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Sustainably procuring tropical hardwood

Popular in design and construction due to their natural durability, tropical hardwoods are well known for their resistance to abrasion or impact. Many tropical hardwoods expose exciting patterns. No wonder are they often chosen for their aesthetics! Here are a few things to keep in mind when procuring tropical hardwoods. 

What is tropical hardwood?

Tropical hardwood comes from continents surrounding the Equator; mainly Central and West Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. Collectively, these forests contain 47% of the total global growing stock.

Popular tropical hardwood sourced from these areas include Iroko, African Mahogany, Sipo and Sapele (Africa); Dark Red Meranti, Bangkirai and Teak (Southeast Asia); Ipe and Massaranduba (Latin America).

How are forests sustainably managed in the tropics?

Sustainable management protects tropical forests from the risks of illegal logging or being used for other purposes such as soy, palm oil and beef production which rapidly leads to deforestation.

It’s estimated that using tropical forests for these purposes causes half of all global deforestation. This is why the effort that goes into sustainable forest management is so worthwhile and is protecting the future of tropical forests. The timber and forestry industries go to great lengths to put sustainable forest management in place and it is steadily increasing.

In addition to ensuring the forest is sustainably managed, local communities benefit from employment in the forestry industry. Across Central and West Africa, Southeast Asia and South America over two million people are employed.

Sustainable forest management involves:

  • Approval of a forest management plan
  • Certified VLC status
  • Full FSC/PEFC certification status

How is this being addressed globally?

The United Nations programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) offers incentives to developing countries to reduce deforestation and forest degradation while improving conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Worldwide there are forest certification systems such as the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which aim to protect biodiversity, ecosystem services, local employment, and indigenous peoples’ rights within the forest.

Countries around the world importing tropical hardwood are working more closely with export countries. This collaborative working is imperative to strengthening the traceability of timber and progressing sustainable forest management.

What’s being done in the UK?

In Europe, the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) prohibits the placing of illegally harvested timber on the European market. This means there must be a record of the supplier, the product’s timber species, where it comes from, the amount bought, and a risk assessment on the product. The Forest Law Enforcement, Government and Trade (FLEGT) action plan aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening sustainable and legal forest management, improving governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber.

There are also Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA), which are legally binding trade agreements between the European Union and a timber-producing country outside the EU to ensure timber products come from a legal source. 

What certification and verification schemes are out there?

Verified Legal Compliance schemes (VLCs) work in partnership with timber regulations that require companies sourcing timber to have a due diligence system in place. They ensure all the administrative requirements have been completed; that any applicable and relevant laws and regulations related to forestry have been met; and checks forest management processes. The predominant VLCs are run by the Rainforest Alliance (SmartWood) and Bureau Veritas (OLB) and are particularly important in West and Central Africa.

In Southeast Asia, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) set up a scheme, the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS), which is the first of its kind in the region to be endorsed by PEFC.

TRADA operates its own chain of custody scheme for forest products that aren’t FSC or PEFC certified. It recognises other certification schemes such as MTCC and verification schemes such as Bureau Veritas’ OLB, FLEGT, and the Rainforest Alliance VLC.

These schemes determine whether the product complies with policies such as EUTR proving they are legal and progressing towards sustainability.

How you can help

Check to make sure the timber or timber products you source are legal by putting in place a procurement policy enforcing a preference for certified timber and timber products. This makes sure it is responsibly, lawfully and sustainably sourced and contributes to the good work being done to ensure both the forest and local area are not at risk of environmental, economic or social damage. 

Have enhanced due diligence systems in place when timber and timber products cannot be certified. The supplier you use should still be able to verify the source. Be vigilant about the risks of illegal timber in your supply chain.

Sources: Rainforest Alliance, Bureau Veritas, Proforest, Danzer, Mongabay, FAO, International Timber, PEFC, EU FLEGT Facility, TRADA, FSC, Proforest 

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