December newsletter – Promotion of mass timber construction in sustainable buildings

The Forestry Based Industries unit within the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) in collaboration with Sawmilling SA, other government departments, academic institution and other industry stakeholders started working on the promotion of mass timber in the construction industry in 2018. All the relevant stakeholders shared a common understanding that the promotion of mass timber was vital in creating the much-needed market in the wood processing industry and that it would need to be done through the implementation of a strategy that creates awareness and promoting green buildings as well as developing the skills needed to implement such.

South Africa, just like the rest of the world, needs affordable and decent housing as well as social, and utility infrastructure. In the face of such challenges, the industry is almost under a moral obligation to transform by using sustainable materials such as timber and by making buildings more eco-efficient over time. The promotion of timber in construction is critical because South Africa is falling behind the rest of the world in using timber for buildings because it has been slow to embrace the possibilities of new engineered timbers and there is a huge potential for South African timber products to reduce the environmental impact of buildings.

Timber construction, which is sustainable and the most renewable of all building materials in every way, represents a low-hanging fruit for public and private sectors invested in lessening and mitigating their environmental impacts. The timing for the South African construction industry to take seriously the principles of sustainable building is good from a political sense and responds to Government’s Preferential Procurement Regulations under the Preferential Procurement Framework Act, Act no 5 of 2000 (National Treasury, 2012). One of the key deliverables for the industry and government is to promote and enhance market access for the locally produced engineered timber products and support policy of local content in structural timber through the designation of structural timber.

The timber promotion project will also support various other government initiatives aiming to promote green economy in which the forestry sector can play a major role in the transition towards a green economy, with environmental, economic and social (employment) benefits for society. The forest sector can significantly contribute to green building and the increase in the share of green jobs in the sector.

So far, all relevant stakeholders have come together under one roof to deliberate more on the issues that need to be handled for the project to be successful. Both industry and government are working on implementation guidelines to get the project off the ground. The DTIC should commended for taking the lead in this initiative and has to date established Steering Committee to drive the initiative with three Working Groups reporting to the Steering Committee. The three Working Groups, each with its Terms of Reference are Raw Material Security and Industrialization Working Group, Demand Creation Working Group and the Capacity Building Working Group. This initiative has also been acknowledged in the recently released Forestry Sector Master Plan. With the Working Groups already hard at work with bi-weekly meetings, we believe this exciting initiative will gain traction and have a significant impact on the timber industry and associated value chain.

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