Forest management schemes gain credit with green architects

News /
27 April 2010
Forest management schemes gain credit with green architects

Acceptance by the green building industry of all accredited forest management schemes has been lauded by some of Australia’s top ‘green architects’.

A survey by the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia shows leading project designers have welcomed an opportunity to expand the specification and use of sustainable Australasian timbers.

The Green Building Council of Australia in January announced changes in its timber credit to recognise all timber in the building and construction sectors certified by the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) or FSC International.

All forestry schemes must satisfy five 'essential' criteria to be eligible. This provides one Green Star point to timber certified by any scheme.

FSC Australia is the Australian provider of FSC International certification, while the Australian Forest Certification Scheme (AFCS) is the PEFC accredited provider.

A second point, for 'significant' criteria, will only be available once the GBCA has undertaken a further round of stakeholder engagement with its members, environmental groups, the timber industry and certification schemes.

Green Star projects already registered will either be able to get one point for documenting that their timber is certified by a recognised forestry scheme, such as FSC or AFS. Projects can continue to get two points in the traditional way if the timber is certified by FSC, has already been specified FSC timber or if timber is re-used.

New projects will only have the option of achieving one point for the time being.

“These revisions will give green building projects a wider choice of materials certified to world sustainability standards that at the same time can be used in an ecologically conscious manner,” Sydney architect Jocelyn Jackson said.

Ms Jackson, a director of Tanner Architects, which has won awards in urban and architectural design, said it was good news that sustainable forests were enjoying success in the green building scene. “I know it’s all about points chasing, but in the end it comes down to a regenerative process in our building efforts.” Brisbane architect Michael Abel, who helped achieve Queensland’s first 6-star office design rated building, said the acceptance by the GBCA of AFS certified timber would “pull back” large project builders from using non-sustainable materials such as steel and plastic for formwork and interior fit-outs.

“It seemed incredible that standards designed to promote sustainable development in the property industry were actually working against the reasons they were established,” Mr Abel said.

“Until the GBCA acceptance of AFS, we just couldn’t reach all the Green Star ratings on timber specifications because of an FSC product shortfall, and there were huge penalties if we didn’t meet contractual requirements for this.

“Builders at the big end of town have already lost millions of dollars because they couldn’t meet the code specifications. Developments that cost $100 million just for the base building, without fit-out, will benefit tremendously from this sensible outcome.” Mr Abel said the ability to select product from both certifications – FSC and AFS – offered wood designers greater supply and choice.

Architects say durability is the most important attribute for a “green” building product. The GBCA has determined that the best way to approach its Mat-8 Sustainable Timber credit is to specify a set of leading best practice criteria under which a submission from a particular project can be assessed. The council believes this would drive market demand for sustainable timber practices.

General manger of the EWPAA Simon Dorries said this interim arrangement gave AFS and FSC an equal opportunity going forward to review their schemes to maximise the credit points they could achieve.

He said engineered wood products had the ability to gain up to three Green Star rating points – one point for forest certification, one point for low formaldehyde emissions (E0 or E1) and an extra point in office fit out for super E0 (average 0.3 milligrams to a maximum of 0.4 milligrams emissions).

“All Australasian manufacturers of EWPs can meet the specification of EO or E1 certified under a JAS-ANZ,” Mr Dorries said.

Peter Scott, national sustainability committee chair at the Australian Institute of Architects, says the certification issue is an interesting development.

“The Green Building Council has responded to calls from stakeholders to modify its assessment criteria for timber credits to accommodate concerns,” he said. “But there is clearly some way to go if timber is to be recognised as the renewable resource that it is.”

Carey Lyons, adjunct professor at the School of Architecture and Design at Melbourne’s RMIT University, and founding director of design practice Lyons, says the architectural sector appreciates the GBCA decision on AFS. “We are very comfortable with the acceptance,” he said.

“There’s now greater clarity about timber products that can attain the one point in the best practices criteria, although the jury is still out on the second point,” he said.

Mr Lyons, who represents the Australian Institute of Architects on the Green Building Council of Australia, says it is not the job of the GBCA to differentiate between Australian and international standards.

“The council’s role is to set up the right principles in terms of what is best practice criteria and it’s up to the timber industry to demonstrate it can indeed provide best practice around this criteria.

Mr Lyons said the timber expert reference panel established by the GBCA went through the process last year. “The simple principle is that the first five criteria put into the ratings tool can be met by both AFS and FSC certifications.

