The recently published Dasgupta Review describes a fundamental shift in economic thinking to recognise nature not as an ‘externality’ but an asset upon which human life is fundamentally dependent. Just as the state of repair is recognised in the valuation of a house, it should also be recognised in the planet’s natural resources – which currently is in a state of depreciation, with mass species extinction and human demands on nature greater than ever. We need 1.6 planet earths to afford the rate of current consumption, which is predicted to increase to two earths by 2050. To address this, the Review called for the widespread recognition of ‘ecosystem services’ to place a value on living nature beyond renewable energy and the extraction of raw materials, and to conserve and restore natural resources through investment in natural capital.
The only way to create value in a forest is through photosynthesis over time, yet the average price of a standing tree in a working woodland rarely exceeds £100. In valuing trees for their material alone, foresters are losing out and are being forced into practices that wreak havoc on ecosystems. Conversely, companies like Treeconomics are measuring the carbon sequestration, pollution abatement, flood prevention and heat reduction made possible by tree planting, whilst researchers like Liz O’brien of Forest Research have built evidence of the physiological benefits of spending time in woodlands, with a view to impacting the national health budget. These and other advocates have built strong cases for afforestation not only to be driven by offsets for polluting companies, or the generation of natural materials, but to improve the wellbeing of the immediate climate and communities therein.
This year, dRMM has amended its typical timber specification note to support foresters in the UK and promote the increased planting of trees in the country for generations to come, alongside incorporating best practice for timber specification globally. Within complex material supply chains, certification is crucial to ensuring real sustainability and traceability. Grown in Britain is an organisation setting quality standards for constructional timber here in the UK, incorporating biodiversity, carbon sequestration and a fuller picture of the woodland ecosystem in their assessment of forests. Architects can help to support this by specifying Grown in Britain certified timber products in their projects, alongside PEFC, FSC and FLEGT certifications.