5 November 2010 – Look with me now, if you will, at snapshots of two places where some people are seeking to use resources sustainably, one in Australia, the other in forests around the world, which are being logged for cities everywhere.

Here I’ll focus on something that’s found in every project in every city on Earth – timber.

Building city infrastructure – and living and working in cities – depends on cutting down trees.

But trees are a key asset in sustaining Earth’s climate. No trees, or too few trees, and we cut down the climate we have at the moment.

Timber for Earth’s cities

One in every 10 trees cut down on Earth is illegally harvested and sold into most of the world’s countries, including Australia.

Illegal timber in Australia is used for hoardings, formwork, furniture, cladding, packaging, toilet paper, and these products are widely available across Australia in hardware outlets, the big shopping chains, builders supplies.

How much of this timber, I wonder, will continue to be the formwork for the new power stations, the roadworks, the bicycle routes, the parks, or will continue to be used in computer furniture, toilet rolls and packaging in the building sites and offices of places seeking to achieve sustainable use of resources?

For Australians this is fair question because the federal government refuses to join with other countries in making such blood timber imports illegal.

(It’s called, “blood timber’, after the former trade in blood diamonds; like the diamonds which were once mined in murderous and violent environments then sold into the hands of the un-knowing rich overseas, a trade now largely ended because governments and businesses banned their extraction and sale. Timber that’s illegally logged involves large scale and violent criminal activities – far from the madding crowd, which buys its products in our shopping malls and hardware outlets.)

In a scrupulous and detailed review of the Australian timber import industry and carried out for the Australia Institute, Caroline Hoisington writes:

“Illegal logging is a major cause of deforestation and environmental destruction; it undermines nations’ efforts to manage forest resources for a sustainable industry, destroys the livelihood of forest-dwellers and costs governments large sums in lost revenue. It fosters corruption and
is associated with organised crime and violence. It undercuts the international and Australian domestic markets for wood products from legally managed forestry by being cheaper.

“Deforestation is responsible for about 20 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and illegal logging is responsible for a large part of the deforestation. Continued illegal logging demonstrates that governments cannot protect their forest resources and it undermines their credibility for participation in the REDD mechanism, [reduced
emissions from deforestation and forest destruction].

“Ultimately, illegal logging is market driven and a significant part of the demand is international. Australia inadvertently contributes to these problems by importing timber and wood products, including wooden furniture, without adequate controls in place to ensure that the wood is legally sourced. The lack of legal mechanisms available to Customs for the control of illegal wood imports is inconsistent with the goal of Australia’s aid program, environmentally sound management of natural resources among neighbouring countries and at home. It may benefit the importers of certain products by keeping prices low but those artificially low prices undercut Australia’s own forestry and forestry based industries. Several specific measures are recommended to ensure that timber and wood-product imports are legally sourced.”  (1)

Curumbin Ecovillage, Australia

This 144 lot village on former farmland a few kilometres from the Coolangatta airport on Queensland’s Gold Coast has 50 houses built and 15 under construction since it went to market some ten years ago. It’s not connected to mains water or sewage but does use mains grid electricity; https://theecovillage.com.au/

Two years of data from the first houses built in 2009 measured energy and water use but did not measure the use of timber. More on that later.

The data shows that:

•    water use is 196L/pp/day, higher than typical Gold Coast homes (180 L/pp/day) but all of this water is supplied by a combination of large (? 25 kL) rainwater tanks and recycled water from a cluster scale sewerage treatment and water reclamation plant.

•    the high energy use of the household rainwater pumps is offset by the total household electricity use which is less than a third of that of an average Queensland home. This use reduces to a sixth of the average when total energy (electricity and gas) is compared. The low energy consumption results from the use of gas boosted solar hot water systems, housing design which did not require air conditioning and roof mounted photovoltaic electricity.

•    Energy use of the sewage treatment and reclamation plant is ? 1.1 kWh per kilolitre which is less than an equivalent centralised plant (eg Pimpama Coomera) and is due to the low energy systems used to reduce organic load (septic tanks, recirculating textile filter –  that’s a thing which keeps water going around and around in it; it’s brand is the Innoflow system).  (2)

Truly, sustainability will only be achieved when the truth comes out about it.

We need to know what works, what doesn’t.

With data on successes and failures we can improve what we do. It’s terrific to see The Ecovillage accounting for water and energy, and they’re setting a fine example of openness. That data can inform new projects and allow the Ecovillage to improve it’s own performance over time.

It will be interesting to look for an account from those seeking to make our cities sustainable of the way they use trees to get there.

Let’s hope there’s an accounting method soon for timber use – in all its forms, from The Ecovillage, and every would-be sustainable project around Australia.

After all, what does it matter if we use water and energy efficiently, perhaps even sustainably, if we do that by using timber and its products from forests which are sustaining our climate?

(1) Rough trade, How Australia’s trade policies contribute to illegal logging in the Pacific Region, Institute Paper No. 5
October 2010, ISSN 1836-8948

(2) The EcoVillage at Currumbin – a model for decentralised development, by Barry Hood, Ted Gardner, Ryan Barton, Richard Gardiner, Cara Beal, Richard Hyde and ChrisWalton
Michael Mobb’s book “Sustainable House 2nd Edition” is available from his website:www.sustainablehouse.com.au

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who advises, teaches and speaks on sustainability issues. He works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy. www.sustainablehouse.com.au


Michael Mobb’s book “Sustainable House 2nd Edition” is available from his website:www.sustainablehouse.com.au