By Tarren Bolton
As part of the drive towards a regenerative and net zero built environment, the Living Future Collaborative of South Africa has been officially launched.
The task of the Living Future Collaborative SA is to advocate and work collectively with all stakeholders towards a Living Future. As such, the voluntary organisation has set itself the task of promoting strategies and approaches that operationalise regenerative design by creating awareness and contextualising the Living Building Challenge in South Africa.
Believing in a ‘Better World for All’
The South African built environment faces numerous challenges and risks. These include cities that are riddled with spatial planning issues; projects currently underway that inadvertently reinforce spatial injustice; scarcity and mismanagement of valuable resources; and a lack of climate resilience planning to mitigate the effects of extreme weather impacts such as drought and flooding.
This is a future that many professionals cannot accept and a
re actively seeking to change. The Collaborative believes in the Living Building Challenge philosophy and comprehensive approach because it holistically addresses the multiple challenges faced by cities.
Timber iQ (TiQ) caught up with Marloes Reinink (MR), sustainable building consultant and founder and director of Solid Green Consulting to find out more about the Living Future Collaborative SA’s vision of bringing change beyond individual buildings, integrating urban systems and communities with nature, and what this means for timber construction in South Africa.
TiQ: The core underlying principle of the Living Building Challenge (LBC) is that buildings should mimic nature and natural systems – what role can timber play here?
MR: Timber plays an important role. If you look at LBC certified buildings, the majority have some element of timber in the structure. Part of the challenge is that the project has to offset the embodied carbon footprint of the building, meaning that you need to calculate the carbon that is associated with the harvesting, manufacturing and transporting of the materials in the building. Timber has a relatively low carbon footprint and is a renewable resource. As such it fits in really nicely with the Living Building Challenge philosophy. Timber is also great for recyclability, as it is usually bolted and can be unbolted and reused at the end of the building’s life.
TiQ: Are there any examples of projects in South Africa which predominantly use timber for construction that are actively seeking the certification? If so, can you provide more detail?
MR: Our new office is pioneering a Cross Laminated Timber structure. As a sustainability consultancy we do need to walk the talk, and compared to a concrete structure, timber has a much lower carbon footprint. As such, it was a no-brainer for us. At the same time timber provides a more natural feel to the space.
TiQ: Part of the Living Building Challenge’s mission is to advocate for a regenerative future by providing a platform for thought leadership in the area of regenerative design principles and application; to what extent has timber as a construction material been considered?
MR: There is no one recipe for building a regenerative building, and as such there are many different solutions. However, timber ticks boxes naturally, due to its nature. Timber is renewable, it is structurally sound, and it has a low carbon footprint. However, we have to ensure the timber is sourced from responsibly managed forests, which is indicated by the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) logo. Also, we have to focus on using local timber materials, not only to stimulate the local economy but also to minimise on transport impacts. And lastly, the treatment of the timber must be taken into account, as this has an impact on the indoor air quality of spaces, and also on the health of people working in spaces. By using low-VOC and no-formaldehyde sealants and treatment products, this impact can be mitigated.
[Note from writer: Also see our article ‘Timber inside: low-carbon options for healthy buildings’ in this issue of Timber iQ (page 30), to read more about Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and the role timber can play in making buildings healthier and more sustainable from the inside.]
TiQ: Another part of the mission is ‘to transform the building value and supply chain for a living future’. What does this mean for timber and its use in construction?
MR: The Living Building Challenge is about bringing positive change to different industries, within the timber industry. I would imagine that it is critical that we ensure our forests are sustainably managed, and that deforestation is avoided. South Africa scores really well when it comes to sustainably managed forests. From our experience over the last 10 years in the green building industry, where we can improve is the Chain of Custody of FSC certified timber. Most Forests are FSC certified, but down the supply chain, this certification is lost, as timber gets mixed and there is not enough demand for pure FSC timber.
TiQ: How does the use of timber for construction help promote projects that support sustainability and demonstrate strength in ecological restoration?
MR: Timber is a great material that can assist a project with its biophilia goals, which is another important principle of the Living Building Challenge. Biophilia is the idea that people have an innate affiliation with nature, and integrating biophilia within your building design positively affects people living, working, and playing in the space. Biophilia can be integrated in many different ways, through the use of natural materials (for example timber) or shapes, colours, sounds, images of nature, real plants and so on.
Worldwide, there is a continuous drive to increase awareness of the benefits of using timber and to promote it as a building material. Any improvements in the way we construct can have a really positive effect on our environment and timber can play a large role in the solution. Using wood instead of conventional materials like concrete, steel and masonry not only reduces the amount of CO2 emitted (at the rate of 0.9 tonnes of CO2 per cubic metre of material used), but also locks away CO2 for the lifespan of the product – if disposed of, this stored energy is then made available.
While each type of material has its advantages – concrete and masonry have high thermal mass, for example, which is often required in a design – in general, the more wood we can use to replace other materials, the better for the environment.