Ireland Urged to Embrace Sustainable Materials to Address Climate and Housing Crisis
International experts, policymakers, and key industry players have emphasized the need for Ireland to shift away from carbon-intensive materials and transition towards more sustainable alternatives, such as timber. This message was delivered at the ‘Build with Wood’ conference, held in Avondale Forest Park, Co. Wicklow. The event, organized by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and Coillte, aimed to explore ways to increase the use of timber in construction and highlighted the importance of Ireland becoming self-sufficient in timber production for building purposes.
During the conference, attendees were urged to learn from the approaches adopted by other countries to promote the use of timber in construction. Dermot Bannon, the celebrity architect who hosted the event, showcased various examples where timber had been embraced in construction projects. He highlighted a house on the island of Inisturk, off the coast of Co. Mayo, which replicated modern bungalows on the mainland, emphasizing the sustainability of materials produced in Ireland compared to those that harm the environment.
Bannon also emphasized that timber products have the lowest embodied carbon of any mainstream building material. However, he noted that Ireland’s use of timber in the construction industry is significantly lower compared to other European countries. He warned that without increasing its use, Ireland would struggle to meet its embodied carbon reduction targets. Construction currently accounts for 35% of carbon emissions, a figure that needs to be reduced.
Imelda Hurley, the CEO of Coillte, echoed the sentiment that Ireland should strive for self-sufficiency in building materials. By producing materials domestically, Ireland can improve its sustainability targets and expedite the delivery of homes to its citizens. Hurley emphasized the importance of forestry for achieving these goals and highlighted the new €1.3 billion Forestry Programme, designed to encourage more farmers to engage in farm forestry. Under this program, farmers will receive 20 years of tax-free premiums, while non-farmers will receive 15 years.
Accelerating housing construction while minimizing the use of carbon-intensive materials was a key theme at the conference. Des O’Toole of Forestry Industry Ireland stressed that operational efficiencies alone would not be sufficient to achieve Ireland’s net-zero targets. He emphasized the need to focus on embodied carbon and proposed the establishment of a fund to incentivize early adoption of sustainable construction practices. O’Toole suggested that financial support for demonstration projects would stimulate demand and enable the forestry industry to invest and build capacity.
The ‘Build with Wood’ conference served as a platform to highlight the urgent need for Ireland to transition to sustainable materials in order to address the climate and housing crisis. With the support of policymakers, industry leaders, and experts, Ireland has the opportunity to embrace timber as the building material of the future, contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly construction industry.