CTI Blog

Why the latest reset of environmental policy could be good for woodworking

This guest blog post is by Matthew Mahony, Policy and Communications Executive at the British Woodworking Federation (BWF). It originally appeared on the BWF website.

 

Although it’s been overshadowed by more immediate concerns such as the collapse of Carillion, last week the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched its much anticipated its 25-Year Environment Plan, a document that could have major implications for the UK timber industry.

The plan sits alongside both the Industrial Strategy and the Clean Growth Strategy and identifies key areas around which policy will be focused, including increasing resource efficiency and reducing pollution and waste.

 

Why government should believe in being braver

With the new Plan and the recent Clean Growth Strategy(*), we’re seeing a government that is again dipping its toe into the water on environmental issues. And why not? There is a clear public mandate to adopt an ambitious agenda on environmental sustainability. It’s a genuine cross party issue which is supported by polling data that there is substantial support to strengthen current environmental regulations in the wake of Brexit.

Although the championing of a ‘Green Brexit’ and a ‘Blue Planet PM’ is a little insincere, there will be opportunities to retain ‘the good stuff’ in strategy terms if no longer in name. This would include the popular EU Timber Regulation which was the stated reason why David Cameron’s government stopped short of new criminal offences under UK law for the import and possession of illegal timber.

If the government decides to convert public support for our green and pleasant land into real political capital, Brexit could provide an opportunity to loosen the shackles of existing state aid rules. Taxation incentives for sustainable products could support businesses doing things the right way and avoid endemic short-termism, a big problem in a construction industry tasked with delivering 300,000 extra homes per year by the middle of the next decade and addressing the issue of a leaky existing building stock.

 

So what of the plan?

The plan itself is certainly lightweight – essentially a list of ‘good things’ which doesn’t go far enough. It’s not far off being at home on Buzzfeed, but in an era when government thinking on sustainability seems stuck between ambivalence and opportunism, it’s encouraging to see a renewed commitment to basics such as tackling climate change, promoting recycling and protecting the forests - even the elusive Great Crested Newt gets a mention.

Many of these aims have clear benefits for woodworking and the use of wood products over less sustainable alternatives, not least the targets to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste, maximise the benefits of the UK’s woodlands, protect international forests and support zero-deforestation supply chains.

There is also a recognition that market forces alone are often insufficient in recognising the social, economic and environmental gains from the better deployment of resources, materials and products.

 

Natural capitalism

Perhaps most encouraging of all within the plan is the reaffirmation of the Industrial Strategy pledge to support a Natural Capital approach. This will help account for the true value of England’s wood and forests. As well as reflecting more of the wellbeing benefits of a wood culture, the approach accounts for Carbon sequestration – the process by which trees lock-up and store carbon from the atmosphere - and a measurement that can better indicate the true worth of the products we make.

In my opinion, if government is to adopt a long term plan, then this is a good start but we need something akin to an Environmental Constitution to give more robust protection from the type of mercurial decision making that we’ve seen on issues including Fixed-term parliaments and selling off Britain’s forests.

 

How soon is now?

Where the government’s intentions fall short for me is that setting up a long term plan is all very good but there needs to be more of a sense of urgency across the board. If we are to get millions of new homes within the next decade as the government hopes, then we don’t want inefficient, leaky houses stuffed with single use plastics - we need to address today’s problems today and setting the framework for this can’t wait, especially as hitting the reset button on such issues has cost valuable time.

We want to see millions less deliveries during construction, millions of tonnes of CO2 taken from the atmosphere and stored in the built environment and millions less tonnes of hazardous legacy materials. It should be a no-brainer that large construction projects must be mandated to account for social value and sustainability and are required to use materials that are sustainable and responsibly sourced. NB: in the wake of the Carillion debacle, it’s easy to forget that the three elements of sustainable development that government should now account for in the built environment are social, environmental and economic sustainability.

To bring the plan forward, government also needs to be more open to new initiatives and drivers, particularly within construction. There are some great innovations out there, not least those that BWF and its timber industry colleagues have been working on and those coming from Europe and North America.

Although there are too many to list, promising initiatives close to home include Powys County Council’s Homegrown Homes initiative and its Wood Encouragement Policy aimed at supporting forestry and product manufacturing, retaining and creating new jobs and building better, and more energy efficient houses.

