Backing tropical timber products’ with EPDs

The ATIBT, in association with member companies, has initiated a project to develop Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Environmental and Health Declaration Sheets (FDES) for construction products in African tropical timber. Called Dryades and backed by private and public sectors, the aim is to improve products’ commercial prospects in an international market increasingly focused on environmental impact and performance.

The initiative is being funded by the PPECF-COMIFAC programme, which backs forest certification in the Congo Basin, and ATIBT members Pallisco, Precious Woods, CIB-Olam, IFO-Interholco and French timber trade federation Le Commerce du Bois. ATIBT General Manager Benoît Jobbé-Duval said Dryades had been prompted by growing government requirement across Europe for evidence of construction products’ environmental credentials. “In the particular case of France, when building product marketing includes environmental performance communication, manufacturers are required to issue an EPD. This gives the product’s complete environmental profile, based principally on life cycle analysis (LCA),” said Mr Jobbé-Duval.

He added that, under France’s new environmental regulation RE2020, part of its strategy to ‘decarbonize construction’, the sector will also have to detail the environmental impact of new buildings throughout their life and present the data in FDESs. “Likewise, at European level, as part of the strengthening of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR), the European Commission has drawn up a draft delegated act to make environmental declarations compulsory within the framework of the CE (European quality assurance) marking of construction products,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval.

The aim of Dryades is to help suppliers in Cameroon, Gabon and Republic of the Congo put a range of construction products through LCA, including flooring, windows, doors and other joinery, leading to generation of EPDs and FDESs. The arrangement is yet to be finalised, but it is hoped that it will also be able to draw on the tropical timber LCA expertise and experience of Netherlands timber market development operation Centrum Hout – a potential collaboration discussed at the 2019 STTC annual conference.

The project is set to get underway later this year and to deliver its first EPDs and FDESs by June 2021. “Even if it starts for the French market and there are small differences between European regulations, we’d ultimately like Dryades to cover the needs of construction at European level,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. “Beyond LCB, a contribution from European federations is possible to extend the benefits of the project to other countries.”

 

LCAs and EPDs on sheet piling, pile planking, road safety barriers, decking and bicylce bridges can already be found on the STTC website.

 

Fair&Precious reflects on achievements and future

Fair&Precious is holding a special event to mark its achievements over its first three years and to discuss the work it still has to do to grow the market for certified sustainable tropical timber. The celebration takes place on November 4 at the ATIBT’s base in the Pavilion Indochina in the Paris Tropical Gardens.

It will follow on from the third ATIBT Think Tank on November 2 and 3, which will look at latest developments and future prospects in certification in the Congo Basin, with input from representatives of supplier countries. The ATIBT is expecting an audience of 50 to 60, with some delegates taking part remotely.

According to ATIBT General Manager Benoît Jobbé-Duval, Fair&Precious (F&P) has already made significant progress in raising awareness of the value of using certified tropical timber and the importance of a viable market for it in supporting sustainable, socially responsible forest management. “Fair&Precious has generated numerous articles for European media and built a presence in social networks,” he said. “We have also developed our joint co-operative strategy with the Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition, which is important for us, and received numerous testimonials from certified companies.”

There is still progress to be made, he added. “Above all, we would like the F&P brand to really boost the consumption of certified tropical wood in Europe, in a verifiable and objective manner,” he said. “Supported by other sources of information, we want it to convey the benefits of tropical timber certification to European processors and consumers.”

The celebration will link with the content of the ATIBT Think Tank. Its themes will include exploring new markets for tropical timber, the latter’s image, restoring value to rainforests and supporting certification and environmental services to enhance the work of certified concessions.  It will also focus on collaboration with Asian stakeholders to increase uptake of sustainable tropical forest management.

For more information: info@atibt.org

Or go to the Fair&Precious website

 

Forests and timber central to green recovery

Combating deforestation and ensuring sustainable supply of forest products are key to achieving the objective of the new European Green Recovery Alliance (GRA): a lower environmental impact, post-pandemic economy. This is the view  of the FSC, which has joined the GRA, along with 180 representatives of businesses, industry associations, unions, government and NGOs, including IKEA, the WWF, the European Woodworking Industries Confederation (CEI-Bois) and Confederation of European Paper Industries (Cepi).

