Ireland has a unique opportunity to lead the way in the next timber building revolution, according to Mark Carlin, the managing director of Coillte. Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Carlin emphasised the importance of Ireland’s forests in addressing the challenges the country currently faces, including climate change and biodiversity loss. He also highlighted the potential for forests to provide a valuable source of sustainable products and materials.
Coillte recently launched a new long-term vision for its forest estate, which includes supporting the creation of new homes by delivering sustainable Irish wood products. Carlin was keen to emphasise the climate benefits of building with wood, stating that Ireland’s built environment currently represents 37% of overall annual greenhouse gas emissions, with 14% of this being embodied carbon, which is the carbon required to construct buildings. Timber products, however, have a lower embodied carbon and a higher level of stored carbon, meaning that building a new timber frame home could deliver carbon savings of up to 2.5 times compared to a traditionally built home.
Despite these advantages, only 25% of housing units in Ireland are built with timber frames, compared to Scotland’s current track record of 80% of housing units and countries like Scandinavia. Carlin believes that there is an opportunity in Ireland to embrace timber-based modern methods of construction at a meaningful scale, but this would require new policy and regulations to be introduced, along with an education and promotion campaign to promote a better understanding of the benefits of building with timber. He also believes that the government should demonstrate the advantages of building with wood in public building programmes and social housing projects.
“We have an increasing softwood fibre resource in Ireland, so we can increase our self-sufficiency in meeting our future timber requirements. Accelerating the use of wood in construction is no longer a desire; it is now a climate imperative,” Carlin added.
Coillte is a semi-state forestry company that earlier this year signed an operational management agreement with London-headquartered Gresham House. This agreement was controversial, with some critics questioning the decision to allow a foreign company to manage Irish forestry. However, Carlin’s vision for the future of Irish forestry and sustainable living is one that could benefit the country for generations to come.