Michael Lee from the Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood

Q&A with Michael Lee from the Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood

  •   20 October 2020

Thanks to the commitment and hard work of its people and businesses, Tasmanian Timber is one of the most sustainable materials available to the Australian architecture and construction industry. We caught up with Michael Lee, Senior Technical Manager at the University of Tasmania’s Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood to find out where the industry is focused, and what the future holds.


Hi Mick, tell us about your experience and your role with Tasmanian Timber.

My role with Tasmanian Timber is through the Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood at the University of Tasmania. I have a long history in both academia as well as on the technical side within the timber industry and at this stage I’ve probably spent about 20 years in each camp. I currently work with the Tasmanian Timber suppliers, operating the Quality Assurance Program, and I answer the Tasmanian Timber Expert Helpline.


Can you explain a bit more about the role of the Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood?

CSAW is all about the use of timber in the built environment – all timbers, but mostly with a Tasmanian-centric focus. We’re not just an academic institution, we engage closely with industry – sitting on the Australian Standards councils and working closely with processors to get the best products and the best processes for the industry.


So, tell us a bit more about Tasmanian Timber. What is it exactly?

Tasmanian Timber is a marketing campaign that is funded by the government of Tasmania and the processors of Tasmanian timber. The Tasmanian Timber Promotion Board (TTPB) is funded by a levy on sawlogs from the public forest along with additional voluntary contributions from industry. So, for every cubic meter of timber a processor purchases from the public forest, $1 goes toward marketing the end product.  So, the TTPB is not a lobbying body, its sole purpose is the promotion of Tasmanian timber species to maximise the value of what we’re harvesting from forests and plantations.


Why is sustainability important to Tasmanian Timber?

The future of the sector rests with how sustainable we can be. With timber it’s all about harvesting and then regenerating everything you touch, and in Tasmania 100% of what is harvested is regenerated. From that perspective, it’s the basics of business – you don’t deplete the resource your business is built on. But it’s far more than that.

Sustainability is also about maximising recovery from every log and minimising waste. We’re doing things like cutting veneers to maximise the very rare species like Huon Pine or Blackheart Sassafras that are only available in tiny volumes. We’re making engineered timber and investing in new technologies like Glue Laminated Timber that can turn offcuts into benchtops, stair treads and other products. Sawdust from the mills is used by the agricultural industry for pig farms and the like. And then the stuff that is truly unusable for any other product goes to heating the boilers at the local swimming pool and creating wood fire pellets for domestic heating. So absolutely nothing is wasted.

And there is another key point here which is that we are just harvesting less timber. If we take Tasmania in the 1970s there were large volumes of trees coming out of the forests. The mill I first worked at produced about 350,000 cubic metres of timber per year, and that was one of several mills producing similar volumes across Tasmania. The industry realised that these volumes weren’t sustainable and made changes. Now, the entire industry only produces about 127,000 cubic metres per year. So, these days it’s a real nose to tail story in order to get the most out of what is a very precious resource.


What are some of the goals Tasmanian Timber has for the future?

We’re trying to build the most sustainable and resourceful industry possible. In Tasmania we have two main resources: regenerated forest estate and ‘thinned and pruned’ sawlog estate. The regen forest timber is the beautiful stuff for furniture, lining and flooring, whereas the plantation grown timber is very pale in colour and grain, which makes it perfect for construction applications. Now, you can’t get another tree into our public forest estates, they are 100% at capacity. So we’re working with another campaign which has just launched, called the Tree Alliance, to communicate one of the most critical messages for Tasmania: there isn’t anywhere else left to plant trees other than farmland. So, we’re working with farmers to create more sawlog plantations incorporated into the agricultural landscape in shelterbelts and woodlots that will ultimately provide mutual benefit for both the agriculture and forestry industries – and more sustainably produced timber for Australia.


What else is on the horizon?

We’re really pushing technological innovation within the industry. For example, the Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood has seven National Institute for Forest Products Innovation (NIFPI) projects going on at the moment looking at everything from accelerated durability testing to exciting new appearance products and modification projects as well. We’re also looking at how to employ new sensing technology – weather stations and so on – to provide the best data back from the plantations. We’ve almost finished an app that the timber companies can use to maximise their returns over different seasons. So everything at the moment is geared towards getting the best bang for buck and making the most out of the product that’s there.

For more information visit Tasmanian Timber.



Bought to you in association with Tasmanian Timber. Proud Sponsor of 2020 Sustainability Awards.

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