The GRA’s slogan is ‘Reboot and reboost our economies for a sustainable future’.  It sees post pandemic economic recovery as an opportunity to rethink society and develop a ‘more resilient, protective and inclusive model of prosperity’. “All these requirements lie in an economy built around green principles,” says the GRA’s launch statement. To achieve this goal, it calls for recovery investment packages that accelerate transition to climate neutrality and healthy ecosystems. It commends national zero carbon development initiatives as the way forward, and also the European Green Deal, which targets net zero EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, biodiversity restoration and deforestation-free value chains.

Chief executive Kim Carstensen said the FSC was eager to support the GRA by providing knowledge, tools and expertise to accelerate the transition to a sustainable green recovery. “In this context, FSC is an effective solution to meet increasing demand for sustainable forest products, while preventing deforestation and adding economic, environmental and social value to forests and the people who depend on them,” he said.

The FSC could contribute to GRA goals by:

  • Setting sustainable forest management standards as a cost effective way to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity
  • Using its system to enable thriving deforestation-free supply chains
  • Fostering certified renewable materials as a foundation for the circular bioeconomy
  • Accelerating EU sustainable finance policies
  • Demonstrating the impact of forest management on climate, biodiversity, water management and more.

Mr Carstensen added that the pandemic has heightened awareness of the dangers of deforestation and illegal wildlife trade. “In fact, when forests are destroyed and wild animals traded, the risk of spreading zoonotic viruses [which jump from other species to humans] can increase,” he said.

The opportunities and role for the sustainable tropical timber sector in building a new post-pandemic economic model will be the topic of this year’s STTC Conference, ‘Holding the line and moving forward – roots for green recovery’. The event takes place online on November 19.

 

Applying science to track timber

A straightforward new guide on scientific methods of timber identification and what they can be used for has been published by the Global Timber Tracking Network (GTTN). German government funded and coordinated by the European Forest Institute, with technical support from Germany’s Thünen Institute, the GTTN’s aim is to help combat illegal logging and related timber trade by ‘operationalization of innovative tools for wood identification and origin determination’.

The new guide, available for download from the GTTN website, is titled Scientific methods for taxonomic and origin identification of timber and came out in July.  It is targeted at authorities, traders, importers and other timber sector stakeholders. It also includes international contact listings for laboratories undertaking timber identification using the various methods, which is searchable by type of analysis and location.

The guide provides brief descriptions of the identification approaches. These comprise:

  • macroscopic or microscopic wood anatomy identification, which looks at the material’s anatomical features
  • direct analysis in real time time-of-flight mass spectrometry (DART TOFMS), which focuses on wood chemical composition
  • near infra-red spectroscopy (NIR spectroscopy), which looks at the wood’s  surface characteristics and chemical composition
  • stable isotope analysis
  • and genetic identification.

Using infographics, the guide explains which methods can be used for identifying  species,    family/genus and species group, country and area of harvest and individual trees.

It also says which are suited for use with different materials; solid wood, including raw wood, veneer, plywood, and ‘other manufactured solid wood’, charcoal, particleboard,pulp, paper and fibreboard.

Currently, it states, DART TOFMS is only reliable for species identification, while analysis of stable isotopes, which are linked to environmental conditions, is limited to ascertaining origins of samples and is not a method for identifying species.

Genetic analysis can be used to identify species, origin and individual tree, although is dependent on the compilation of a sufficiently large and diversified genetic data base for reference.

The suitability of various methods, says the guide, is also dependent on the size of sample that can be tested.

 

Logging approaches key to sustainable forest management

 Logging methods are key to the success of sustainable forest management, according to a new study of forestry in Brazil. In ‘Litter and soil biogeochemical parameters as indicators of sustainable logging in Central Amazonia’ by Dr Barbara Bomfim and colleagues, the impact of different logging approaches on a range of forest health indicators are compared. These include canopy cover, seedling density, forest litter and soil composition and compaction. 

In one forest operation, foresters use pre-winching, where logs are hydraulically winched with a metal cable by a track-type tractor on to the skid trails, which are permanent and used for numerous felling cycles. “The skidder also does not transit in the forest, allowing natural regeneration to take place while avoiding the soil compaction caused by skidder transit,” said Dr Bomfim in an article on the Voices from developing countries website.

