Take action now to combat tropical deforestation, urges report

Photo CIFOR

Government, business and consumers worldwide need to step up efforts now to combat loss of tropical forest, states a new report from IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative. It calls for radical and urgent change in patterns of consumption to support deforestation-free supply of key agricultural commodities, including tropical timber. In particular it urges governments and the private sector to increase the demand for certified sustainable products and materials.

The report, Urgency of Action to Tackle Tropical Deforestation, is billed as the first of its kind. It is blunt in its assessment of the current situation, describing the continuing rapid rate at which forest is disappearing as ‘alarming’. From 2010 to 2015, it states, around 122.29 million ha (Mha) of tropical tree cover was lost, 5% of the area of natural forests in 2010. The attrition also shows no sign of slowing down, with a further 12 Mha lost in 2018, the fourth-highest total since 2001.

“This destruction results in decreased livelihoods, loss of ecosystem services, and massive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” says IDH. “Deforestation and other land use changes are considered the second biggest anthropogenic source of GHG emissions, and a major contributor to climate change.”

Forest degradation in tropical countries, states the report, is largely caused by demand for and production of soy, palm oil, beef, tropical timber, cocoa, coffee, wood pulp, and rubber.

The top five producers of each of these commodities account for the bulk of global production, but new sources of supply, and consequently deforestation hotspots are constantly emerging. While Brazil and Indonesia accounted for 71% of primary tropical forest loss in 2002, largely due to conversion of land to beef and soy and palm oil production, in 2018 this was down to less than half due to the rise in deforestation elsewhere. Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia saw forest cleared for soy and beef,

Malaysia for palm oil, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo it has been converted to smallholder farming. Deforestation has also accelerated in Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana.

The report says European demand drives a significant part of this forest loss. Five European countries are among the top-10 with greatest deforestation risk in Brazil and  European soy imports alone correspond with over 175,000 ha of deforestation and 2.3 Mt CO2 of linked greenhouse gas emissions.  In 2016, Europe was also responsible for over 60% of global cocoa imports, about 50% of coffee and 30% of beef and wood pulp imports.

The majority of European direct imports of these commodities are accounted for by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom and this concentration, says IDH, is ‘a call to action for them to respond to deforestation linked to their imports’.

So far it describes European import of certified forest commodities (a proxy for deforestation-free imports) as mixed. While 74% of the palm oil imported for food into Europe is certified under the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) scheme, only 25-32% of all EU tropical timber imports and a third of cocoa imports are certified.

IDH acknowledges that to achieve the goal of deforestation-free imports will require ‘immense efforts to drive demand and accountability in European consumer countries and to shift governance and agricultural practices in producer countries’. Certification is a key tool for achieving this, but must also be ‘bolstered by other interventions’.

“We need to continue efforts to increase governance, enforcement, and support effective policy in producer countries and scale jurisdictional approaches to create regional sustainability commitments,” says the report. “Financing must follow these best practices and large importers and governments have a role to play in fostering [supply chain] transparency.”

Consumer country governments, it adds, must also “catalyze adoption of sustainable sourcing” through consumer awareness campaigns, public procurement policy and support for import and processing industries.

“The bottom line is that overall demand for responsible, certified, and/or sustainable commodities remains far too low (less than a third for most commodities)… and the private sector can [also] contribute greatly to improving sustainability by increasing the demand for these commodities,” states the report. “The potential benefits of action are monumental – by just sourcing 100% verified sustainable tropical timber, the EU28 could positively impact (reduce degradation) in approximately 11.7 to 13.4 million hectares of tropical forest.”

It adds, in fact, that the timber sector could be a model for action to drive sustainable forest product sourcing more widely.

“EU-level action, including FLEGT and EUTR, could provide a roadmap for other commodities,” it says.

