Photo: Old Shed New House © Greg Storrar


Sustainable design incorporates performance considerations such as flood resilience and resistance as well as energy efficiency. The energy efficiency of a building is not only measured by its operational efficiency once in use, but how energy efficient the construction, design and material sourcing processes for that building were.


The Government has committed to improving new building efficiency to be constructed by and to operate at net zero carbon by 2050. Many industry organisations such as UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) and London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) have set their own ambitious targets to reach net zero operation by 2030. This would rely on net zero operational levels by 2025.*


Choosing timber can help stakeholders to meet net zero requirements whatever the timeframe. It also helps in the move towards a circular economy – where materials undergo a life cycle assessment and are repurposed after their initial service life. Timber can be reused, repurposed or recycled far more easily than concrete or steel.


* Reaching Net Zero in the UK, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC)

Suggested Reading

Wood Information Sheets

Specifying timber species in marine and freshwater construction

This Wood Information Sheet provides guidance on the technical properties of a number of lesser-used species of hardwoods that may be used for marine and freshwater construction.


Recovering and minimising wood waste

Wood and wood-based products are used in a wide range of applications, some with service lives of many decades before they enter the waste stream. However, it is only since the mid-1990s that an industry has emerged to recycle waste wood, where qualities such as a low moisture content compared with virgin wood have made recycled wood fibre popular for a variety of applications.


Life cycle costing

Life-cycle costing is a decision-making technique which takes into account both initial and future costs. For buildings and structures this usually means considering not just capital costs but relevant costs in use (operational costs) such as maintenance, component replacement, utilities, managing the asset for a given period, and end-of-life costs.


Life Cycle Assessment

Many industries, rather than simply responding to increasingly stringent regulation, are now actively seeking to develop more environmentally benign products and processes. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one of the best known tools for assessing the environmental impact of activities.


Learning Resources

Module: Environmental aspects of wood

This module is a teaching aid for tutors delivering courses on the use and design of timber in engineering and architecture.


Unit: Low carbon and timber buildings

This unit covers the following topics: carbon in association with buildings; sustainable timber production; thermal mass; the contribution of timber to sustainable construction in manufacture and build; and carbon sequestration.


Unit: Introduction to the Life Cycle Assessment of timber

This unit covers the following topics: Life Cycle Assessment; carbon and timber; and timber life cycle.


Unit: Wood for Good Lifecycle Database

This unit covers the following topics: an introduction to the Wood for Good Lifecycle Database; a summary of life cycle data for a range of wood and wood-based products; an explanation for using the Wood for Good database; and the significance of the information provided in the Wood for Good Lifecycle Database. 


Magazine Articles

Delivering large-scale low-carbon education buildings (2020)

Christian Dimbleby explains how timber is increasingly used in education buildings, creating low-carbon and healthy spaces.


Climate emergency: an industry response (2020)

Ron Alalouff examines the role of architects and engineers in specifying timber in buildings to help mitigate the worst effects of climate change.


Timber and the circular economy (2020)

Timber is the ultimate renewable material, but where does it fit into the circular economy? Charlie Law looks at how the timber industry could embrace a system that makes the most of its available resources.


Building with wood in a climate emergency (2020)

Gary Newman discusses how the use of timber in construction should be increased to mitigate the effects of climate change.


Timber and the resilient home (2020)

Christiane Lellig discusses the important role the timber industry has to play in building more sustainable and climate-resilient homes.


Building better and more sustainably in the modern-day marketplace (2019)

Daniel Ball assesses the current problems in the UK's housebuilding industry and suggests how timber offers a solution.


Design life and durability of timber (2019) 

The durability of timber components is just as much about design and environment as it is about preservative treatment for wood, as Dennis Jones and Christian Brischke explain.


Benign by design (2018) 

Glulam and CLT played a significant role in the carbon-neutral construction of a cutting-edge pharmaceutical research facility, explains Rick Sharp.


A wooden tower: the seeds of an idea (2017) 

Ron Bakker discusses a recent research project on tall timber buildings. 


Timber Building Case Studies

Cork House, Eton, Berkshire 

Cork House is unique; it is the built form of a radical new approach to construction and sustainable design. The architects, Matthew Barnett Howland, Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton, set out to re-think a building from first principles, considering each stage of its life, including whole-life carbon, material life-cycle and design for disassembly.


Old Shed New House, Great Ouseburn, North Yorkshire

What was once a run-down shed, a container for tools and tractors, has been transformed by architect Tonkin Liu into a new house, now a container for a lifetime collection of books and art. 


Maggie’s Oldham 

Maggie’s Oldham is a deliberate exemplar of how to create a fresh, uplifting and caring environment while eliminating the use of harmful materials. 


GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry 

The GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Carbon Neutral Laboratory for Sustainable Chemistry was designed as an exemplar of sustainability in design, construction and choice of materials, and one which would be carbon neutral over its 25 year lifetime.


Storey’s Field Community Centre and Nursey 

Storey’s Field Community Centre and Nursery is a building of rare quality. It was shortlisted for The Stirling Prize and cited, in its RIBA Award, as demonstrating ‘how an architect can add joy, an enhanced experience of materials and human dimension to every part of a building’.


The Enterprise Centre, Norwich, East Anglia 

The Enterprise Centre, a new building on the University of East Anglia (UEA) campus, is an outstanding example of sustainability and low-embodied carbon construction.