In the second forest operation studied, by contrast, skid trails are relatively temporary and  not properly opened. “Here, the skidder follows orange ribbons placed on small trees by forest workers to indicate the best route to access a felled log,” said Dr Bomfim. “This is repeated for every  felled tree.” She added that, with this approach, soil compaction caused by the movements of the skidder, which at the first site is limited to trails only, affects a wider area of forest. This can adversely affect natural regeneration and subsequently growth of marketable tree species necessary for economic viability.
Dr Bomfim concludes that ‘future forests need to be increasingly better managed’ and the effects of different logging approaches studied further.

“Assessing and improving sustainable forest management plans in tropical forests is a necessity to ensure their maintenance and functioning in a changing climate,” she said. “Management must consider both the short and long-term impacts of the logging system they use.”

ATIBT Certification Commission tackles key topics in first meeting

The ATIBT Certification Commission, set up earlier this year to track, discuss and provide input into developments within certification, held its first meeting on June 16.

The certification commission launched in February. Its stated objectives are to:

  • Monitor and report on forest certification in the Congo Basin;
  • To advise ATIBT members and answer queries on certification implementation;
  • To participate in consultation and decision-making processes in the development of new certification standards and requirements;
  • To participate in and report on certification events;
  • To identify and monitor complementary initiatives to forest certification, such as FLEGT and REDD+;
  • To feed into discussions by ATIBT forest-industry, marketing and scientific commissions.

The Certification Commission’s aim is also to be involved in monitoring and analysis of legality certification schemes, monitoring France’s National Strategy against Import Deforestation (SNDI) and exploring opportunities for ecosystem services payment (PES).

The June 16 meeting was online and attended by 15 participants, including producers donors, and representatives of certification schemes and trade bodies. Discussions covered the Commission’s roadmap, with the outcome that the relationship with national competent authorities in application of the EUTR and territorial certification were added to its areas of focus. Participants also discussed certification studies by France’s Scientific and Technical Forest Council relating to the SNDI, the debate on possible links between FLEGT and private certification schemes and a study on impacts of application of FSC Intact Forest Landscape (IFL) requirements. There was also update on FSC national schemes, highlighting that those of the Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Cameroon are currently under FSC assessment.

The ATIBT Certification Commission is set to hold two main meetings a year, with side events convened to address specific topics. It is open to other stakeholders to join.

For more information contact: caroline.duhesme@atibt.org

Indonesia maintains legality assurance and grows EU market share

The subsequently abandoned proposal for Indonesia to drop compulsory provision of legality assurance with all timber exports potentially risked its FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU and UK. Now latest analysis shows the country increasing its lead as their biggest tropical wood products supplier.

The Indonesia trade ministry had proposed a new regulation axing the legality assurance obligation on timber exporters, so they would only have to provide it at customers’ request. It presented the step as a means to boost trade through the Covid-19 pandemic. While the EU would continue to have required its Indonesian imports be FLEGT-licensed, there were fears the move would have threatened Indonesia’s VPA as it requires exports to all destinations to meet the same legality assurance standard.

The EU and UK, plus their national timber trade bodies, made strong representations to the Indonesian government against the change. Subsequently, on April 30 Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya stated that the new trade ministry regulation would be suspended and that adherence to the country’s SVLK timber legality assurance system would continue to be mandatory for exporting all forestry industry products. She also announced new funding to support the SVLK certification process at micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). “The main thing is Indonesia still wants to maintain SVLK as one of our major investments for the long-term interests of sustainable forestry businesses, especially MSMEs, as well as for the benefit of our forests,” Minister Nurbaya said.

In its latest market analysis, the FLEGT Independent Market Monitor (IMM) said the continuing rise of tropical timber exports from suppliers outside the process, raises questions about the benefits of FLEGT licensing in overall competitiveness in the EU and UK market. However, it notes that in 2019, there were ‘positive gains for Indonesian FLEGT-licensed timber’ in the EU and UK. While their overall tropical wood imports (including furniture) rose 2.2% to $4.56 billion – the highest level since 2007– those from Indonesia declined in volume, but increased 5% in value to $998 million. “Taken together this implies a positive improvement in the unit value of imports from Indonesia, which were focused more on furniture than lower value wood products during the year,” states the IMM. “Indonesia accounted for 21.9% of the total value of EU27+UK tropical wood-product import value in 2019, up from 21.3% the previous year.”

Protected and certified forest complementary in conversation

Proximity of human settlements and roads to tropical forests, as well as sustainable management, is key in the maintenance of their biodiversity and wider ecosystem services, according to a new study. It also concludes that certified sustainably managed forest can complement protected areas in terms of conservation.