“Now we must see whether one or both of the certification schemes are approved for the second five criteria.”

Mr Lyons said there were always going to be opposing views from different groups from different areas. “At least we now have some certainty about the single point and that is a good thing.”

Michael Lavery of m3architecture, Brisbane, joint overall winner of last year’s Australian Timber Design Awards, said the Green Building Council’s action on timber credits “widened the alternatives” for wood suppliers to tender for green building projects.

“Our clients will benefit from the potential competition and that’s a primary benefit,” Mr Lavery said. “It means they get a competitive advantage and we still remain ecologically responsible.”

Mr Lavery said he was going through an “educating” process with clients about AFS and FSC wood’s access to green building projects.

Hobart-based Vos Construction and Joinery, winner of the EWPAA award for best use of plywood in the 2009 Australian Timber Design Awards for the $75 million Melbourne Recital Centre, has noticed an increasing demand for certified timber products.

Joinery manger Tim Rumney said the acceptance of AFS certified timber was a positive development for the company.

“Many of our clients have specified FSC wood and they will continue to do so, but we expect new interest now in AFS material, especially from green government projects.”

Vos Construction is currently working on a $3 million fit-out of 10 levels in the Age newspaper building in Melbourne and a $900,000 installation of solid wood panels for the new Meyer corporate offices in the city. Project architect for award-winning Neeson Murcutt Architects in Sydney Amelia Holliday said the decision to expand timber certification to all recognised schemes was refreshing news for the design-build sector.

“We will make sure our clients are aware of the acceptance of both AFS and FSC by the Green Building Council,” Ms Holliday said.

The chief executive of Australian Forestry Standard Kayt Watts said the supply of AFS certified wood products was plentiful and high quality and its greater use in the Green Star program would be welcomed by timber producers and designers alike.

“Considering that 90% of the world’s forests are not certified to any sustainable forest management systems, rewarding the leaders in this field will promote the uptake of certification, strengthen the supply chain and improve forest management globally.

“Architects and specifiers can confidently specify Australian products on projects that require certified timber, knowing that AFS is the only forest certification scheme with an Australian Standard AS 4708-2007.”

Contributing to the EWPAA survey, visiting UK green architect Professor Sue Roaf said the “opening up” to AFS and FSC certified timbers in Australia would get designers to look again at the fantastic sustainable properties of wood construction.

“In Britain, we have found that too many guidelines and regulations have been counterproductive to the use of wood as a renewable product,” Prof. Roaf said.

“The good environmental advantages of wood are often overlooked in many projects when green building rating regulations in Britain award energy points for items such as central air conditioning. Now just how energy-efficient is that?”

She said a timber frame home with structural insulated panels (SIPs) was one of the most impressive and effective ways of going about building a more efficient, low-energy shell.

[SIPs are high performance building panels used in floors, walls, and roofs for residential and light commercial buildings. The panels are typically made by sandwiching a core of rigid foam plastic insulation between two structural skins of oriented strand board (OSB)].

If Prof. Roaf had her way, we would cease designing buildings that are reckless consumers of energy and producers of more than half of all greenhouse gases, and instead design buildings that are more comfortable for their occupants, and which use as little as one-tenth of the energy of traditional buildings.

“Buildings are the single most damaging polluters on the planet, consuming over half of all energy used in developed countries and producing over half of all climate change gases,” she said.

A trained architect, Prof. Roaf spent seven years working in the Middle East, living in yurts with the wind catchers of the central Persian plains and excavating ancient Iraqi cities. When she returned to the UK, she found that people were building exactly the wrong buildings for a warming planet. It became her personal mission to try to change the status quo.

Prof. Roaf is in Australia to address a major building services forum, ARBS 2010, at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Meanwhile, It seems timber-related environmental trust marks have a long way to go when it comes to consumer awareness – particularly in Australia.

According to recent research commissioned by Forest and Wood Products Australia, only 5% of the population is aware of FSC, 2% AFS and about 1% PEFC. By comparison, 95% of Australians are aware of and understand the energy star rating system on appliances.

“We have spent millions promoting the concept of using certification as a means of confirming our environmental credentials, but to the general consumer these [sustainability marks] are not even on the radar,” FWPA chief executive Ric Sinclair said.

Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia

The Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia provides accreditation for plywood, LVL, particleboard, MDF and solid timber.

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