Bowens - The Builders Choice

Alastair Woodard is a friend, colleague and someone I turn to on matters relating to Forestry and the use of timber in construction. He and his business partner Boris Iskra are directors of Technical Promotion & Consulting Solutions (Aust) Pty Ltd., specialising in advice on the use and impact of building and construction materials. When my subject for the Builders Bulletin is about timber and forestry, I am careful to ensure the creditability and accuracy of what I write….. the industry is often maligned and the positive environmental benefits of timber overlooked and understated.

In this month’s bulletin I have thrown the responsibility to cover my ‘message’ about the industry over to someone who has the credentials to ensure accuracy and provide the Facts.

Alastair has a PhD. (Engineering) and a Bachelor (Engineering) and has extensive experience (25 years) in the design of timber structures, particularly in relation to new and innovative construction systems.

Finally, Alastair has a great personal and professional interest in environmental issues and sustainable building materials.

Just weeks out from the 2022 Federal Election the political roadshow has hit the streets and the promises are coming thick and fast. One, very relevant to Bowens, and its customers, has been the Federal Liberal-Nationals government promise to help deliver One Billion New Trees to grow the local Australian plantation estate to meet Australia’ future building and house framing needs.

The Labour Party is still to announce their polices but surely, they could only also provide bi-partisan support because 1) Australia definitely needs the local wood in the ground, to be more self-sufficient in meeting its future local building industry demand; and 2) also importantly because growing sustainable and renewable new forests, and using the wood to manufacture timber products, is a great way to assist in mitigating the worlds current climate change impacts.

Demand for timber building products is currently at an all-time high as new housing starts and home improvement work has gone through the roof during this past- COVID period. It’s not only timber that’s a concern – the whole building supply chain is experiencing the current challenges in accessing labour, as well as the wide range of other residential building products both local and imported.

“Demand for timber building products is currently at an all-time high as new housing starts and home improvement work has gone through the roof during this past- COVID period.”

One lesson strongly learnt from the global COVID pandemic is that Australia needs to be much more self-sufficient in production, manufacturing and supplying a wide range of essential products – including timber.

“One lesson strongly learnt from the global COVID pandemic is that Australia needs to be much more self-sufficient in production”

In normal residential construction demand times, around 80% is met from Australian grown plantations and native forests, with the 20% balance coming from imports. But over this last two-year COVID period demand has been way up, and Australia’s access to global timber imports has been constrained due to higher timber prices in other countries and shipping restrictions. So, despite all efforts there has been no opportunity to lift the amount of imported timber to cover the high increase in local building activity.

The longer-term cycle is also of concern. An interim report1 just released by FWPA suggests that unless Australia takes some major action now, it faces the prospect of continuing to be unable to meet demand for new housing because of the growing gap between consumer demand and timber supply. The report’s findings state that “by 2050, Australia will have a population between 33.62 and 39.97 million people, a new housing demand around 259,000 dwellings pa, sawn softwood demand will be around 6.5 million m3 pa – almost 2.0 million m3 per annum higher than 2021, local sawn softwood production will be static at between 3.6 and 3.8 million m3 per annum due to constraints on sawlog supply, therefore there is likely to be an Implied Gap between demand and local production of 2.6million m3 per annum, equivalent to 40.5% of total demand”. Scary stuff.

The report strongly recommends the need for Australia to take immediate action to establish new softwood plantations to bridge the Implied Gap, suggesting a target of 468,000 hectares of additional softwood plantations needs to be put in the ground – commencing immediately. Hence, Australian voters and consumers need to see some serious bipartisan Federal and State government action to assist in establishing more local Australian plantations for our softwood framing products; as well as support of continued sustainable native forest production for the hardwood appearance products we and our customers all love: flooring, stairs, cabinetry, mouldings, weatherboards, decking, the list goes on. (Re. Victorian Native hardwood forests: only 0.04% can be harvested annually …. equivalent to 4 trees per 10,000. Also, by law, no Old Growth resource is allowed to be harvested).

As I have stated many times before in Bowens Bulletin articles – there is no more environmentally friendly building material than timber. As the world attempts to slow down the effects of climate change, a result of burning fossil fuels and releasing atmospheric greenhouse gasses, we need to recognise the critically important effect that the world’s forests have in absorbing atmospheric CO2 and through the process of photosynthesis, utilising the sun’s free energy, to break down the CO2 releasing the oxygen we breath, and storing the CO2 in the wood of the tree. How amazing is that natural process which sometimes just seems to be taken for granted.

What’s more, from renewable plantations and native forests managed for sustainable production, we also get natural and organic timber products that are effectively solid carbon, or stored CO2. An average timberframed 212m2 home uses around 11m3 of sawn softwood timber which stores approx. 2.5 tonnes of carbon, effectively 6.8 tonnes of CO2, and amazingly the volume of timber used in this home takes less than a minute to be regrown in Australia’s sustainable plantation forests.

It seems a no-brainer that we need to start getting more plantations in the ground now. Not only will this help to provide local selfsufficiency of our timber framing products it also will be doing something tangible and positive to help mitigate against climate change. How could you not support that?

If this plantation investment is to happen, then it needs bi-partisan support of all governments. So perhaps ask your local member what their thoughts are on this critical issue. Let’s see if they can actually See the Wood for the Trees.

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