If we want real progress by 2022 rather than 2042, now is the time to start acting on solutions. I can think of a good place to begin

 

(*) Read the CTI response to the Clean Growth Strategy here

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/why-latest-reset-environmental-policy-could-be-good-woodworking]

CTI Blog - The Timber Skills Funnel: Unlocking potential

This blog post is by BWF Chief Executive and Member of CTI Board of Directors Iain McIlwee. It originally featured in the CTI Newsletter Winter 2017-18.

 

Currently a third of construction apprenticeships are employed in the wood trades, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for timber. The opportunities to work in the timber sector are manifold, currently employing 350,000 people, the £10 billion integrated supply chain is actively engaging talent in developing pre-manufactured buildings and components for construction, seeking foresters to support our vibrant forestry sector, creating new roles to support digitalisation and logistics in the complex and evolving supply chain, employing ever more engineers, technicians and product designers to support our modern manufacturing units and requires high-level craftsmen to produce bespoke furniture or deliver complex restoration work fundamental to preserving our heritage. Whilst we remain optimistic about the future, we have some fundamental concerns about the education and training landscape

The Confederation of Timber Industries through the Wood Industry Training Group is looking to ensure that these opportunities are communicated and the infrastructure in place to support sector growth. At the top of the skills funnel (attracting people into the industry), the Makeit Wood Campaign is an exciting initiative, reaching into schools across the UK. This educational program fits into the Design and Technology curriculum in years 9-12. We have plans to scale this work up, however have concerns that Design and Technology is a subject in decline

Despite being a practical subject that engenders a vital understanding of our manufacturing industries and the fundamentals of product design, skills so critical to any industrial strategy, it is seen as somehow less important than the more academic sciences.  he decline in GCSE entries in this subject (from 440,000 in 2004 to just 185,279 in the last academic year) is a real concern for the UK industrial sector. Teacher recruitment in this discipline is also at an all-time low (less than 50% of the target DfE set in 2016) making the subject unviable in an increasing number of schools. As part of any overhaul of the Technical Routes for education Design and Technology should have equal status with the sciences on the National Curriculum. 

As an industry, we are optimistic that the Apprenticeship Levy and resulting reforms provide greater flexibility and suitable incentive to deliver positive change. In readiness we have developed new Apprenticeship Standards covering manufacturing, processing and furniture production and we welcome the control that these standards hand back to the employers, however, the process needs urgent attention. It is taking too long to develop new standards and the goal-posts set by the Institute of Apprenticeships seem to be a moving target.  Delivery is also a challenge, with FE Colleges under increasing financial pressure and limited support for the capital investment and additional space required to offer many of our courses. 

The timber industry is working hard to support these vital institutions through the BWF Centres of Excellence initiative. As we develop ever closer relationships it is clear that more needs to be done to address the inherent competition between schools and FE Colleges.  Developing a focus for Technical Qualifications through a UCAS equivalent system is also a priority that should focus on post 16 learners and ensure that all training and apprenticeship opportunities are presented to all students without prejudice. This process should also support a “clearing” system to minimise wastage, recycle opportunity and support informed choice. Every effort must be taken to ensure that the Technical Routes are not seen as the lesser option.

Higher level apprenticeships and the traditional academic routes also have a strong role to play to support innovation and the implementation of cutting-edge technology and as a consequence similar initiatives are being set up with Universities across the UK. The timber industry needs a constant flow of graduates in disciplines such as wood science, product design engineering, process engineering, mechanical and materials engineering as well as business, IT and logistical focussed subjects to support the digitalisation and ‘service-ification’ of manufacturing and construction. It is for this reason that the CTI and our respective Trade Bodies are working with Universities around the UK and exploring the opportunity of setting up an Innovation Council to better support innovation through collaborative networks across the UK.  

Timber is very much seen as the emerging material of the 21st Century with huge global potential. If we want that the UK economy is well placed to benefit from the clear obvious opportunities that timber offers to develop - from forest through to factory a profitable supply chain capable of delivering to support the UK economic and sustainable targets - it is critical that we continue to work to ensure that schools, colleges and universities are engaged with our industry.

This means collaborating to develop our rising into work ready pioneers that can help to support the UK in building a modern and sustainable and world-leading industrial sector, capable of harnessing digitalisation, leading manufacturing 4.0 and ensuring the timber industry is a jewel in the UK industrial crown. 

