Trees naturally convert carbon dioxide into a light, strong and versatile building material. Trees sustain life, cool the environment, are renewable and require very little maintenance. The entire tree can be utilized, from sawn timber to chips and biomass for energy. Building with renewable timber is therefore an effective way for the construction industry to play a positive part in the reduction of atmospheric carbon, resource depletion and environmental degradation. Generating a culture of timber building from sustainable plantations – and thereby stimulating demand – would encourage a reversal of the impact of deforestation by sequestering CO2.
It seems like a simple solution but the problem facing the timber building industry in South Africa, is that plantations are poorly perceived as they usually comprise exotics, are mono-crops and sustain little biodiversity beneath their boughs. “They are, however, simply a plant crop, like all others, and far kinder to the earth,” says Vernon Collis. “Compared to, say, wheat, vines or sugar cane, they are much more efficient in terms of water utilization and require little or no pesticides or fertilization. Using little more than carbon as a food, trees effectively store CO2 and the sun’s heat energy for later use, especially when used as a structural element.