Read the full report here: https://www.idhsustainabletrade.com/tacklingdeforestation/

Potential and provisos for China’s ‘anti-illegal timber’ forest law

Photo timquijano

NGOs and other forest and timber sector stakeholders have welcomed China’s addition of a prohibition on buying illegal timber in its forest law. There are question marks about enforcement of the new provision, but it is being seen as potentially influencing the forest and timber sector practices of suppliers to China and dealing a blow against the international illegal wood trade. It would mean that over 80% of current total international tropical timber trade would be destined for countries with regulatory measures to eliminate illegal trade.

The final version of the revised forest law is expected to be introduced before China hosts the UN Conference on Biological Diversity in Kunming in October, but a draft was put out for review in October 2019.

A large part of the changes focus on China’s domestic forestry and timber industries. It includes provisions on forest tenure and lays down the objective of management of ‘public-welfare’ and commercial forest as being a healthy, high quality and effective forestry ecology system. It strengthens protection of China’s forest resources and bars cutting of natural forest. Its aim is also to promote an increase in Chinese forest cover and it imposes new controls on cutting volumes, licenses and timber transport.

It is article 65 of the law that focuses on illegal timber. It states that: “Timber trading and processing enterprises shall establish ledgers to record input and output of raw materials. Purchasing, processing, or transporting timber that is known to derive from illegal sources, such as illegally or indiscriminately logged forest, by any work units or individuals, are prohibited”.

“It’s potentially huge, a real game-changer for both the future of the planet’s forests and the battle against dangerous climate change,” said Faith Doherty, Forests Campaign Leader at NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency. “China is the world’s biggest timber importer and, for almost 20 years, its demand for raw materials for its vast wood-processing industry has been a massive driver of illegal logging around the world, especially in South-East Asia and Africa.”

Other commentators said that effective implementation of this new provision would require  closer coordination between Chinese customs and other government agencies than currently operates. “In general the prohibition carries potential risks of difficult enforcement, including not applying to traders, and low penalties,” said Jo Blackman, Head of Forests Policy at natural resources NGO Global Witness. She also said that the burden of proof in cases of alleged illegal timber would be on government departments, making it more difficult to secure prosecutions. The law also did not go far enough in establishing a legal framework requiring due diligence on the part of timber importers and traders, such as those operating in other markets, including the US, the EU and Australia.

Others, however, see it as a significant move in the right direction. China and the EU have been liaising on timber legality and market requirements for 11 years via their Bilateral Co-ordination Mechanism initiative, with the clear ambition from the EU perspective to bring China’s enormous trading muscle to bear in the war on illegal timber. “In all the discussions, it has been clear the Chinese authorities are aware that mandatory rules on legality of timber imports are the missing link,” said Dr Zhang Junzuo, Team Leader of the UK-China Collaboration on Forest Investment and Trade programme (InFIT).

The International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT) also responded positively to the forest law revision. “We’ve made great efforts to build a dialogue with Chinese operators working in Central Africa on the future of the sector and the need for sustainable management of the Congo Basin forests,” said ATIBT Managing Director Benoît Jobbé-Duval. “Our Chinese partners said development of the forestry law was important, even if means required to implement it would perhaps take a little time to mobilise it. We hope its implementation can be carried out effectively and within a reasonable timeframe. In the meantime, we will continue cooperation with our partners.”

ATIBT and STTC founder and funder IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative said that they would also closely monitor implementation of the forest law revisions.

According to the 2018 Annual Report of the EU FLEGT Independent Market Monitor, 62% (US$25.6 billion) of the total value (US$41.2 billion) of recorded tropical wood exports worldwide were destined for countries with regulatory measures to eliminate illegal trade, including the EU, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea, the USA and Viet Nam. The value going to unregulated markets was $15.6 billion, with 55%, or $8.6 billion, imported by China.

If China could be included among them, markets regulated for legality would account for over 80% of total international tropical timber trade.

Dutch broaden hardwood LCA horizons

Photo GWW Houtimport

Netherlands timber market development body Centrum Hout has posted latest hardwood Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and associated life cycle assessment (LCA) data online. The organisation is also discussing strategies for LCA work on African hardwoods with the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT), a collaboration established at the STTC annual conference in Berlin last November.

