Sustainability is at the very core of everything WoodSolutions does. Here, Eileen Newbury tells us about what that means in practice, what role wood can play in achieving sustainable outcomes in the built environment – and how biophilia fits into the wider sustainability discourse.

What’s your background and what does your current role entail?

My background is in marketing, communications and event management, but I’ve long been exposed to the forest and wood products sector. I currently manage marketing and communications across all FWPA programs nationally, including WoodSolutions and The Ultimate Renewable™.

How does sustainability impact your work on a day-to-day basis?

I make a range of personal efforts like walking more, leaving the car in the garage, trying to make more sustainable choices, but from the perspective of WoodSolutions, sustainability is the goal of everything we do. From R&D on optimising resource value and utilisation and maximising the service life of wood and wood products to replacing more emissions intensive materials with wood – the bottom line is always increasing sustainability.

The sustainable profile of wood - rightly deemed to be the ultimate renewable - is undeniable. What role can it play in achieving sustainable outcomes in the built environment?

The built environment is responsible for a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions in two main streams. The first is embodied energy – the emissions caused by building the structure, which involves everything from manufacturing and processing to freight and onsite assembly. The second is operational energy – the emissions created during the occupancy stage of the building’s life cycle which includes heating, cooling, running appliances etc.

As buildings become more efficient, operational energy is reduced and embodied energy increases in relative importance. That’s where wood comes in. Unlike most materials which arrive onsite with an established positive carbon footprint (from the embodied energy used during manufacture), most wood products arrive with a negative carbon footprint – approx. half the weight of dry wood is carbon absorbed from the atmosphere by a growing tree.

Maximising the use of wood can, at one extreme, create a building with a negative carbon footprint! On the supply side, sustainability comes from replanting harvested trees for future generations to have access to this same renewable resource.

 What’s the relationship between those sustainability outcomes and biophilia in the build - and urban in particular - environment?

Sustainability can have many facets. I’ve just been discussing embodied carbon and sustainability in terms of minimising greenhouse gas emissions. Taking a broader look at sustainability in the home, workplace and any built environment, it can be argued that a sustainable environment not only satisfies the usual physical criteria but is also one that occupants enjoy and gain benefit from. If more of our environments were like this, think of the savings created by increasing occupant satisfaction and therefore extending the life of the build.

Biophilia gives us evidence of the importance of natural materials in our environment –just think of the effect of fountains and waterfalls. Research shows that people feel more positive, are more productive and have fewer sick days when they have more natural surfaces in their workplaces. Wood and wood products are involved in promoting and maintaining sustainability at all levels- for humans and their built environment.

Earlier this year, CEFC launched a significant funding program, encouraging mass timber construction across the property sector. Tell us about that, and what are the intended outcomes for the industry - and the general population - as a whole?

The CEFC has a new $300 million program to encourage mass timber construction across the property sector. This is in recognition of the need to transform our approach to construction if we are to achieve an economy-wide transition to net zero emissions. It’s one of the first steps towards a low carbon future for all types of new buildings – a great result for the general population and our planet! For industry, it will hopefully accelerate the adoption of new timber materials and construction technologies and, consequently, decrease the carbon footprint and increase the efficiency of the built environment. CEFC will even be supporting timber-rich projects with debt finance of $20-$75 million.

Lastly, what are the most important sustainability goals for FWPA and WoodSolutions at the moment?

Our focus is firmly on continuing to increase the efficiency of producing wood and wood products, while promoting the benefits of their use throughout the supply, design, construct and occupy chain in the built environment.

WoodSolutions is resourced by Forest & Wood Products Australia Ltd (FWPA), a not-for-profit company that provides national research and development and promotional services to the Australian forest and wood products industry. FWPA is funded by levy payers and the Australian Government to support research, development and innovation. WoodSolutions is an industry initiative designed to provide independent, non-proprietary information about timber and wood products to professionals and companies involved in project development and design and construction in the built environment.