Carbon, Collaborations, Construction, Industry, Interview, Timber | 08 April 2022
Latham’s and their Carbon Calculator.
James Latham is dedicated to creating sustainable change in construction.
Latham’s are the UK’s largest independent distributor of timber panel products. They have a rich heritage spanning over 260 years and have been regarded as pioneers throughout this time. They have now launched an innovative Carbon Calculator and have asked Kiss House to be an ambassador for it.
Stuart Devoil, Group Head of Marketing at Latham’s says, “in our ambassadors, we were looking for people with similar values, and a pioneering spirit but who could also inform, guide and collaborate with us as we continued through our journey into the unknown. Kiss House fit that bill perfectly and we look to them as experts in the field of low carbon design.”
The Latham’s Carbon Calculator measures the carbon impact of the products within the Latham’s product range. It is a fantastic piece of work — which is great for us at Kiss House because we use Latham’s products meaning the calculator helps us to better understand the carbon impact of our material choices.
We spoke to Stuart Devoil to find out more.
What matters most to Latham's and why?
Like Kiss House, delivering the highest quality service is at the heart of our business and influences everything we do. Having been in business since 1757, we’re aware of the importance of maintaining a reputation for excellence. We’re very much a people-first business and are proud to have a highly experienced team as well as long-standing client relationships.
Our enduring commitment to sustainability means we are always at the forefront of legislative and policy driven change. This ensures our products are of the highest calibre and are purchased in accordance with the most stringent global environmental legislation.
We are also dedicated to innovation and are constantly looking at ways in which we can enhance our services and add value for our customers. We never rest on our laurels and are regarded by the industry as pioneers and forward-thinkers, hence the Carbon Calculator!
What is the carbon calculator? What does it do and who is it for?
Effectively, the carbon calculator is a back-end tool for specifiers. It is designed to give them confidence when selecting for sustainability. Using official and publicly available data, as well as manufacturer product information, it collates and aggregates environmental impact according to three criteria: Carbon Footprint, Embodied Carbon and Data Confidence. Once evaluated, the product receives a confidence rating from 1-4 (1 being the best). The lower the score, the higher the availability/quality of data points reviewed. The final rating, including carbon data, is then added to the quotations, invoices, delivery notes and other key documents, delivering a tangible, codified proof point.
This ensures a robust product audit trail, providing valuable information for future carbon reporting and responding to sustainability brief requirements.
How did the Carbon Calculator originate?
Simply put, the Carbon Calculator has been developed in response to the increasing appetite in the specifier community for accurate and transparent data around the sustainability of the timber they choose for their projects.
Particularly, as sustainability becomes a central requirement in the design brief, it’s important specifiers can be confident in the quality of information and validity of certification which underlies the green claims made throughout the supply chain.
Following extensive feedback from our clients, we decided to develop a methodology which would highlight the breadth and depth of sustainable information available for all types of timber within our portfolio. We teamed up with the University of Bangor’s Bio Composites Centre and developed a back-end scoring system to calculate and rate the quality of available sustainability-related data to inspire specifier confidence when using timber.
“It's helping to better communicate our position as sustainability champions, demonstrating best practice as a material distributor.”
Stuart Devoil, Lathams
What was your vision for the project?
Our key aim was to add value to our service and to respond to evolving needs. Requirements around sustainable specification are becoming more stringent and, as a leading distributors of what is arguably the most sustainable construction material category worldwide, we wanted to demonstrate unrivalled knowledge of the supply chain, from forest to processing, building project, to whole life and beyond.
As timber becomes increasingly recognised for its benefits in the race to net zero construction, ownership and distribution of carbon data differentiates us from our competitors and provides comfort for those specifying our materials.
How did you create the calculator and how did you collaborate with Bangor University?
Our compliance team created the Carbon Calculator in partnership with the University of Bangor, requiring the collation and management of large swathes of information, certification, and documents to build the data required to support the calculations.
The University of Bangor was instrumental in helping to define the methodology and framework of the calculator, developing the crucial equations to automate the process and crunch the large amount of data collected, from which we could achieve final ratings.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and why? Did any of these surprise you?
I think the sheer amount of data we had to compile from multiple sources, was a major challenge. We had to approach this company by company, region by region, nation by nation. As you can imagine, different countries have different standards and approaches. It was vital that all these were considered and understood to deliver as accurate a scoring system as possible.
Can you tell us why industry collaboration is so important to accomplish something like this?
