Why Is Timber Sustainable?

May 6, 2024 | air dried timber, furniture timber

What is the most sustainable timber?

Time to be serious. Yes – us!

With many of the world’s natural resources dwindling, we are under increasing pressure to use sustainable materials in construction and other key manufacturing activities.

When looking for a suitable material, it must satisfy certain criteria – minimal processing and low negative impact on the environment being especially important.

In this blog, we’ll look at why timber is sustainable before exploring the most sustainable species.

So why is timber a sustainable material?

Timber is considered a sustainable resource for the following reasons:

  • Carbon sequestration
    Trees sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. Storing carbon in their wood helps mitigate climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  • A renewable resource
    Sustainable forest management practices – such as selective felling and reforestation – maintain the health and productivity of the forest ecosystem. Intelligent planting and harvesting ensure a continuous supply of timber.
  • Low energy
    Timber production is energy efficient – especially when compared to manmade materials such as steel or concrete. Growing and harvesting trees responsibly involves minimal processing which represents a lower environmental impact.
  • Biodegradable (when no longer required)
    Timber is biodegradable. At the end of its ‘useful’ life, timber can be recycled or disposed of without causing harm to the environment.
  • A ‘healthy’ building material
    Timber is a non-toxic natural material. Unlike synthetic materials, it does not emit harmful chemicals or volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Easy to transport
    Timber tends to be readily available as it can often be sourced locally.
  • Construction ease
    Timber-framed buildings don’t usually require substantial concrete or steel sink foundations. In addition – and in comparison – they require relatively low tech methods of construction that are widely understood, and for which skills are commonly found.
  • An efficient insulator
    Timber has inherent properties that contribute to better thermal comfort. A lower thermal conductivity than materials like steel or concrete means that timber can maintain more stable indoor temperatures. This reduces the need for mechanical heating and cooling systems.

Using certified responsible timber – whether for construction, furniture making or interior joinery – reduces negative environmental issues, mitigates for climate change and aims to redress the environmental damage of 20th century industrial era deforestation.

air dried boule of through and through Oak at Cocking

What is the most sustainable timber?

What is considered the most sustainable timber species depends on a few factors. Timber must be considered, based on project and performance requirements.

1. Forest location and minimal transport miles to supplier/site
Carbon emissions for transport are an important consideration.

If we’re looking at typical transport miles to our West Sussex woodyard, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and Larch have some of the lowest distances. This is closely followed by Oak, Sweet Chestnut and Ash.

Softwood alternatives typically come from Scandinavian countries – or alternatively Russia (hmmm) or North America – so the transport miles and associated carbon footprint are pretty shocking.

2. Is long-lasting timber needed?
The natural durability of some species means that the finished product will last longer or need replacing less frequently. Cedar of Lebanon, Chestnut, Oak and Yew are amongst the most durable timbers we supply.

3. Fast-growing species
Growth rates are a significant factor. Assuming the timber is fit for purpose, it’s worth looking at fast-growing species that can be ‘renewed’ more rapidly. This also takes the pressure off slower-growing forests. Douglas Fir and Sycamore are among the fastest-growing. And Chestnut from coppices can be used after just 10 to 15 years of growth.

4. Ease of cultivation, availability and diversity
Monoculture woodlands can negatively impact ecosystem resilience.
Promoting biodiverse mixed woodlands to preserve natural habitats is a significant consideration of sustainable forestry. This is another string in the bow for certified timber which oversees and qualifies the planting diversity of species to have a positive impact all round.

english sycamore sample at english woodlands timber

Sustainable timber species

Here in the UK, various timber species are considered ‘sustainable’. However, as discussed, timber must be selected based on its suitability for the specific application.

Some of the most sustainable timber species we supply – in no particular order – include:

1. English Oak – Quercus robur

The mighty Oak is a native species to the UK (and across Europe). It is celebrated for its toughness, strength, durability and beautiful appearance. Versatile Oak is popular for interior and exterior use. It is an ideal structural timber – for beams and joists – as well as being used by furniture makers and joiners, carvers and turners and garden designers.

2. European Beech – Fagus

Beech is a native hardwood. It is often favoured for furniture making, flooring or cabinetry due to its attractive grain, smooth texture and supreme hard-as-rock-ness.

3. Sweet Chestnut – Castanea Sativa

Sweet Chestnut is native to southern England which is ideal for keeping the miles down! It is strong and durable, so ideal for cladding, decking, groundworks, fencing and landscaping. Can also be used for tables or worktops. Additionally, it can be split down the grain to form laths, staves, battens, hurdles, pales, rails and shakes.

4. Western Red Cedar – Thuja plicata

Western Red Cedar is widely used for its natural durability and stability. It starts out an attractive reddish-brown but weathers well and silvers down. Western Red Cedar is not a heavy-duty timber but is lovely for garden structures, fencing, decking, gates, cladding, roofing and outdoor furniture as well as fine furniture and panelling.

5. Douglas Fir – Pseudotsuga

Douglas Fir is a strong homegrown softwood. It is valued for its strength and integrity. This makes it suitable for heavy-duty structural applications – such as beams, posts and joists – as well as decking, flooring, furniture/joinery, cladding and landscaping.

6. Larch – Larix

Native to the UK, Larch is naturally durable and resistant to decay. It is commonly used for exterior cladding, flooring, fencing and decking. Rapidly gaining in popularity, we’re seeing more and more Larch being specified by architects and designers.

british larch feather edge timber cladding supplied to order english woodlands timber

Our commitment to sustainability

As we like to say: it begins with the trees.

We are dedicated to promoting sustainability and supporting responsible forest management practices. The timber we source is from trees felled as part of the holistic management of woodlands.

We are committed to collaborating with our suppliers to achieve global sustainability goals. Our supplying partners prioritise the health of standing trees, soil, water courses, wildlife and bio-diversity.

We source and supply timber certified by two certifying bodies:

  • Grown in Britain (GiB) certifies our homegrown timber supply
  • Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certifies the timber we source from our European supply

View our PEFC and GiB chain of custody certifications

Certified sustainable timber suppliers

Opting for sustainably produced timber supports the conservation of forest ecosystems and promotes responsible forestry practices.

As responsible timber suppliers, we see it as our duty to only source certified timber from well-managed forests. We promote sustainable practices within our industry and encourage our customers to consider the environmental impact of their material choices.

For all enquiries about our sustainable timber stocks – or to discuss your requirements – please call our team on 01730 816941.