Building a Sustainable Future with Timber: The Role of the Global Changemakers

Exploring the Advanced Certificate Course in Design Thinking and The Art of Sustainability in the Pursuit of a Greener Future.

Wed 15 Mar 23


According to a recent report by the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, the building and construction industry is responsible for a widening gap between climate performance and the 2050 decarbonization pathway.

This is backed up by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) which confirms that the built environment represents over 33% of global final energy use, generates nearly 40% of global energy-related GHG emissions and consumes 40% of global raw materials. Global population growth and urbanization will require a massive increase in urban infrastructure.

With current trends in energy demand, construction will result in a threefold increase in energy consumption and emissions by 2050 – a scary prospect! In short, we need to change the way we approach construction – selecting lower embodied carbon materials like timber and being smarter with construction techniques.

In September 2021, I interviewed Associate Professor Winston Chow, a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who spoke out on the “cooling qualities” of timber, the importance of “embodied carbon” and advocated the greater use of timber in buildings.

Footage courtesy of @protiotypedesignscience6912

This is why I’m so passionate about my latest course on “Design Thinking and The Art of Sustainability for the Workplace and Built Environment”, which draw attention to the role that timber can play in the climate solution.

Part of the Global Changemakers Professional Development Series offered by Sustain Ability Showcase Asia (SASA) and Kowabunga! Global, the course incorporates the work of the Green Buildings and the Resilient Cities movements regionally, globally, and here in Singapore.

The very green interior atrium of Parkroyal Collection, Marina Bay Singapore.
The very green interior atrium of Parkroyal Collection, Marina Bay Singapore.

The course also explores Gregory Cornelius’s six storey Protiotype’s Design Future Build initiative which was showcased as a digital exhibit at the London Design Festival in 2021.

I worked with Greg and some of his architecture/design colleagues on this project and we came up with a few key points to show that wood is for good in more ways than one.

Conclusively, “timber is at the heart of our design, because we know it works effectively to reduce embodied carbon in the structure of buildings, large and small, all over the world”.

Gregory Cornelius, Founder of PAL (Protiotype Architecture Lab) at Faculty of Architecture King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL), Thailand
We also identified at least five reasons for the adoption of timber for the built environment:
  • Building with wood, can reduce a building’s carbon emissions by 60%;
  • Wood safely stores CO2 and reduces the embodied carbon, compared to steel and concrete;
  • Timber is renewable, recyclable, reusable and has a positive effect on physical and mental health;
  • Building with sustainable timber is eco-efficient, as it creates more value with less environmental impact;
  • The light and strong qualities of MET are ideal for realising the productivity benefit of Off Site Manufacturing.

The Design Thinking course highlights real-life case studies, while drawing attention to leading thinkers, architects and designers in the field, including:

  • Tai Lee Siang, Head of Architecture and Sustainable Design at Singapore University of Technology & Design SUTD), former Chairman of the World Green Building Council and author of “Cities of Love“;
  • Janis Birkeland, author of “Design for Sustainability” and currently Honorary Professional Fellow, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne
  • Sacha Kagan, author of “Art and Sustainability” and “Let artists shape a resilient city“, based on a paper he gave in Singapore at i Light Marna Bay in 2014;
  • Jason Pomeroy, an award-winning architect academic, author and TV presenter, who relocated from London to Singapore in 2008. He is the Founder of sustainable urbanism, architecture, design and research firm, Pomeroy Studio.

And, of course, I cannot avoid showcasing the work of Venturer Timberwork, which was founded by Kevin Hill in 1995, initially with an “ambitious” project for the National Parks Board. He went on to build many more Mass Engineered Timber (MET) projects around the world, with one of the latest Singapore projects being for the Kong Meng San Phor Kark which was exclusively covered by Wood Central.

Footage courtesy of @ministryoftropicalconstruc6090

Like other courses in the series, this one takes into account climate change impacts and all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), along with population growth and out of control urban development.

While initially this is being offered as an ”in-person” course of 16 hours class-time workshop style in Singapore, we do think it lends itself to be offered to a much wider selection of people in business and the community, so it can be adapted and presented to suit different corporate needs or organisational situations. In different countries and cities too!

If there’s sufficient demand, maybe it could be offered online – in association with Wood Central of course! – as a course of study resulting in an Advanced Certificate in Design Thinking and the Art of Sustainability for the Workplace and the Built Environment.

Meantime, if you’re interested and in Singapore, register today and avoid disappointment.


  • Ken Hickson

    Ken Hickson is a journalist/editor/author with 60 years' experience in Media in Asia Pacific, with a strong focus on sustainable forestry, mass engineered timber, and drawing attention to deforestation, illegal logging, and out of control forest fires. He is also a Wood Central Southeast Asia contributor.


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