In May 2015, the Municipal Association of Vic endorsed Latrobe City’s Wood Encouragement Policy.

Since then, Wellington Shire Council became the second local government area endorsement. Now this month, the Fraser Coast Council became the first LGA in Queensland to adopt a similar stance.

Other local government adopters of similar policies include the Australian Local Government Association, Kyogle Council, Tumut Shire Council, Wellington Shire Council, East Gippsland Shire Council, Wattle Range Council, Shire of Manjimup, Shire of Dardanup and Shire of Nannup.

Ross Hampton, CEO of the Australian Forest Products Association, has stated “all over the world in countries such as Canada and France, governments are making the decision to change their tender processes to better accommodate timber.”

Australian councils are joining others around the world, including Rotorua in New Zealand, Hackney in London, British Columbia in Canada, Finland, France and the Netherlands.

The policy is being framed by these councils to take advantage of the sustainability, environmental and health benefits of wood and encourage the use of wood as the preferred material for construction and fit out of new buildings where appropriate.

More than 20 per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions come from constructing and maintaining the built environment, so making the switch to wood as both a structural and architectural building material is a key strategy for addressing climate change.

Encouraging wood construction is consistent with the environmentally sustainable design policies in most council areas. These policies have tended to focus on resource saving and management initiatives in project design. The encouragement of wood begins to recognize that wood is a more sustainable building material than steel or concrete and that its embodied energy credentials are important factors in a building sustainability outcome.

In many councils, sustainability policy tends to be generally supportive of the objective to minimise the environmental impacts of materials used, by encouraging the use of materials with a “favourable lifecycle assessment” (City of Port Phillip) for example. However, in adopting policies stating a specific preference for wood, the development community can be given a far clearer message about how a successful ESD case can be made as part of a planning application. It recognises the benefits of timber with respect to embodied energy and future recyclability of materials.

Particularly in suburban local government areas, where the construction of large tower blocks is less likely than the low to medium density townhouses and low-rise apartment buildings that suit timber construction, adoption of Wood Encouragement Policy is both consistent with established construction practice and a logical extension of existing policy.

Australian decision makers have clearly taken a different view to the newly elected President of the US, who has claimed that climate change is just an elaborate conspiracy. Perhaps the way of the future to avoid the political roadblocks being erected by the energy lobby and other large vested interests is to ‘make it local.’ With more local government on board, state governments would have an easier time of adopting a similar policy platform.