to deliver stunning as well as highly sustainable structures; timber based projects include The Caretaker’s House, University of Exeter Forum, John Hope Gateway, Wales Institute for Sustainable Education, and Lake Bunyoni.

These innovations in timber design are part of Buro Happold’s wider knowledge and research into sustainable building materials, which includes investment in research to promote the use of low impact building materials, adaptable facades, and new materials such as aerogel and phase change materials. Buildings of the future must look to materials from the past if we are to solve some of our world’s most pressing issues such as carbon emissions and resource scarcity…

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For more information, please contact:
Gill Sincock, Corporate Communications Manager
Tel +44 (0)1225 320600
Email gill.sincock(at)burohappold(dot)com

Buro Happold is an independent international practice of consulting engineers. Since 1976 we have grown in size and reach to serve public and private clients across a full range of sectors through an international network of 24 offices.

We draw on the multidisciplinary skills, knowledge and experience of our local experts to design and deliver award winning building, infrastructure and environmental projects that excel for clients, engage with communities and enrich the lives of users.

Sustainability, innovation and holistic consulting are at the heart of everything we do and we are committed to touching the earth lightly. We think harder and are dedicated to addressing the big challenges that face the planet – climate change, population growth and scarcity of natural resources.

Current and recent projects include the Louvre (Abu Dhabi), the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, the King Abdullah Financial District (Riyadh), The Heart of Doha (Qatar), the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (Stratford) and Jinboa Street (Beijing).

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Gill Sincock
Buro Happold
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