Timber construction is gaining significant momentum as a crucial solution for achieving Australia's ambitious carbon reduction targets. To understand this shift, we spoke with Kevin Peachey, the Head of Built Environment Programs at Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) and WoodSolutions. Kevin shares his insights on the future of timber construction, industry challenges, and how FWPA and WoodSolutions are supporting professionals working towards a more sustainable built environment.

Australia has ambitious sustainability goals, particularly around reducing embodied carbon. In your opinion, what's the biggest impact of this shift on the construction industry?

Operational carbon has been a challenge for the industry, especially for smaller projects where solutions might be less accessible. As the industry evolves, it's natural to focus on the next big challenge: embodied carbon in the built environment. This shift has been rapid, with embodied carbon becoming a hot topic at conferences. We’ve seen a surge in mass timber buildings in Europe due to this focus, and I expect a similar trend here in Australia. Timber's a great story for embodied carbon – it stores carbon throughout its lifespan. The more mass timber buildings we have, the more carbon we store.

Could you explain in more detail how timber's ability to store carbon makes it such a valuable tool for reducing our built environment's carbon footprint?

Timber and engineered wood products generally require less carbon to produce and then go on to store carbon for their lifetime. I like to say timber is basically solid carbon dioxide and sunlight. Because roughly half the weight of timber is carbon, it's easy to see its natural advantage. There's also often less energy required to produce wood products compared to other materials. And, on top of that, the installation properties of timber can contribute to lower operational carbon as well.

It's a great all-around story: renewable, energy-efficient, easy to install, and versatile for a wide range of products and projects in the built environment. On top of that, because of wood’s biophilic properties, the finished buildings can be spectacular and create a positive occupant experience.

Let's talk about some of the exciting innovations in using wood products for large-scale construction. What are some examples, and how do they contribute to a more sustainable future?

Mass timber and engineered wood products aren't exactly new, but their applications in Australia are becoming more prominent. Just a few years ago, building mid-rise structures primarily from timber seemed like a distant possibility. Now, we have successful examples across the country, with many more in the planning stages. Look at the Atlassian building going up in Sydney – it's a cutting-edge project with a hybrid construction system that incorporates a lot of timber. We're breaking ground on massive-scale buildings that are innovative. And by incorporating biophilic design principles with timber, we can further enhance the positive impact on building occupants' health and well-being.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital modelling tools are also getting more sophisticated with each project, which is driving further innovation. These advancements allow architects and designers to push the boundaries of what they thought possible with wood products through modelling and simulations.

Why do you think Australia has been slower to adopt large-scale timber construction compared to other regions?

There have definitely been some regulatory changes that have paved the way for pioneering engineers, architects, and builders to innovate in this space. New products always come with inherent challenges, but with every successful timber building project, these barriers are being broken down. There's a growing number of professionals in the industry who now have the knowledge and confidence to take on large-scale timber projects, and I believe this will snowball and lead to even more innovative timber construction projects in the future.

What are some of the biggest obstacles the construction industry needs to overcome to encourage wider use of timber?

Often, the biggest hurdle is simply a lack of awareness of the possibilities with timber, or a lack of practical knowledge and confidence among professionals to specify these products. That's exactly what WoodSolutions is here for. We connect professionals with world-leading experts who are eager to share their knowledge and experience with mass timber and other timber projects.

We offer free resources like in-depth design guides, informative videos, and seminars to educate and address timber design challenges for the design and construction industry. We actively seek out these challenges and develop solutions to address them.

How does your work at FWPA and WoodSolutions help make timber-based construction a more realistic and achievable option for reaching sustainability targets?

We provide solutions and showcase real-world examples across a range of building classes. We connect people within the industry and facilitate knowledge sharing. By highlighting the success stories of innovative timber projects, we inspire others and show that timber buildings can not only be beautiful but also meet ambitious sustainability and ESG goals. I also encourage people to reach out to us to help promote their own timber projects.

Are there any specific programs or resources that your organisation offers focused on fostering a carbon-conscious built environment?

Absolutely! A fantastic place to start is with our carbon guides, freely available online on the WoodSolutions website. We have a series of three guides that provide a foundation for carbon accounting, offer case studies, and give advice on life-cycle analysis and achieving Green Star ratings. We've had a team of experts put these together, and they've been a popular and accessible resource.

We also have a great podcast and video series where you can find inspiration from a wide variety of projects across all building classes, as well as the WoodSolutions Project Portal which highlights a range of timber projects – and the teams behind them – from all around the world.

Lastly, we’ve also recently published an EPD database tha gives the building and construction industry the ability to calculate carbon emissions more holistically during the first three stages of the building process to help achieve sustainability ratings for projects. 

These sound excellent! Before we wrap up, any final thoughts you'd like to share?

I'm excited to see what the future holds. We've been actively tracking every mass timber building in Australia, but it's becoming a harder task – there are more and more projects popping up all the time! This is a fantastic sign of growing momentum in the sector. Timber is progressively becoming more commonplace, which is great for Australia's design and build community, and ultimately, for the environment.