Supplying Sustainable Timber

Australian Sustainable Hardwoods

Already, ASH’s hardwood sawmill is the largest of its kind in Australia, processing approximately 155,000cubic metres of Victorian Ash and Australian Oak sawlog every year.

GoodWood

ASH carries out all of its manufacturing and processing at two state of the art facilities located in Heyfield Victoria. The production cycle begins with internationally certified timber, which guarantees that all of the logs are sourced in an environmentally responsible way. The company’s greenmill converts these sawlogs into slabs of timber which are then sent to the processing plant for kiln drying, processing, and manufacturing.

“It is quite a unique business in that we take [the wood] right from the raw material stage, all the way through to finished components,” CEO Vince Hurley points out. “We are one of the very few to do that.” The timber components may be used in a variety of objects including staircases, windows, doors, flooring, furniture, and structural beams.

ASH’s finished components are all sold under the company’s GoodWood brand. GoodWood stands out for its commitment to sustainability and for the high quality of the product, Mr Hurley says. Not only are all GoodWood products fully PEFC certified by the Australian Forestry Standard (AFS), they are also strong, durable, and aesthetically pleasing. “When an architect or a building designer specifies GoodWood they know what they are getting,” Mr Hurley explains. “They don’t have to worry about whether or not it is certified, or produced in an environmentally responsible way. They don’t need to worry about whether the quality is good or not. They don’t need to worry about whether it is available or not. [These things] are what GoodWood means.”

These combined qualities are giving imported hardwoods a run for their money. “It does give people a really good alternative,” Mr Hurley reports. For starters, very few tropical hardwood importers can guarantee that their wood has been responsibly sourced. In addition, Mr Hurley says that imported hardwoods tend to come at a hefty price yet often lack the quality that discerning consumers are seeking. Furthermore, there are only a handful of Australian companies that can offer a viable alternative to these costly and questionably sourced imports. “We don’t have a lot of domestic processing competition,” Mr Hurley explains. “There are not many other products that can put all the things together that GoodWood means.”

GoodWood has been so well received in fact that ASH is increasing its production capabilities to keep up with the demand. The company is investing nearly $3 million to build a second manufacturing plant in Heyfield. In addition to producing more product, the new facility will be able to recover more usable material from each log, minimising waste and maximising profit. “We are able to use a lot more short and narrow pieces to produce the components,” Mr Hurley explains. “So it is a good thing environmentally, [and] it allows us to really handle the increasing demand for the product as well.”

Sustainability

GoodWood is a remarkably sustainable and environmentally friendly building material. For starters, ASH only uses regrowth timber from VicForests, the Victorian Government’s commercial forestry business. This forest is carefully managed so that the harvesting rate never exceeds the growth rate of the forest. In fact, the entire harvesting operation carefully mimics the natural workings of a forest. Harvests must be small and spread out to minimise impact, and the bark and leaves from a felled tree are left behind on the forest floor to maintain the nutrient cycle. The seed is also collected from each felled tree and is resown to preserve the genetic cycle. “We mimic the natural process in how it is harvested and regenerated,” CEO Vince Hurley explains. “So the only thing really leaving the site is stored carbon.”

Timber also takes a relatively small amount of energy to process. “Our energy use is very, very low,” Mr Hurley points out, “unlike many of the competitive products, such as aluminium and concrete, which take a very, very high input of energy in order to create them into a usable form.” Wood, on the other hand, is produced by nature, using the ultimate eco-friendly energy source. “The sun is what powers most of what we do,” Mr Hurley points out. “When we get the timber, all we have to do is put it in a form that makes it usable, because the sun has basically created it for us.” Timber also saves energy in the long run because it acts as a natural insulator, making it an ideal material for windows and doors.

ASH also processes its timber using environmentally responsible methods. “We are actually able to burn our dry sawdust in suspension to create the heat and steam we need,” Mr Hurley explains. “So we actually use our dry waste. It is a very, very clean way of burning fuel.” This burning process creates “extremely low emissions and no chemicals,” as opposed to conventional alternatives such as coal. ASH also has a zero waste policy. For example, any wood that is unusable for the company’s products will be chipped and turned into paper, rather than being thrown away. Efforts like these have earned the company accreditation to the international environmental standard ISO-14000. “[Being] internationally certified means that we can say that what we are doing is as environmentally responsible as it can possibly be,” Mr Hurley explains. “We really do try and maintain as high quality environmental credentials as we can.”

Looking Ahead

Wood is naturally an excellent building material, but ASH is rolling out a new product that will expand the use of timber even further. The team has recently developed leading edge treatments that will protect timber from both fire and water damage. “Victorian Ash already is pretty good in both [areas], but by applying this treatment we are able to make it really excel,” Mr Hurley explains. “The new treatments will allow wood to be used externally in very high fire danger areas and also in very exposed positions.” This treated timber will be ideal for windows, doors, and decks in high fire danger areas or in humid, moist environments where wood would typically rot.

With so much to offer consumers, the team is confident that ASH will continue growing its market space. And, with a new facility in the works, the company will be well prepared to meet the increased demand. ASH already boasts sales in every state, and exports overseas, but the bulk of its business has traditionally been limited to its home state of Victoria. “We are looking to grow our markets and compete with imports in New South Wales and Queensland,” Mr Hurley reports. “In New South Wales and Queensland, the window, doors, staircase, and commercial fit out market is largely from imported timber, some of it of dubious origin.” The team wants to offer consumers throughout Australia a viable alternative to imported hardwoods, which may be harvested through illegal logging.

Mr Hurley believes that the key to breaking into a wider market is communication. “We need to make sure that people understand the truth about our products,” he explains. “That is always a challenge, making sure that people understand exactly what they are getting.” Proving that ASH products truly do offer a more environmentally responsible alternative is crucial to gaining consumer support. “That is one of the reasons that we have got the certification. So people don’t have to [blindly] trust what we are saying.” Instead, the company’s internationally recognised environmental certification proves beyond a doubt that ASH maintains the strictest environmental standards. “That is the way we are overcoming that communication challenge.”

Mr Hurley believes that timber – and environmentally certified timber in particular – will continue to increase in popularity as consumers become more and more environmentally conscientious. He also foresees a wider variety of practical uses for timber in Australia. “I see it growing not only in demand because it is environmentally friendly,” Mr Hurley explains, “I also see a lot more applications occurring.” The Australian construction market is ready to give timber its due, Mr Hurley insists, and ASH is ready to supply the high quality, environmentally responsible product that the industry deserves.

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July 14, 2020, 1:09 PM AEST