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  • Procuring sustainable timber - interview with Julia Young, WWF

Procuring sustainable timber - interview with Julia Young, WWF

What are the most important questions to ask when procuring timber? What are typical procurement mistakes and how to avoid them? How to distinguish between sustainably sourced timber and potentially non-sustainable sources? We have asked expert Julia Young, Global Forest & Trade Network Manager UK.

Most important questions to ask when procuring timber

First - keep it simple: you want to buy sustainably, and all main timber merchants in the UK are capable of supplying either FSC or PEFC timber, for virtually all types of timber that you may need. They will understand why you want to specify certified timber, and be able to provide an invoice with chain of custody clearly shown. So check your merchant – if they can’t readily confirm that they can fulfil your order with certified timber, then move on to another supplier who can. Once you have got your supplier – make it crystal clear on your order that you want certified timber, and for the chain of custody to be clear on the invoice. But remember - it is up to you to ask, and then to make sure that you get what you asked for, so that you know you are achieving compliance against your own sourcing policy and sustainability commitments.

Do’s and don’ts

Especially for tropical hardwoods, as soon as you know that you might be using them in some way start looking for a supplier who can provide FSC timber. FSC is more prevalent in tropical countries than PEFC, and in WWF’s view, a more robust and credible scheme. This is high value timber in a lot of cases and heavily exploited for several species  – so don’t accept tropical timber that you know nothing about where it came from – it could be illegal if the timber supplier hasn’t done their homework on its origins. If you need larger volumes – for example, for marine works, then you may have a longer lead time to get the timber you need for your project, so the sooner you start looking for the right sources, the better. Even if a contractor or supplier pushes you to accept timber that they have in stock, because they claim a project might be delayed if you wait for the timber you want (certified!), don’t accept it if they don’t have good evidence of its origins . You could be taking a real risk.

Also don’t be put off by initial claims that buying certified timber will be automatically more expensive, as for a lot of timber, this is not going to be the case. If you are told buying sustainably is going to cost you 30% more – don’t believe it without asking for credible evidence as to why the timber is more pricey. There may be some premiums for certified timber in some cases – but the likelihood is it shouldn’t cost tens of percent more than uncertified. Investigate prices with suppliers, and make sure someone isn’t taking your sustainability journey as an easy profiteering opportunity, because that money certainly isn’t going back to the forest or covering the investment in better forest management.

Typical procurement mistakes and how to avoid them

The main mistake I see is that buyers see that a supplier holds a chain of custody for either PEFC or FSC, and then assumes that because they have seen or been sent this certificate, it means all the timber they have bought from the supplier is certified. It is only by the supplier having this chain of custody, and then supplying certified timber which is confirmed by identifying it as such in compliance with the respective COC requirements on a delivery note or invoice, that you have completed the chain. If you don’t at least do some compliance checks, you can’t guarantee you got certified. Once again – it comes down to making sure you ask, and checking you get the certified timber you ask for. Your supplier is there to help you with that – but it is up to you to make sure it happens.

How to distinguish sustainably sourced timber from potentially non-sustainable products

The simplest way is to ask for certified timber first.  This loops you into systems that are set up to do the checks that the forest is well managed, and the timber is making its way through the supply chain without being mixed with other potentially unwanted timber sources. Potentially non sustainable sources are perhaps best looked at by timber or product type. Sourcing plywood? Where does it come from? Scandinavia – or China? There is a lot of public information about Chinese plywood for example, and sustainability issues and risks. Sourcing tropical timber? For decades now we heard about illegal logging and clearance of natural forest in tropical countries – so make sure that you are thinking about where the timber could be coming from, and therefore what kind of evidence you could expect to need to make sure you aren’t buying from illegal or non-sustainable sources. Does a product seem suspiciously cheap for a high value timber – teak, oak, sapele? And where is it coming from? It is by being vigilant and thinking through the product and its source, and checking easily via online info, that you can get an idea. Greenpeace for example, has tool which can help you check timber species, and whether there is any risk of sourcing it. Other tools show risk ratings for countries. 

The Global Forest & Trade Network

The Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) links more than 300 companies, communities, NGOs and entrepreneurs in more than 30 countries around the world. 

Probably the biggest impact the GFTN programme has had over its history, is to help re-frame the way we think about wood and timber – taking it from being, well – timber, to a much more differentiated global market – illegal timber, controversial timber, high risk, limited knowledge of source, known legally sourced timber, verified source timber, certified timber, in progress to certification, and credibly certified. This has helped drive broader narratives among stakeholders about improving forest governance, pushing for better forest management by business, improving supply chains for timber worldwide, setting legality as a baseline through market regulations, and so on. We really encourage businesses investing in sustainable supply to show off that they can deliver certified timber to the market, and we definitely want buyers to help by asking for this, so they play their part in a more sustainable future for global forests.

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