The new EPDs for hardwoods used in civil engineering projects were put together by the Dutch Institute for Building Biology and Ecology (NIBE), which was commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in a joint programme with Centrum Hout for circular economic development and greater use of wood as a bio-based material.

Available for download at www.europeansttc.com/marketing and www.houtindegww.nl/LCA, they provide information on the timber, product and manufacturing process, with summaries of LCA outcomes, giving sustainability scores for comparison with different materials. Extended versions are available by contacting the Centrum Hout helpdesk, helpdesk@centrum-hout.nl.

The product categories comprise various dimensions of pile planking, road safety barriers, roadway signage portals or arches, and decking.

The timbers selected are the species with highest market share in the particular application from a specific source, so for pile planking Angelim vermelho representing South American hardwood, Robinia representing European hardwoods and Azobé representing African hardwoods.

For safety barriers, the EPD is for Azobé and Angelim vermelho, using steel connectors, and, for roadway signage portals, laminated Larch beams and columns.

Decking LCAs are for Angelim vermelho, representing South American hardwoods, Oak, representing European hardwoods and Azobé representing African.

The EPDs will feed into the Hout in de GWW project, which Centrum Hout has been involved in for four years with leading Dutch hardwood suppliers to promote use of hardwoods in civil engineering applications (read more here: http://www.europeansttc.com/blueprint-for-a-promotional-highway/). Efforts in the Netherlands to further develop use of timber continue.

And efforts in the Netherlands to further develop use of timber continue. On February 3 the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Centrum Hout and 11 of its members signed a ‘letter of intent’, with the aim of using 10% more wood (and other biobased materials) in civil engineering projects by 2030.

In conversations with ATIBT, Centrum Hout also shared its experiences in organising, surveying and analysing data for LCA.  “We addressed potential pitfalls and opportunities as well as some ideas on making the process as effective as possible,” said Mr Munck.

Conference flags need for pulling together on forest policy

The goal of February’s EU International Conference on Forests for Biodiversity and Climate Change, according to the introduction from Frans Timmermans, was to engage a wide range of stakeholders in development of European forest policy. “We need your collective brain power to get our strategy right,” he told delegates. Various STTC partners were present at the conference.

Only with input from as wide a range of perspectives as possible  and by achieving synergies between different interests, said the EU’s Executive Vice President, who is also responsible for the European Green Deal, could its policy achieve its aims in maintaining forests to combat climate change and mass species extinction.

Delegates reported the event, hosted by the EC Directorate for Environment, hitting many of the targets it set itself. Discussion was broad ranging, and, while there was emphasis on Europe, it did encompass the needs and value of forests worldwide, temperate and tropical.  From the timber sector’s perspective there was also encouraging recognition of its achievements in sustainability and legality assurance. Speakers highlighted forests’ value as a source of low carbon raw material, notably for construction, and the role of sustainable management in forest maintenance.

At the same time, there was concern about the lack of private timber and forest sector input. The event also did not entirely allay questions over whether different levels of European government were aligned on forest policy and pulling in the same direction.

Mr Timmermans left the 550-strong audience at the Brussels Conference in no doubt about the importance and urgency of combating deforestation. It was, he said, a central element of the EU’s new Green Deal strategy, the headline target of which is countering global warming by making the EU a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy by 2050.

Forests and their maintenance, he maintained, have a core role to play in curbing emissions and combating climate change as ‘the most natural and affordable and most self-sustaining form of carbon sink we have on the planet’.

Consumers needed to be made equally aware that richly biodiverse forests are also the front line for preventing the ‘sixth mass extinction’ of species, which, as much as climate change, could ultimately put humankind’s existence at risk. “It’s not about saving the planet … it’s about saving humanity” said Mr Timmermans.

Part of the solution, he said, was to make more efficient use of agricultural land to disincentivise forest clearance and for Europe to help other countries find economic alternatives to converting forest land to other uses.

He also highlighted the potential value of increasing use of timber from sustainable sources.

