The issue of sustainable design was top of the agenda at the Landscape Show.  We say… a well oiled circular economy, in which contractors, architects, developers and engineers recognise the durability and value of reclaimed tropical timber is key if we’re to reverse the environmental damage 

This year’s Landscape Show dealt with a range of timely industry issues, not least sustainable design.  Over the course of the two day event we held many conversations around the topic of the circular economy and what more can be done to put the intention to reclaim, reduce, and reuse first in the design process. 

Following the event, we caught up with Ashwells MD Janine Davies-Tutt, and asked her to explain more:

What’s the current status of the circular economy?

Janine: Currently, the built environment model is linear, designed around the production of new materials which are thrown away once they’re no longer required.   Recent figures from SALVO back this up, as we reported in a recent blog, just 1% of the 100m tonnes of construction materials used annually in the UK is reclaimed.  

To halt the environment damage, and perhaps one day begin to reverse it, building through a circular economy model needs to become to norm.  We’re a long way off, but progress is slowly being made, and mindsets changed.  For example, the construction businesses we’ve supplied reclaimed tropical timber to, contribute a saving of the equivalent of 500 tones of CO2e annually.

Why is timber such an important part of the circular economy in the built environment?

Janine: We need trees, forests and most importantly the Amazonian rainforest for a number of reasons. Not least because trees are vital providers of oxygen and carbon sequestration, but also because they heat trap greenhouse gases that human activities emit.  This means that in terms of climate change – and achieving The Paris Climate Agreement’s aim of reducing global warming to 1.5 degrees – cutting trees has a double impact. Adding carbon dioxide to the air, while at the same time removing the ability to absorb existing carbon dioxide.

What’s the benefit reclaiming and reusing tropical timber?

Janine: During colonial times, tropical hardwoods such as Greenheart, Jarrah, and Keruing were imported into the UK from Africa, Australia,Central America and British Guyana, for use
primarily in marine construction and sea defences.  Due to the climate tropical hardwoods grow in, the grain is extremely dense giving it unmatched durability and stability. When cut
it displays red, yellow and vibrant oranges; all the colours of the tropics.

Today, it’s possible to reclaim these timbers and repurpose for future use, in a circular economy process that prevents further deforestation, saves energy and mineral resources.

But it’s not just about meeting sustainable design requirements, or reducing environmental impact.

Reclaimed tropical timbers such as Greenheart can reduce build costs, and are more durable and stable than temperate timbers including English Oak.

Which initiatives are driving change?

Janine: The European FCRBE initiative (Facilitating the Circulation of Reclaimed Building Elements) is a three-year project part funded by the European Regional Development Fund; it aims to increase reuse in construction across north west Europe by 50%.  In Britain the two partners activating change are Salvo and the University of Brighton, who will be working in collaboration with six further partners across Belgium and France.

Vision 2040, created by the European Forest-Based Sector, has set a target material collection rate of 90% for forest-based products.  And for the  reuse and recycling of forest based products to account for 70% of all recyclable material.

How can specifiers be certain of their reclaimed timber procurement processes?

Janine: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)  is a global certification system that enables specifiers to follow responsible timber procurement best practice.  By choosing to source reclaimed timber from an FSC certified supplier built environment decision makers show that design complies with the highest social and environmental standards.  FSC certification is an effective way to
implement responsible practices around circular economy goals, and we believe it will become the de facto certification as more environmentally sensitive markets, such as governments  increasingly specifying FSC certified products in their procurement programmes.

What is next for our industry?

We’re at the beginning of a long conversation regarding building a circular economy in UK construction.  Change is happening, as projects such as the award-winning APES Playground for Berkeley Homes show.  Send us your questions and comments to keep the debate moving forwards here.

Find a selection of reclaimed tropical timber case studies here.

Download our CPD guide ‘How to Include Reclaimed Tropical Timber in Sustainable Design’ here.


About Ashwells Reclaimed Timber

Ashwells Reclaimed Timber is a tropical reclamation specialist based in Bulphan, Essex.   We reclaim and repurpose FSC certified tropical timber and temperate British hardwoods.  From our timber mill we supply hard and softwoods to be re-purposed into bespoke pieces, from garden planters and seating to street furniture and sea defences.  We’re also proud to collaborate with award winning landscape designers, architects and civil engineers, and our reclaimed tropical timber can be seen in major projects across the UK, including hotel and restaurant chains, the Chelsea Flower Show, Hampton Court, The Eden Project and London Zoo.