Wood & Panel

John Kissock

 Thursday, January 13, 2022

John Kissock OBE, Chair of the Scottish Forest and Timber Technologies Advisory Group (SFTTAG) educates on the forest and more specifically timber industries in Scotland by answering queries about it. SFTTAG advises Scottish enterprise and Government on matters relating to sustainable economic development and opportunities provided by the forest & timber industries in the country.

The Scottish timber industry has reported good returns even amidst a Euro zone crisis – What are the reasons behind it?

John Kissock: Generally the Industry has benefited from substantial capital investment over a 25 year period. This has resulted in one of the most modern timber processing sectors in Western Europe. The confidence to make this level of investment comes from the rising log and small round wood availability within Scotland. As a consequence the industry has committed substantial resources to state-of-the-art harvesting, transport, sawmilling and board manufacture. The paper sector has invested in combined heat and power biomass plants to control energy and heat costs whilst also benefiting from Government incentives to encourage such investments. Many of these investments have been made to improve processing efficiency, but many also concentrate on satisfying customer demand on service and quality. Within the paper sector the significant rationalisation taken place has resulted in some very significant niche players. This has substantially enhanced the reputation of Scottish producers and it inspires loyalty from customers when tough economic times occur.

Favourable exchange rates also play an important role in customer decision-making processes and during this period the exchange rate balance has generally been in favour of the Scottish timber processing sector.

Your comments on difficult market scenario in the Finland forest industry.

John Kissock: The Finnish Forest Industry is largely dominated by large pulp and paper companies who tend to be fully integrated along the supply chain. The market in pulp and paper has been particularly difficult over the last few years and many of the large Finnish companies have been seeking to realign their business models to reflect changing market conditions. Raw material costs in Finland are very high. To some extent this reflects the decline in trade of raw material between Finland and the former Soviet Union, formerly a source of relatively inexpensive wood raw material. As a result of the highly integrated nature of the industry the pain is felt all the way along the supply chain.

How are you promoting wood as a construction material?

John Kissock: Wood is promoted as a construction material through a number of initiatives.

Wood for Good, the timber industry’s generic wood promotion campaign continues to promote wood as the material of choice in terms of its low carbon properties. In comparison with other building materials timber has one of the lowest embodied energy scores. By using timber architects and designers perpetuate the storage of carbon over the life of the building/construction. All of this contributes to Government policy aimed at promoting a low carbon built environment not only in the construction but also in the performance of the building.

Considerable research effort also goes into developing modern methods of construction involving offsite construction. Timber frame housing is the obvious example of this but there are other construction products made of wood which provide great opportunities to promote the use of wood in construction. Edinburgh’s Napier University is the home of the Wood Product Innovation Gateway where companies with new product ideas are encouraged to engage with the research community.

Some of the larger supermarket chains now use wood extensively in their modern commercial property developments. Whilst obviously tied to corporate social responsibility policies there is also ready acknowledgement that customers like the look and feel of buildings using timber extensively in their construction. Additionally strong economic benefits to using wood in construction have been identified on a number of projects.

How do you expect the market to fare in the ongoing year?

John Kissock: Industry has reported a tailing off in demand from the market in the last few weeks. For that reason most processors are adopting a cautious outlook as probably the best way to describe current trading. It is noteworthy that the sawmilling sector in the UK which is dominated by Scottish production achieved a 45 per cent market penetration in the UK in 2011. This was a fantastic performance, once again reflecting both the considerable investment made by the sector and an ability to respond to increased demand when the opportunity came along.

Given the pent up demand for housing throughout the UK, the outlook in the medium to long term has to be extremely positive for all elements of the supply chain. In particular the timber frame sector, having weathered the current storm, should be in a good position with some high performance systems to take advantage of any raise in demand.

What’s the strategy to deal with the recent plunge in demand?

John Kissock: By focusing on its strengths, which are the proximity to market and providing customers with what they need when they want it. In addition I believe we will have to work across the sector to look at opportunities to get more Scottish timber products into the Construction sector. Hopefully we will be able to build on previous links with Construction Scotland and to work together on research and innovation projects to achieve this goal.

What are the major challenges in the industry?

John Kissock: Speak to any of our Scottish companies involved in processing Scottish timber the answer will generally be the same – raw material into the future. In the next 15 – 20 years the industry is reasonably well placed for raw material supplies, but looking beyond that point there is genuine concern that available volumes will fall away unless urgent attention is given to the creation of additional productive woodlands.

In theory this should not be an issue since we have a Scottish Forestry Strategy, supported by the Scottish Government, which has a target of planting 15,000 hectares of additional woodland each year. Unfortunately, our current performance is considerably poorer than required to achieve this and the balance between productive and native woodland in terms of what is being planted is of great concern. Ideally we would like to see up to 10,000 hectares of productive woodland being established annually to allow the industry to develop and expand, and to continue to provide meaningful and well paid jobs in the rural communities.

What are steps taken to eliminate illegal logging?

John Kissock: Illegal logging is not a feature of European timber production. Timber produced in Scotland largely comes from certified forests, managed either under the Forestry Stewardship Council or the Pan European Forest Certification systems. These systems have been specifically designed to ensure that our forests are sustainably managed.

The Timber Trade Federation whose members are generally involved in the importation of wood and wood products now have to comply with a responsible purchasing policy (RPP) which requires detailed quantification of risk of illegal activity from all sources of supply.

It is worth noting that the bulk of illegally felled timber in the Tropics is aimed at producing wood and wood products, rather it is perpetrated to produce bare land for agriculture or palm oil production. Unfortunately, on many occasions the timber industry unfairly carries the weight of the criticism for these activities.

The UK Government has also established an organisation called CPET (Central Point of Expertise in Timber Procurement) where the emphasis is placed on education, training and certification to ensure inspectors and building standards professionals understand and can address the issues.

Sustainability – What’s your take on it. What are the steps taken to ensure sustainability of forest products from Scotland?

John Kissock: As mentioned in one of my earlier answers the Scottish Forestry Industry has already committed significant time and money to have Scottish Forests certified both in the State and Private Sector. This ensures a high standard of forest practice into the future. Chain of custody is the mechanism which provides reassurance to customers buying Scottish timber that it has been grown and managed to very high standards.

The process of photosynthesis is the original carbon capture and storage system.

The processes associated with producing timber products involve some of the lowest embodied energy amongst all of the construction products. The amount of energy consumed in producing steel, concrete and aluminium is considerably greater than timber. However in most buildings timber is used in conjunction with other building products and I would advocate we optimise the use of our scarce resources to reduce our impact on the environment. In some cases, perhaps to optimise performance this will favour steel but in other situations it may favour timber. The important issue is to give the design proper consideration. This is why Wood for Good has been working with Hackney Council in London to develop a regulatory/guidance framework which encourages developers, where technically possible, to consider timber in their designs.

How is the Accord signed between the trade bodies going to help the Scottish timber industry?

John Kissock: The Accord is designed to develop some joined up thinking across the industry and to help coordinate cross industry responses to some central themes. It recognises the need for the industry to communicate with one voice on certain important issues.

One particular area being pursued right now is a complete upgrade of data related to Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of timber and timber products. This information can be used in conjunction with Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’S) to give customers hard data on environmental performance of specific building products. Much information already exists, but this will be the first attempt across the industry to produce open source data available to all who may want to use it. Hopefully this information can ultimately be combined into computer models, BREEAM and the Green Guide to assist architects and designers in their quest to utilise more timber in their designs.

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