“It’s an economic opportunity of incredible dimensions if you do it right,” he said. “Look at the speed wood is used in sustainable construction in EU: that is a huge opportunity.   We need to create a balance between all these interests.

Delegate Nienke Sleurink, Programme Manager Markets at IDH- the sustainable trade initiative noted the focus of the Conference on European forests. “But this also made it clear we don’t have it all figured out in Europe, with the carbon sink of its forests decreasing.  Something to keep in the back of our minds when discussing sustainable forest management in the tropics.”

However, said Ms Sleurink, the event also underlined that the tropical timber sector has much to offer in discussions on potential legislation against imported deforestation. “It can share lessons learned – positive and negative – from its experience of due diligence under the EU Timber Regulation,” she said.  “The Conference also addressed partnerships with producing countries. Here again the tropical sector has lessons to share from its experience with FLEGT and VPAs.  In a panel discussion, the Chair of the Centre for Sustainable Development in Vietnam said the VPA process was a model that can be implemented for other commodities – in fact, they plan on doing this.”

Ms Sleurink said that, while represented by associations and lobbyists, private sector input at the Conference was generally weak. However, its few participants ‘were able to give clear examples of how their sectors were already moving’ and that there are ‘front running companies involved in initiatives and pilot projects that can be used as best practice’.

George White of the Global Timber Forum took a similar view. “There are huge and welcome efforts to bring stakeholders together to develop cohesive strategies and policies, but this process once again shows no sign of really being inclusive of   smaller companies, the engine room of the forest industries. It was good to see  European trade federations involved, but the view from the SME sector in producer countries and Europe was almost entirely missing. Solutions have to work for people and businesses at all scales.”

Mr White also remained unconvinced that all stakeholders were aligned on forests, biodiversity and climate. “If they pull together, the EC and EU will be a powerful force for good, if they don’t they will waste the opportunity,” he said.

GD Holz Head of Foreign Trade Nils Olaf Petersen saw Mr Timmermans mention of the rapid uptake of timber in construction and the consequent environmental benefits as a positive. “That said, I’d hoped the Conference would focus more on both protection of forests AND using them to our benefit. It is a case of use it, or lose it,” he said.  “And the issue of sustainability wasn’t discussed at all in my view.”

It was a move in the right direction, however, that the value of plantations, which account for 40-50% of forest products, was highlighted. “It countered the one-sided argument that plantations are bad – they also reduce pressure on primary forests, if set-up properly,”  said Mr Olaf Petersen

Other constructive comments, he added, included those from EC Director General Environment Astrid Schomaker that ‘illegal logging isn’t the driver of deforestation anymore’ and from another participant that greater use must be made of timber derived from ‘calamities’, such as storms, tree disease and insect infestation.

Mr White saw the decade ahead as critical for building actionable knowledge-based  forest policy and he welcomed the pragmatism of delegates in this respect. “It was good to hear many agreeing that the search for perfection in forestry projects can be the enemy of the good – too much navel gazing only serves to help the global thermometer rise.”

Investment boost for sustainable agriculture and forest fund

A further $80 million has been pledged to the AGRI3 sustainable agriculture and forest protection investment fund. As a result, it will be up and running in the first half of 2020.

In January, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs became the latest entity to back AGRI3. It is now an ‘anchor public investor’, committing $40 million to the initiative. Subsequently one of the fund’s founders, cooperative bank Rabobank, said it would match the amount.

AGRI3 was jointly created by Rabobank and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), together with partners STTC founder and funder IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative, and the Dutch Development Bank, FMO.

The rationale for starting the fund, say its founders, is that land conversion for agriculture is responsible for 75% of forest loss. With global population set to hit 9 billion by 2050, farmers will have to produce 70% more food than they do today. Combine this with the fact that an estimated 33% of current agricultural land is seriously or moderately degraded, and the consensus is that pressure to clear more forest for farming can only grow.

The situation, say AGRI3’s backers, demands major investment worldwide to restore degraded agricultural land and support implementation of sustainable farming practices. However, most mainstream banks perceive the risks of the long-term funding required as too high. AGRI13 is intended to provide a route out of this gridlock.

