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2021 was a watershed year in the fight against climate change. The commitments and pledges at the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November surprised many with their far-reaching implications for the global economy and robust climate mitigation measures.

More than 30 of the world’s largest asset managers, such as Schroders and Axa, will no longer back investments linked to fossil fuels and deforestation, which marks a significant acceleration in global climate change mitigation policy.

Key to the global building materials market was the announcement of a pledge by 110 global leaders – including Brazil – to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Governments of 28 countries also committed to eliminate deforestation from the value chain of food and agricultural products such as palm oil, soya, cocoa and animal grazing.

In 2021, for the first time in more than 15 years of doing business, we saw the price of entry-level Eva-Last composite products reach parity with hardwood alternatives such as massaranduba. Globally, the prices of hardwood decking materials have increased significantly year on year, driving home-build inflation of 19% in North America and exerting a similar influence worldwide.

Though there is a Covid-19-related logistics component to the current price of raw materials, we believe the major shift in the building materials industry – which has driven a significant increase in demand for Eva-Last’s composite building materials – is permanent and will not be reversed, for a number of reasons.

Hardwood timber products are typically harvested from naturally growing forests which have been cut down due to the expansion of agricultural and grazing land to produce commodities. With COP26’s pledges signalling a tougher stance on deforestation, it is unlikely that the supply of hardwood timber alternatives will ever keep pace with growing global demand for building supplies.

Hardwood trees that are planted today as part of the reversal of deforestation will take around 50 years to grow to maturity, which is too long to form part of a sustainable growing cycle for a manufacturer.

Finally, and most importantly, the case for composite building materials is too compelling. Eva-Last’s original mission statement in 2006 was to create and manufacture environmentally friendly products, given the rationale that supplies of hardwoods must eventually run out.

Eva-Last’s manufacturing facility runs on solar energy, using bamboo fibres and recycled high density polyethylene plastics. Backed by Forestry Stewardship Council certification, the use of bamboo not only preserves natural hardwood forests but entails a number of environmental benefits.

Research has shown that bamboo is a highly effective absorber of CO2 – especially when products manufactured from bamboo replace carbon-intensive, non-renewable products. Bamboo can be planted on unproductive agricultural land, degraded grassland and eroded slopes, and requires almost no additional inputs such as fertiliser or irrigation to grow rapidly.

Bamboo is classified as a grass and takes just four years to reach full maturity. Harvesting takes place above the roots, so the same plant produces successive generations of the resource. In China, we have witnessed rapid economic growth and education transforming the country’s middle-class workforce, resulting in a shortage of labour. The typical use cases for bamboo as a raw material, such as scaffolding and handheld fans, are in decline.

This has had the unintended consequence of creating a natural hazard. Failure to harvest naturally occurring bamboo in its dormant winter months has raised a fire risk for communities originally built around these resources. This means there is still significant supply in China that can be redirected toward the manufacture of composite products, maintaining input cost levels for at least the next decade.

The collection of post-manufacturing and post-consumer-use plastics is also increasing exponentially year on year, creating a sustainable, low-cost raw material input into the business.

COP26’s outcomes have aligned with our view that timber hardwood as a raw material is an unsustainable resource and we believe it will quickly become too expensive for the majority of building projects. 2022 looks set to mark the beginning of an irreversible and meaningful change that will reshape the building materials market over the next decade.

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