The future of Australia's built environment hinges on a single word: carbon. Australia's construction industry faces a challenge, with embodied carbon predicted to account for a staggering 85% of its emissions by 2050. This fact is galvanising the architecture industry, the government, and the nation at large.

"Australia, as a whole, is taking an audit of industries and how they address sustainable and circular practices,” observes Kevin Peachey, Head of Built Environment at WoodSolutions. “In a bid to combat climate change and achieve emission reduction targets, the Australian Government set ambitious goals, legislating a 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – and net-zero emissions by 2050.”

A natural solution to the carbon crisis

Could it be that this one-word problem has a one-word solution? Wood. It’s no surprise that the role of wood and timber products emerges as genuinely critical in addressing the shift – timber stands out as a natural carbon sink, providing a low-emission option compared to other building materials. And the world is taking note. The Australian Government's recent $300 million program, aimed at encouraging mass timber construction, highlights the growing understanding of its role in addressing the problem of embodied carbon. And some of the most exciting current developments – like Atlassian’s new Sydney headquarters – epitomise the innovative potential of mass timber on a large scale.

These developments only highlight the need for the type of expert guidance that organisations like WoodSolutions provide to the industry. WoodSolutions – an initiative by Forest & Wood Products Australia (FWPA) – recognises its mission to empower architects, designers, and specifiers in the industry to make informed, sustainable choices by providing them with essential knowledge. They’re known for an ever-expanding library of free resources – and their three-part carbon guide series is a stand-out as a vital tool in this undertaking.

The carbon guides

The series offers a comprehensive look at sustainable timber construction, from the role of forests in carbon capture to detailed guidance on calculating the embodied carbon of building materials. The initial instalments – “Forests, Plantations, Wood Products & Australia’s Carbon Balance” and the "Carbon Primer and Glossary" – lay the essential groundwork for understanding how responsibly sourced timber aligns with both emissions reduction and a circular economy.

The third and final instalment – “The Role of Wood Products in Zero Carbon Buildings” – delves into the technical aspects of sustainable design. “It’s a valuable resource for design professionals who aim to incorporate sustainable materials,” says Kevin. “The guide offers insights into the potential of timber and wood products in Australia's construction industry, and specifically addresses the contribution of wood products to zero-carbon buildings.”

Well thought-out, expertly curated and intuitively structured, the new guide has been designed to provide top-level guidance on a particularly comprehensive set of topics ranging from designing for net zero to fossil carbon. “It covers embodied carbon policies, green building frameworks and tools and emphasises the importance of reducing embodied emissions in materials and construction as a crucial step in decarbonising Australia's built environment,” Kevin expands.

Highlighting the unparalleled ability of wood products to store carbon both in the built environment and even in landfill, the guide puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of life cycle assessments (LCAs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs). “The guide discusses accounting for biogenic carbon – which is the carbon stored in organic matter, or in this case wood – during use and at the end of life, along with approaches to biogenic carbon in green building frameworks in Australia and New Zealand,” explains Kevin.

From theory to practice

While heavy on essential theoretical knowledge, the guide provides a set of practical design strategies and actionable solutions. It covers various options for reducing embodied carbon throughout a building's life cycle, including pathways to carbon-zero design, the potential of engineered timber, lightweighting, and end-of-life options for timber building components. Importantly, it also highlights the importance of combining strategic design choices with wood products in the bid to significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels and minimise greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside useful information on the existing tools, the guide makes a point of briefly mentioning some of the new, emerging technologies – such as digital fabrication and modular construction. Both technologies offer new avenues for carbon reduction in the built environment through reduced waste and improved efficiency.

Empowering change

This well-balanced combination of useful information, fascinating insights and practical suggestions is packaged up as a comprehensive, yet easy to digest document designed to inspire and empower the user to drive real-world improvements.

From existing tools and useful tips, to exciting snippets of information on what’s to come, “The Role of Wood Products in Zero Carbon Buildings“ reinforces the notion that knowledge is, in fact, power. And in this case, it’s the power to create a more sustainable built environment – which is precisely what WoodSolutions sets out to equip architects, designers and specifiers with.

“We’re continually updating our library of resources based on research-backed facts, information, and codes and standards,” says Kevin. “Our goal is to educate the design and construction industry on the benefits of building with wood products and giving practical, working examples of how to include carbon-storing products in their projects.”

The newly expanded three-part guide provides a significant step in this direction – and while it’s the final instalment of that particular series, it certainly doesn’t culminate WoodSolutions’ educational endeavours. “The Role of Wood Products in Zero Carbon Buildings“ is just another stepping stone in their continuous efforts to empower the industry to take action in achieving a net-zero built environment where wood takes centre stage.