The fund is designed to act as a ‘blended finance vehicle’, using development finance  to mobilize private capital flows, and is aimed at unlocking at least $1 billion. It provides additional de-risking financial instruments and grants for technical assistance for ‘food  value chain actors’, particularly farmers to support adoption of ‘deforestation-free, nature positive agriculture’.

The new Dutch government funding has been welcomed by the AGRI3 backers, saying it will help unlock further resources from impact investors and financiers’. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, described it as crucial. “It is now time for  banks, investors, governments and agribusinesses to join institutions like Rabobank in financing sustainable food and forestry value chains, to save the climate, protect biodiversity, and ensure sustainable development,” she said.

“The need, and opportunity, to invest in agriculture paired with conservation is underpinned by rising global demand for food and fibre,” states Rabobank. “These real asset investments provide income yield through sale of their outputs (such as food and timber), and have low correlation with other asset classes, providing efficient diversification in a traditional equity/fixed income portfolio. There are many profitable investment opportunities in the sustainable land-use sector, but they are not well addressed by traditional financing sources, including local commercial banks, resulting in both a need and an opportunity for sustainable land-use investments.”

“The AGRI3 Fund provides a unique opportunity to contribute to forest protection and sustainable agriculture at scale, while also helping to transform the financial sector’s attitude towards sustainable investments,” said Sigrid Kaag, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.

Click here for the Rabobank AGRI3 brochure.

On board the bus to sustainable tropical timber

The 2019 Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition Conference, titled Establishing Pathways to Verified Sustainable Tropical Timber, reinforced the reputation of the annual event for lively, insightful discussion on the tropical timber trade. It was a true forum, with delegate input as integral a part of proceedings as presentations.

It didn’t produce 100% consensus on its theme of how best to align different legality and sustainability verification schemes and initiatives to drive the environmental performance of timber and forestry sectors. Ultimately, however, there was broad agreement that the various initiatives are headed for the same destination – maintenance of tropical forests and their ecological, social and economic benefits and a sustainable international tropical timber trade. So, it was broadly concluded, increased coordination and cooperation are key.

The November Conference took place in Berlin the day before the International Hardwood Conference in the same venue, enabling delegates to attend both. It attracted an audience of approximately 120 drawn from across Europe and beyond, including timber suppliers, importers, trade federations, government agencies and NGOs. Co-hosts were STTC founder IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, the German Timber Trade Federation GD Holz, and STTC member the City of Berlin.

A focal point was the release of the new report from IDH and the STTC, ‘Unlocking Sustainable Tropical Timber Market Growth Through Data’. Undertaken jointly by forest and timber sustainability advisors Probos and the Global Timber Forum, the publication is set to be annual. Its rationale, said Probos’s Mark van Benthem, is that current, accurate trade data is key to informing market development strategy.

The report found continuing wide variance in verified sustainable primary tropical timber products market share among Europe’s seven leading consumer countries; from 67.5% in the Netherlands, to 5% in Spain. The average lies between 25% and 32%, rising to 40% if FLEGT-licensed timber from Indonesia is taken into account.

Recommendations included greater multi-stakeholder collaboration to mainstream use of sustainable tropical timber and incentivize uptake of sustainable forest management in tropical countries [see separate report].

Mr van Benthem also presented preliminary findings from the STTC’s survey of importers in Europe’s five biggest consumer countries on action and support needed to promote verified sustainable tropical timber [see separate report].

Among  speakers addressing the subject ‘Navigating the journey from EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) through to verified sustainable’, IDH Program Manager Nienke Sleurink looked at development of Verified Sourcing Area methodology in Mato Grosso in Brazil. This covered the range of forest area commodities. Pilot studies had been conducted for beef and were now being examined for timber, she said. She also addressed benchmarking of the Brazilian Sisflora legality and sustainability scheme with the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), FSC and PEFC. This showed that it satisfied many of them.