In a project such as our Carbon Calculator, we knew where we wanted to go, but weren’t necessarily sure of how we’d get there or where the journey might take us along the way. Our compliance team had done an excellent job in collating a wealth of data but needed assistance in bringing it together in a useful form.
By collaborating with specialists from specific areas of the industry, we received invaluable guidance from experienced partners. The team at Bangor University were absolutely critical. They understood what we were trying to do and had the academic prowess to turn it into a reality – we just needed to provide them with the hard—to—find data.
We knew our Carbon Calculator would be a huge step forward for us and unique within the timber distribution sector. However, we also realised that we were at the start of our journey and still had lots to learn. We wanted to form a team of ambassadors to help us understand the impact and relevance of what we were trying to do from various stakeholder positions.
From a product perspective, both UPM Plywood and Accsys Technologies (manufacturers of Accoya wood) are world leaders in the manufacture of environmentally conscious construction products. They lead the way in understanding carbon from a supplier perspective and have a suite of key documentation such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to back this up. They helped us understand what was important and what was superfluous (or even in some cases misleading….)
From a designer / architect perspective, Kiss House helped us understand why all this information is valuable to our customers. We thought that providing carbon data would be beneficial to those people designing, specifying, and constructing buildings, be we needed to test that on somebody to whom low carbon construction is fundamental. We were lucky that Kiss House agreed to work with us, and even more lucky to learn that they appreciated and valued the work we’d undertaken. We’ve been in the timber distribution trade for 265 years, so we’re experienced and established, but we’re not experts in every field. Collaborating with specialists like Accsys Technologies, UPM and Kiss House fills the gaps in our knowledge and makes for a more rounded and informed project team.
“As timber becomes increasingly recognised for its benefits in the race to net zero construction, ownership and distribution of carbon data differentiates us from our competitors and provides comfort for those specifying our materials.”
Stuart Devoil, Lathams
Tell us about lessons learned and successes along the way?
In terms of successes, we have been delighted by the feedback received from our specifier audience, who universally see the value in this exercise. It’s helping them make more confident selections and adds another layer to the service we offer.
What are your hopes for the Carbon Calculator going forward?
Developing the Carbon Calculator has been a long and intense process. At the end of it we knew we’d done a good job, but the data seemed a little dry. Working with our Ambassadors to bring it to life and demonstrate the real value of that data to the wider construction sector is where the project really started to gain traction. Customers and influencers are now starting to ask for data and are making critical product selection choices on the back of it. This means less carbon will be used in construction and the environment will benefit from that. Makes all that hard work seem worthwhile!
We hope the Carbon Calculator becomes a standard, back-end tool for timber selection and specification. The first phase of the project has focused on our purely timber based products, covering around 70% of our entire product portfolio. Moving into phase 2, we’ll be looking at composite products such as melamines, where substrates and surfaces may originate from entirely different sources to be manufactured into a finished product.
The carbon footprint recording process becomes much more complex then, as these materials may have been originally manufactured in different regions or even countries before they are brought together in the factory of our supplier.
Of course, we’re always looking at the ways in which we can make our operations and services more sustainable, and this is just one of many initiatives and campaigns we’re undertaking as part of our holistic ESG Strategy.
Please can you tell us about Futurebuild and why you invited us to be guests on your stand?
We’re so pleased to have collaborated with Kiss House on our stand at Futurebuild 2022. As our project developed, we realised we needed a “big bang” to bring it to the attention of not just the timber sector, but the sustainable construction audience in its entirety.
Futurebuild was the obvious choice, but I didn’t want to opt for a plain old trade stand, as I think they are a little dated and sometimes even intimidating to visitors.
I also liked the idea of a seminar theatre more than an exhibition stand, as we were looking to educate visitors on our new online Carbon Calculator function more than demonstrate our range of products. The event organisers were aware of Kiss House and had been keen to get them to feature at the show for some time, so the idea of actually building parts of a house from our top performing low carbon products, which could then act as the seminar theatre seemed ambitious but feasible. The team at Kiss House were keen to continue our relationship and could bring bona-fide knowledge on sustainable construction to our audience, so it seemed the obvious solution.
The installation looked amazing and brought both brands to life, as well as emphasising our shared passion for quality, sustainability, and innovation.
Feedback from visitors has been outstanding and to cap it all, the organisers decided to award us the title of best sustainable stand; an accolade we should both be very proud of!
Thank you so much Stuart for taking the time to answer our questions and again for inviting us to be part of your Futurebuild experience. We had a great time!
We are looking forward to our future collaborations.
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