‘Conservation value of tropical forests: Distance to human settlements matters more than management in Central Africa’ was undertaken by Simon Lhoest of the University of Liege – Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech. The latter has worked with ATIBT and is involved in the DynAfFor biodiversity conservation project in Central Africa. The report is based on research in south-east Cameroon, looking at the impacts of land use on forest biodiversity and provision of ecosystem services to local populations. The biodiversity of a protected reserve was compared to that of an FSC-certified logging concession, managed by Pallisco, and three community forests under the stewardship of local people. Inventories of mammal and dung beetle populations were used as biodiversity indicators.

The research concluded that proximity to villages and roads resulted in community forests having the lowest species richness. These areas were subject to high hunting pressure, which had a negative impact on fauna populations. Most endangered mammals actually disappeared and others in the areas also had a lower body mass. Biodiversity was stronger in both the protected area and the FSC-certified concession. At the same time, the report found ‘high spatial turnover’ of species between these forest areas, meaning species moved in and out of them. From this it concluded that conservation initiatives should work across many interconnected sites in order to protect the full species range, as opposed to focusing on isolated areas.

“High turnover for both mammal and dung beetle species in our results supports applying conservation initiatives over a large number of different sites, with a priority on protected and remote areas of high biodiversity,” states the report. It also says that production forest around protected areas can act as a ‘crucial buffer’ in species protection. “If strictly protected forest patches are not connected with production forests in a larger forest matrix, no conservation intervention is likely to be sufficient,” it says. “Connected to protected areas, production forests offer the chance to conserve many ecosystem services, functions, and species. They cover a high proportion of forest lands and show lower opportunity costs than protected areas.”

Read the full report here.

Certified tropical timber delivers carbon benefits

Using certified tropical timber results in lower carbon impacts than using not just more energy intensive non-wood materials, but also non-certified tropical timber. In fact, a new report says, taking the range of factors into account, from materials substitution to the avoidance of forest degradation entailed in its production, the volume of certified tropical timber imported into the EU every year may represent millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions saved.

‘Carbon footprint of tropical timber’ is one of the first efforts to estimate the carbon benefits of certified tropical wood and was commissioned by IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative from analyst Rupert Oliver of Forest Industries Intelligence.

The report references a range of previous studies and focuses on three core topics; the long-term effects of tropical timber’s felling cycle; life cycle analysis – that is the environmental impacts associated with the material from harvest, through various stages of processing and use; and the potential for carbon emission reductions resulting from using certified tropical timber instead of alternative non-wood industrial materials.

It acknowledges that calculating a precise carbon footprint for certified tropical timber is currently very difficult. Certification schemes do not collect the necessary data and, it says, scaling one-off timber operation assessments globally involves a ‘great deal of uncertainty’.  Within this context, however, the report aims to present a ‘rough model for carbon accounting, with the expectation this will evolve as more data becomes available’.

It looks at the relative carbon impacts of reduced impact logging (RIL), which is associated with certified forest management, and conventional logging (CL) used in non-certified forest. It is estimated that forty years after harvest using reduced impact logging, which minimises damage to the forest in the way trees are felled and logs extracted, forest carbon stocks are back to pre-harvest levels or higher. But using conventional logging and assuming two ‘premature re-entry’ harvests, which would not be allowed in certified forest,  ‘carbon stocks continue to decline until all merchantable trees are harvested’.

On life cycle assessment, the report says that comprehensive analysis by the American Hardwood Export Council for US hardwoods can, with some assumptions, be translated to tropical timber. Using this approach, it is estimated that the ‘gate to gate’ global warming potential (over the standard 100 year calculation period) of light red meranti is 601 kg CO2 per tonne, excluding biogenic carbon. The equivalent figure for steel, or concrete, for example, would be many multiples of that amount.

Focusing further on substitution of other materials by wood, the report cites sources giving averages of between 1.2kg to 2kg of CO2 emissions saved per kg of other industrial material substituted.

It concludes by urging further research into its topic and development of a single harmonized life cycle assessment methodology to assess the carbon footprint of certified tropical wood products. Ultimately, it maintains, this has potential to grow their production and sales.
“More accurate systems of carbon accounting will drive demand and financing for certified tropical timber, and help preserve the long-term environmental and social health of forest regions,” it says.

Click here for the full report.

Covid-19 crisis has multiple timber trade impacts

Members of the STTC Technical Committee report the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in radically reduced timber trading across Europe. Many companies are temporarily closing or curtailing operations, pushing back orders and asking for longer payment terms. Impacts of the health crisis are also reported from China and African supplier countries.

