January 13, 2023

Our first full carbon audit is complete

Tom Barnes and Callum Hill

Tom Barnes at Vastern Timber with Callum Hill, an expert in evaluating carbon footprints

As part of our efforts to reduce the negative impact of our business activities, and to meet the requirements of Business Declares, we’ve completed our first in-depth carbon audit. 

We commissioned JCH Industrial Ecology, a respected environmental consultancy, to carry out an analysis of Vastern Timber’s greenhouse gas emissions data for 2021. The process of collecting the data was slow and painstaking, but it did reveal some interesting insights. 

Today we’re publishing the results: GHGE Report 2021

The Brimstone plant

Visiting the Brimstone plant

The technical bit

The audit includes Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions as defined in ISO 14064-1. Emissions of biogenic carbon from the biomass boiler are also reported in ‘out-of-scope’ emissions. And the report includes a calculation of the atmospheric sequestered carbon stored in the timber Vastern sold in 2021.

Discussing the Carbon Audit Report

Tom and Callum checking the figures

Vastern Timber’s 2021 Carbon audit results

The total scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions for Vastern Timber was 710 tonnes of CO2e (CO2e means Carbon dioxide equivalent – it’s a measure of all greenhouse gases).

That works out at 118kg of greenhouse gas emissions for each cubic metre of timber we sold in 2021.

Emission types

This figure includes three emission types. ‘Scope 1’ are the sources we directly own or control – such as our trucks and kilns. ‘Scope 2’ emissions are related to the electricity we buy. And ‘Scope 3’ comes from the goods and services that we purchase from others. 

Although out of scope, we did calculate the biogenic carbon captured in the timber we sold over the period. In 2021, this was almost 7000 tonnes. This ‘biogenic carbon’ is considered out of scope, because this recently captured carbon will eventually be released back into the environment. We expect a service life of many decades for most of our timber products but their longevity is out of our control. 

It makes sense that the benefit of long-term carbon capture in our timber products is not confused with the emissions data from their production. 

That said, it’s not unusual to see data presented in this way.

A kiln

This kiln runs on waste wood, and is reported as an ‘out of scope’ emission

118 kg of carbon per cubic metre – is that good or bad?

So, is 118 kg of CO2e per cubic metre a lot? Is this a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ number? In truth, we don’t really know because it’s hard to find comparable data. 

Before the audit, we already knew that wood, as a product, had lower embodied carbon than alternative materials like steel and concrete. The difficult part was finding data to compare against emissions of other wood and building material companies. 

Yes, many of the very large companies have assessed their carbon impact, but it seems that we’re breaking trail amongst small and medium sized manufacturing companies.

In reality, the value of the actual number is less important than knowing we now have an accurate baseline. It’s not a competition to see who can start with the lowest emission numbers – the numbers are what they are. All that matters is how far and how fast we can start reducing our emissions over the coming months.

For us, this audit is a ‘starter for ten’. We’re content that we’ve measured our emissions properly and honestly. Now we’re moving on to a strategy for reduction.

Discussing the Carbon Audit Report

Inside the Brimstone production plant

Lessons learned and next steps

We will repeat the process in 2023, and we have already taken some steps to reduce that headline figure of 118kg of CO2e / m3.

We’re electrifying our fleet of cars and developing strategies to reduce energy use in our production processes. We’ve increased the proportion of locally-grown timber that we buy and no longer ship wood from further afield than France. We’re also modifying our Brimstone product on site rather than shipping it to France and back. Plus, very soon you’ll start seeing solar panels appearing on our sheds.

Of course, no one’s perfect, and we’ve hit glitches that prevent us from reducing our negative environmental impact. For example, so far it’s proved impossible to get the necessary infrastructure in place to install solar panels. And we haven’t seen any electric powered timber trucks yet, so we’re having to stay with diesel for now. 

It’s worth remembering that CO2e emissions are only one measure of our social and environmental impact. Our impact on local woodlands is of vital importance. This is where we can have a really positive impact through engagement, donating and lobbying. We’re also aware that we have a social responsibility to our employees, suppliers and customers that can’t be measured in numbers. 

Beware of greenwash

Vastern Timber doesn’t claim to be ‘sustainable’ or ‘Net Zero’ but we are committed to being honest about our impact. That way our customers can make informed decisions.

We could perform some mathematical gymnastics and combine our emissions figures with those for sequestered carbon, to come up with a very marketable negative number. But that would be pure Greenwash. The fact is, our business does harm and we, along with all other businesses, have to find ways to reduce that harm to the lowest possible level.

We look forward to sharing updates on our progress and hopefully seeing similar carbon audits from more manufacturers in the timber and construction sectors.

Tom Barnes

Vastern Timber MD 

To read the report on Vastern Timber’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions, click here: GHGE Report 2021


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