OVER THE last few years, ‘sustainability’ has become a popular buzzword across industry – and forestry is no exception. But while the word can sometimes be thrown around casually, some companies are genuinely committed to producing timber in a way that minimises environmental impact.

As the UK’s largest forestry business, BSW Group prides itself on going above and beyond industry requirements, setting high standards for operating sustainably. Here, BSW chief executive Tony Hackney explains...

"The timber supply chain is an integral part of the UK’s manufacturing and construction industries. Yet two-thirds of sawn timber consumed by the UK is imported, contributing to harmful greenhouse gases and global climate change. By reducing our country’s dependence on imports and focussing our efforts on homegrown timber, we can support the growth of the British timber industry and have a positive impact on sustainability.

Increased woodland cover provides a retreat for valuable wildlife and ecosystems, from plants and fungi to insects, small mammals, and birds. Carefully managed forests also provide much-needed space for human recreation and physical activity, providing wooded walks and bridleways to boost health and wellbeing. Furthermore, trees help enhance water quality and reduce the risk of flooding, which is becoming more common as the climate crisis worsens.

Timber is a naturally renewable material that does not deplete the world’s finite resources when well-managed. However, forests and woodlands currently cover approximately 13% of the UK’s total land area, lagging behind the EU average of 37%. To make homegrown timber more accessible, this will need to change.

More positively, an increasing number of businesses are starting to consider their carbon footprints. But the work of lowering emissions, reducing waste, and improving the process of reducing, reusing, and recycling raw materials can’t be merely a box-ticking exercise tacked onto the job descriptions of department heads. Our approach is more holistic – it’s all of our responsibility, not just the management team.

Alongside our individual sustainability targets for each part of the BSW Group, we have also recently created the new role of Carbon Manager to oversee the management of carbon output across the entire Group.

As a business that plays its part in every element of the timber industry, BSW is unique in its ability to develop this co-operation between stages of timber manufacture. Our wood waste, for example, is used to create heat for drying timber in the kiln process, removing the need for burning fossil fuels. The heat generated from this process allows us to heat our buildings and offices, again limiting the requirement for traditional heat provision methods.

The key to tackling sustainability is having the willingness to change and adapt – constantly asking, can this be done more effectively and sustainably? This means relentlessly innovating and taking advantage of new technology.

Having upgraded our mechanical handling vehicles to models with tier IV diesel engines (which reduce harmful emissions by 85%), we have recently taken the decision to switch to Tier V powerplant producing zero emissions and which also help to eliminate the fine soot particles that can cause air pollution and have negative health effects.

Efficiency is also a key part of this journey. Of course, machinery is needed for the manufacturing of timber, but the industry needs to work on operating them in an effective and energy-saving manner.

We are determined to improve this at BSW. Alongside trialling new, more intuitive electric forklifts, we are also installing digital management systems and weighing scales to all new vehicles to guarantee that we can get the optimum efficiency every day.

Read more: Tilhill launch new forestry carbon trading service

Of course, alongside these energy-saving measures, we are also continuing to explore more renewable energy sources. Our Carlisle mill has a CHP (Combined Heat and Power) plant, and we are also investigating alternative technologies at our other sites.

Another element of timber production which can be improved is packaging. Reducing, reusing and recycling packaging, especially plastic, needs to be a key focus for us all.

We have partnered with Trioplast to make sure that all timber packaging used in our sawmills will be produced from 30% - 50% PCR (post-consumer recycled material) by 2022. After our use, it is then recycled itself, demonstrating a circular journey that reduces landfill plastic.

As an industry and as individuals, it is important that we are neither naïve nor complacent about our responsibility to work towards reducing our impact on the planet. The great strides that have been made in the last ten years alone show that the job whilst difficult is not impossible.

When you plant a tree, it is most likely the next generation that will be able to benefit from your hard work. With co-operation, innovation, and a willingness to adapt, we can all do our bit to ensure that our hard work is able to benefit generation after generation after generation."