The STTC Technical Committee, which comprises the European Timber Trade Federation, national trade associations, the FSC, PEFC and ATIBT, held a remote meeting to address the crisis and share experience.

The UK TTF said it was busy with member enquiries, particularly on government grants to enable companies to pay furloughed personnel during temporary shutdown. Some importers, distributors and merchants have suspended business. Others are operating at much reduced levels. Some demand continues from the UK building sector, with work on construction sites allowed within new health and safety rules. DIY sales are also holding up, which is attributed to consumers undertaking repair and refurbishment projects while off work. Importers say they have asked overseas suppliers to push back orders by 30 to 60 days but there is still concern about the build-up of landed stocks at ports, with companies unable to accept cargoes as their own storage is full.

German trade federation GD Holz said wholesalers had not at the time been significantly affected. How long this would last depended on continuing construction activity. However, for small to medium sized timber enterprises the situation was described as ‘catastrophic’. It was suggested that, to provide some relief, they might adopt the strategy of the electronics sector, allowing consumers to pre-order and pick up goods. Many German retail and other consumer-facing businesses were at a full stop, but DIY outlets were allowed to open in some parts of the country and hardware stores continued to serve B2B customers.

An earlier report on the Fair&Precious (F&P) website stated that Netherlands importers had sufficient stocks for the short term and ports and road transport had been designated key sectors and continued to operate.  The Netherlands Timber Trade Association also reported the DIY sector continuing to trade well. Overall timber trade sales, however, are expected to be down through the summer. The NTTA also told the STTC Newsletter that as of April 15, the Dutch building sector was still working subject to health and safety restrictions. However the number of construction projects was decreasing, with forecasts of a 50% fall in new home building. At the same time, activity in the renovation sector has reduced by 80%. The pandemic was disrupting timber supplies to the Netherlands from the rest of Europe and Malaysia and, while imports from Africa were ‘reasonably normal’, they were also expected to decrease. Plywood and other panel products were in increasingly short supply.

French trade body Le Commerce du Bois said the picture was mixed in France. Merchants were impacted first as construction and manufacturing customers shut down, importers followed. Subsequently, however, most merchants are reported to have reopened with much reduced personnel. Timber end user industries and importers largely remained closed.

The situation in Spain was described by trade association AEIM as disastrous. Members had postponed contracts and shipments, with construction and other customer sectors in shutdown. Some suppliers to parts of the joinery sector, however, were still active. And according to the F&P Covid-19 report, wood was still coming into ports as normal, although there were ‘difficulties for companies withdrawing goods’.

The latest Market Report from the International Tropical Timber Organisation includes a supplier country survey showing widespread disruption of the tropical wood sector by Covid-19. The industry was being affeced by both national measures to curb spread of disease and a drop in export demand. At the time of the report, Ghana was not in total lockdown, but regional controls were impacting timber businesses. Mills in Cameroon were not operating. In Malaysia movement control orders had resulted in a ‘drastic slowdown’ in forestry and timber sectors, while 76% of respondents to a timber business survey by Vietnamese trade body Viforest said they had suffered ‘pandemic damage’.  In Indonesia fall-off in demand had led to 280,000 furniture industry job losses.

According to a 15 April report from the China Timber and Wood Product Distribuion Association (CTWPDA), Chinese timber imports are set to decline 10-20% due to contraction in export demand. Already some imported material destined for re-export as finished wood products has been diverted to domestic consumption. However, the latter has also been hit by the pandemic, particularly in the ‘homes and living sector’. The CTWPDA reported disruption in timber supply from a range of sources, but said that the country had sufficient imported material to last two months.

The Fair&Precious website has a special report giving further information on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the timber sectors of Europe, Africa and China.

As is the case in many regions where tropical timber is produced, Northern Congo lacks coordinated and federal support. In the fight against COVID-19, forest company INTERHOLCO is currently fundraising to buy essential, life-saving medical equipment to upgrade the capacity of the hospital that the company manages. This is located in the remote village of Ngombé (in the heart of the forest, as shown here on Google), where employees live with their families forming a community of 10.000 people, 1.000 km away from the capital Brazzaville. To learn more and to support – every bit matters! – see INTERHOLCO’s fundraising campaign here, and for regular updates follow the company on Linked-In or check out their news page.