 

[News URL: http://cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-timber-skills-funnel-unlocking-potential]

CTI Blog - What do you need to know about Formaldehyde?

This guest blog is by Ian Rochester, Technical Manager at the Wood Panel industries Federation. It originally appeared on the BWF Blog.

 

Every now and then we get asked about ‘Formaldehyde’ and mostly it’s in relation to compliance with a specific requirement or from a concerned user or specifier in relation to health impacts. In this piece I will try to explain what the current state of knowledge is and what the future is likely to be.

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring colourless chemical composed of Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon.  Formaldehyde is quickly broken down by sunlight and bacteria in soil and it does not accumulate in the environment. As well as occurring naturally in the environment and being essential to life, formaldehyde is also synthesised for use in manufacturing.  It is a compound that provides functionality for the manufacture of plastics and polymers. One of its most common applications is as an intermediate component of some adhesive resins/binders and in this regard its use in the manufacture of wood-based panels has been widespread.  

 

Understanding the impacts

As an intermediate compound, most of the formaldehyde used in binders is converted to other stable compounds by chemical reactions, but there can be some residual ‘free formaldehyde’ that can be emitted. It is the concentration of free formaldehyde released from products that has given rise to safety concerns over the past three decades. Over this period however research, product innovation and regulation have all helped to enhance understanding about impacts and also control. Importantly it is known that, formaldehyde has a threshold concentration below which no harm will occur. In both the workplace and in products, formaldehyde exposure can be controlled to well below those safe levels. 

There is a lot of information out there on formaldehyde - some scientific and some is no more than opinion (and some which is completely erroneous) - which makes it difficult to form an opinion on at a glance. The World Health Organization (WHO) have made assessments (and reassessed in 2010) to provide guidance on a safe indoor air concentration for the general population and, as I write, formaldehyde is currently going through the most thorough assessment ever undertaken as part of the REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & Restriction of Chemicals). The substance evaluation process assesses all the relevant scientific information available from across the world and draws conclusions on how to manage the risks which in the case of formaldehyde will be occupational and consumer exposure limits.

From an occupational health and safety point of view, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL) has recommended an OEL of  0.6ppm STEL and 0.3ppm 8hr TWA*. If as expected this becomes a binding limit, then even in spite of BREXIT, it is highly probable that the current UK OEL of 2ppm will be amended.

 

Product emissions and indoor air quality

In terms of product emissions and indoor air, in Europe there are currently two formaldehyde classes for wood-based panels, namely E1 and E2.  E1 is 0.124 mg/m3 (0.1 ppm) concentration in a test chamber and E2 is an open ended class for any product higher than E1. The WHO recommended safe concentration limit in indoor air is 0.1 mg/m3 (rounded down from 0.12mg/m3) and recent studies have shown that buildings, including low energy new builds, have formaldehyde levels lower than half the WHO recommended limit. Let’s not forget, the WHO limit has a factor of safety of 5 included from where sensory irritation occurs therefore making sure it’s safe.

There is concern that the E2 class could result in an indoor air concentration higher than the WHO limit because E2 has no upper limit, this is why WPIF members and European Panel Federation member manufacturers do not produce E2 boards and haven’t done so since 2007 and many stopped making it before that. The European Commission has resisted the European wood-based panel industry’s call to remove the E2 class but until eventually removed, industry bodies should continue to insist that E2 products are not specified.

EN Standards and regulations have set the tone across Europe but elsewhere there are requirements that may vary from those in Europe that have to be met if exporting to those countries or particular certification schemes. Notably laws like CARB in California (soon to be US Federal Law), or specific scheme’s requirements like the Blue Angel, BREEAM, LEED etc… most of which approach the subject in slightly different ways. 

The modernised manufacturing techniques used by manufacturers across Europe along with advances in resin development have transformed the way panels are produced such that our members can supply products that meet such demands, from zero added formaldehyde products to ultra-low emitting products that meet both the technical needs in terms of strength characteristics and that of very low formaldehyde emissions.

 

*ppm = Parts Per Million
STEL = Short Term Exposure Limit
TWA = Time Weighted Average

 

[News URL: http://www.cti-timber.org/content/cti-blog-what-do-you-need-know-about-formaldehyde]