Friday, 26 April 2013

Everything has a price

This photo of a lonely and confused koala sitting on the remains of his former home headlined a Treehugger article a few days ago.  Not a good look, and especially not a good international advertisement for Australia.

Of course, nothing is quite so simple.  It is appropriate to acknowledge that the original article quotes both the forestry service and WIRES, describing the responsible protocol of moving wildlife before clear felling.

But equally, it is worth looking harder at the picture, and remembering some basic ecology.

The koalas live in native hardwood forests, eating a very particular range of eucalyptus leaves.  They are famously fussy about that.  So we are looking at a clear felled mature native forest.  In the background we see the unmistakable likely reason for the clear felling. It is the dark green line of conifers, most likely the quick growing pinus radiata.  Plantations of this import from California have been steadily eroding native forest for decades in eastern Australia, supplying the home building industry.

Timber is assumed to be a good building material, because it is renewable and sequesters carbon.  But sometimes it is good to be reminded that simply accepting that crude premise, without further questions as to the chain of custody, is not all there is to being a BEE (a Building professional who is Environmentally aware and Ecologically literate).


Zixuan Lan said...

Since the start of human history, architecture has been one of our most important ways of changing and adapting the nature. Architectural thoughts have varied with time. In the past few years, environmentally friendliness has arouse an unprecedented public interest.
By definition of some, environmental protection means 'the methods of harvesting or using resources so that the resources are not depleted or permanently damaged.' Undoubtedly, timber falls into 'renewable resource' category, especially those quick growing species. Pinus radiata in this story, is 'green' in many ways in that it grows up quickly in monocultures and is of a fair price, which is mentioned in However it is not necessarily as green as it seems. As an invasive species, it is on the other hand affecting our native flora and fauna in a destructive way.
Instead of monocultures, mixed species plantation could be a better choice as a timber source as it is more close to a natural growing community. Species wise, there are only a few tree species which can stand purely on their own. also mentioned that the plantation of hoop pine or eucalypt is also viable in large commercial quantities. Instead of logging down thousands of eucalypts, could this be a better solution for both architectural material and koala food?

Reference links:
Sustainable architectural design:
Wood selection guide:
Australian grown timber species:
Timber sourcing recommendations:

Anonymous said...

Good blog post. We are doing some work with UNEP at present on 'greening the supply chain' and it is evident that the building sector really has little clue about where materials come from. At best they look for clues on the internet and outsource their research to rating tools. The approach of policy makers to 'greening' a supply chain favours regulation. But the system itself is not designed to be sustainable – so regulations at best will treat the symptom rather that the cause. It would be great to get some architectural thinking about 'eco' redesigning the supply chain rather than just the 'product of the building'… Even just mapping a supply chain for one building type in one city would be a great start – a possible studio?

chennedy said...

Apparently, this koala is sitting on a commercial pine plantation and it may be its former home or its home range. Koalas are nocturnal and may sleep up to 20 hours therefore it seems more likely it’s resting on the half way to other eucalyptus habitat. The term ’plantation’ indicates crops or trees are artificially-established on a large scale for commercial purpose. In this article, pine rediata is planting for lumber. Australia needs cheap and fast-growing timber as main source of paper and construction material but the price to pay is the loss of biodiversity.

If deforested can’t be full stopped, then it’s vital to finding a way in between to balance native habitat and timber production. The new study of Forest and Wood Products Australia found that appropriately managed production forest landscapes have a similar biodiversity to that of largely undisturbed landscaped. For instance, tall eucalypt forests do not necessarily need to be in large reserves to provide suitable habitat for their associated animals and plants. Rather, it is possible to effectively integrate the conservation of these species with wood production. Therefore, compare to clear cutting of pine radiate or eucalyptus in a large area, its better concentrating on retention in large reserves and focusing harvesting in a smaller area outside those reserves.

Moreover, it is also crucial to find an alternative material for timber. Therefore, hemp as a new material has to be introduced. The fibre inside the stem of hemp is highly valued due to its length, strength and durability and it’s used for making paper, ropes, sails and construction materials especially combined with lime as hemp-lime. Before 1840s, there was an Australian botanist called Sir Joseph Banks grow a variety called Cannabis Sativa, which now used worldwide for growing industrial hemp. The long history of Australian’s growing hemp indicated hemp can survive and easily as an alternative material for timber.

In an architectural student point of view, architects should take responsibility for choosing the appropriate sustainable material in design and construction process. Everyone has the responsibility to take care of the sustainable of ecological environment of earth, or someday it’s human being who sitting on the remains of former home.

Native Forest Biodiversity Study

Architectural Firm using Hemp

Information on Hemp

Hemp History in Australia

Persistence of mature forest biodiversity elements in a production forest landscape managed under a Regional Forest Agreement