The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care, Bath 

The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care (NICU) at the Royal United Hospital in Bath cares for more than 500 premature and sick newborn babies each year; it has been designed as a template to show how good, sustainable healthcare design can be achieved, setting a benchmark for good practice, and creating a therapeutic environment to benefit parents, children and staff.


Great Bow Yard, Langport, Somerset 

Ecos Homes is the development subsidiary of the Ecos Trust, established in 2000 ‘to make sustainable construction the norm, rather than the exception, by 2010'. To demonstrate the principles of sustainable construction, a decision was made to build a not-for-profit sustainable development in which social and environmental values were as important as economic values. 


Info from Other Organisations

Climate Emergency Design Guide, LETI (2020) 

This guide outlines the requirements of new buildings to ensure our climate change targets are met – setting out a definitive journey, beyond climate emergency declarations, into a net zero carbon future. It is specifically aimed towards developers/landowners, designers, policy makers, and the supply chain. It aims to help to define ‘good’ and to set clear and achievable targets.


Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition, UK Green Building Council (2019) 

UKGBC has developed a framework definition for net zero carbon buildings to provide the industry with clarity on how to achieve net zero carbon in construction and operation.


How the timber industries can help solve the housing crisis, All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Timber Industries (2019) 

A report launched by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Timber Industries (APPG), which highlights the key role timber industries can play in helping the Government meet its targets for housebuilding whilst working to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.


Wood: Building the bioeconomy, CEI-Bois (2019) 

The Timber Trade Federation and CEI-Bois, the European Confederation of the Woodworking Industries, are calling on politicians to put wood at the centre of plans to reduce emissions and achieve zero carbon targets.


Composting of wood waste from the furniture industry. Waste to profit: The fertile Demonstration project, DTI/FIRA/Viridian Envirosolutions (2003) 

This report outlines the technical feasibility and financial viability of the controlled composting of waste wood dust from the furniture sector. Supported by the DTI's BIOWISE programme this work raised awareness of one of the sector's most problematic waste streams and has lead to a multitude of initiatives to cut cost to the industry. 



Reusable and adaptable wood structures, TRADA and Wood for Good (2008) 

Developed by TRADA in partnership with Wood for Good, this publication shows how a wide range of reusable and adaptable wood structures are designed and constructed.


Timber design pioneers: Chapter 4 – Tackling the sustainability challenge (2019) 

This chapter features three very different and remarkable projects – Cowan Court, Churchill College; Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre; and New Islington – along with interviews with Tom Emerson, 6a architects; Adam Knaggs, SDC; Stuart Allan, Simpson & Brown Architects; Peter Hogg, Cowley Timber + Partners; Darren Jones, shedkm; and Chris Shaw, Urban Splash.


Procuring engineered timber buildings: a client’s guide (2019) 

This publication highlights the important questions developers and other clients need to consider when reviewing the merits of engineered timber solutions for the structure of their building. The publication will assist TRADA members in providing answers to the following questions and may be shared with their clients.


Low-energy timber frame buildings: designing for high performance, TRADA (2011) 

This illustrated guide demonstrates how timber frame buildings can be designed and constructed cost effectively to be energy efficient. It shows how designers can also play a role in building use, providing end-users with a comprehensive operation manual. The design principles and construction details described apply to most mainstream building types up to seven storeys high. 


External solar shading with wood: a design guide for architects (2012) 

Areas of glazing are increasing to obtain the maximum advantage from daylight and to benefit from passive solar gain in the winter. But larger windows increase the risk of internal overheating and glare. UK building regulations now require solar protection in residential and non-residential buildings. With its versatility, ease of working and easy maintenance, wood has an important role in the design of modern shading devices.



Design life for wood and wood-based products (2018) 

The use of mass timber construction can result in environmental and cost-saving advantages. This research summary examines how the service life of wood products is based on different and complex interactions between end use and interacting or degrading parameters.


What works in encouraging the take up of low carbon products and services in households? University of the West of England (2016) 

A report based on rapid evidence assessment outlining the approaches which have been used to encourage greater uptake of energy efficiency and low carbon products/services amongst householders. Focusing on UK households, the report draws on evidence from the USA and Europe as well as the UK. 


Biogenic materials for housing (2012) 

This research summary examines various approaches to the assessment of environmental credentials of renewable building materials. The summary also highlights the numerous barriers to be overcome and poses recommendations on how to improve the use of biogenic materials in the UK in order to help the country's construction industry meet carbon targets.


Environmentally responsible construction: Community wood recycling (2004) 

Integra was established in 1990 with a goal of servicing the construction needs of Sussex and the South East of England with a focus on environmental and social responsibility. In just five years after its inception, Integra diverted over 400 tonnes of wood waste from landfill for recycling and re-use.

The Eden project – a waste neutral strategy in construction and operation (2004) 

This research information sheet examines ways in which businesses can adopt a more sustainable attitude to construction. Using the Eden Project – which aimed to recycle 55% of its construction waste – as a case study, this information sheet highlights some of the ways in which construction can reduce landfill waste.


Other sustainability sub-topics

Timber as a sustainable material 

Sustainable timber sourcing

Sustainable production of timber products

Sustainable building processes

Sustainable building life

Sustainability and health

Sustainability – Home