UK Timber Trade Federation Managing Director David Hopkins took the topic ‘FLEGT and Certification – Achieving Mutual Benefit’. He argued that with just 6.5% of tropical forest certified so far, complementary strategies were needed to drive progress to verified legal and sustainable forest management and timber production. He contended that FLEGT could be one, with its Voluntary Partnership Agreement scheme for suppliers meeting many criteria of certification and acting as a step towards it. “The key is to get suppliers on the bus to sustainability,” he said. “Then we can improve the bus as we go along.”

Jesse Kuijper of the Borneo Initiative, however, argued that FSC certification was ultimately the ‘bus’ the industry should board, given its comprehensive incorporation of social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability. The multi-stakeholder Borneo Initiative had demonstrated this, he argued, leading to 3 million ha of Indonesian forest achieving FSC certification and 2 million ha the FSC Controlled Wood standard, with a target of 8 million ha for each by 2030.

Eric de Munck, of the Netherlands Timber Trade Association and the sector’s new Centrum Hout market development body, described what pan-industry cooperation in his country was achieving in verified sustainable tropical timber promotion, including through use of life cycle assessment.

These and other presentations inspired wide ranging delegate debate and inquiry. There was also a rolling programme of conversation sessions. Here speakers introduced subjects,  from the impact of certification on landscapes in Indonesia and Peru, to market trends from the perspective of a concession holder and international trader. Conference participants then had the opportunity to explore topics further.

Round table discussions, led by inspirational moderator Peter Woodward, also generated ideas for the sector to grow sustainable tropical timber market share. These included:

  • Working more closely on deforestation free supply chains with other forest area commodity industries
  • Recruiting a tropical timber champion to lobby for the multiple values of the industry
  • Forming an action plan to improve the image of tropical timber
  • Stronger communication of the carbon benefits of using timber
  • Creating an NGO coalition within the STTC
  • Targeting specific specifier/end user audiences, based on the model of the Centrum Hout/Netherlands industry Hout in de GWW tropical timber marine engineering initiative
  • Backing a global reforestation programme.

In his keynote, meteorologist Reinier van den Berg of Meteo Group stressed the urgency of climate change and that the ‘number one’ tool for mitigating it was forest protection, reforestation and substitution of energy intensive materials with wood. The clock could be turned back, he said, but in terms of hitting targets on global warming it already stood at five past midnight.

Click here for the full conference report and here for the presentations STTC conference.

Photo Mark van Benthem, Probos

Data key to the future of the sustainable tropical timber market

The new STTC and IDH report, ‘Unlocking Sustainable Tropical Timber Market Growth Through Data’, underlines what is at stake in Europe committing to source verified sustainable tropical timber. It contends that, if all 28 EU member states imported 100% verified sustainable primary tropical timber products, it could have a positive impact, in terms of sustainable forest management (SFM) uptake, on around 16 million ha of semi- and natural tropical forests.

The report – unveiled at the STTC Conference and set to become an annual publication – was co-authored by timber and forest sustainability advisors and analysts Probos and the Global Timber Forum. Its premise is that accurate data on market size and trade flows is vital for informing sustainable tropical timber market development and promotion. It maintains that this, in turn, is vital to incentivizing uptake of SFM in tropical countries, with the environmental positives this brings.

“Tropical forests are globally significant – they are home to some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, they sequester enormous amounts of carbon and sustain local communities and businesses,” states the report. “Sustainable forest management offers a way to support their long-term health. When sustainably managed through high standard certification or equivalent governance, tropical forest can be maintained and protected from illegal logging, encroachment, or conversion to agribusiness.”

The new report uses the ‘exposure to certification’ approach to calculate verified sustainable tropical timber trade flows into Europe. This provides a ‘proxy for market share’, and essentially takes the percentage of productive forest area certified in a supplier country as the basis of the percentage of certified timber exported to a consumer country.

By this measure, it calculates that the seven leading EU tropical timber consuming countries, between them accounting for 90% of total EU imports, are importing an average between 25% and 32% verified sustainable tropical primary material. The country figures vary widely, from 67.5% for the Netherlands to 5% for Spain.

By projecting these figures onto forest areas, the report calculates that EU 28 country procurement currently impacts 2.7-4.4 million ha, or 18-30%, of all certified sustainably managed natural and semi-natural tropical forest. Extrapolated, that gives the figure 16 million ha positively impacted if the entire EU sourced exclusively verified sustainable timber.

It also concludes that “based on the assumption that certification will prevent premature reentry logging, the EU trade in certified tropical timber has the potential to mitigate 55 to 88 million metric tonnes of CO2 a year”.

The report goes into more detail on the primary tropical timber imports of the seven leading EU consuming countries. It also looks at the relationship of SFM and the EU Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement initiative (FLEGT VPA), which, it says stimulates uptake of SFM practices. Currently only Indonesia has fully implemented its VPA and is exporting FLEGT-licensed timber to the EU. But this means that 11% of primary tropical timber exposed to certification imported by the EU is also accompanied by a FLEGT-license, bringing the overall percentage certified or FLEGT-licensed to around 40%.

Also used as a reference is data gathered via members of the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT). This comprises analysis of exports to Europe from five leading producers in Cameroon, Gabon and Congo Republic and the share certified.

The report concludes by acknowledging that the approximate 25% and 32% average share of EU primary tropical timber imports currently accounted for by verified sustainable material is ‘far below the STTC goal of 50% by 2020’. So, it says, ‘decisive action’ and collaboration between private and public sector stakeholders and NGOs is needed to increase sustainable tropical timber demand. Also required is ‘data and transparency’ to understand what is needed in terms of market support and where to apply it.

Concluding the report states that ‘market demand for sustainable tropical timber needs to become mainstream’, but it is upbeat about the opportunities. “Through intensified European ambition and joint public-private actions, we have the chance to protect the world’s forests,” it states.

Click here for the report and here for the presentation by Probos’ Mark van Benthem at the STTC conference.

Blueprint for a promotional highway

Photo Mariska Massop

Netherlands industry action to encourage use of verified sustainable tropical timber, now looks set to inform similar moves elsewhere in Europe.

The various initiatives were described at the STTC Conference by Eric de Munck of the timber market development body Centrum Hout. Among them was its work with a group of companies to promote the advantages of verified sustainable tropical wood in marine civil engineering applications.

The ‘Hout in de GWW’ initiative brings together 12 tropical timber providers. With Centrum Hout they formulated a joint strategy for taking key industry messaging to the civil engineering sector, targeting the most influential decision makers within the profession.

Supported by the STTC, Centrum Hout fed results from its life cycle analysis into the project, comparing the environmental performance of tropical timber species in sheet piling, bridges and other applications, versus steel, plastics and concrete. The outcomes – which were strongly favourable to timber – were widely disseminated through publications, online and at special meetings for engineers. An online CO2 calculator was also developed to reinforce the messaging and guidance issued on use of tropical species, including lesser known varieties. The calculator is in English, French, Dutch and German and included in the list of tropical timber promotional tools on the STTC website.

In its second phase, Hout in de GWW is also focused on raising currently low levels of local government awareness of the benefits of using verified sustainable tropical timber.

“The goal is to get as many authorities as possible committed to verified sustainable wood and wood products in civil works and refrain from using products with less positive climate and environmental footprints,” said Mr de Munck.

The Dutch Ministry of Transport and Waterways is also evaluating use of timber more widely and has commissioned more LCA research. One result is the ‘Biobased highway’ concept, developed by the Ministry as a model for using timber and other biobased materials for roadway fixtures and fittings, from safety and noise barriers, to lampposts and roadside wind turbines. The goal,  said Mr de Munck, is to shrink the carbon footprint, as part of the overall environmental impact, of infrastructure development.

Centrum Hout is now sharing its LCA work and know-how, with, among others, the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT). The aim is to develop a similar tropical timber database for France, where government is demanding LCA for building products by 2021.

Additionally Centrum Hout, together with the Working Group Sustainability of the European Woodworking Industries Confederation, CEI-Bois, is evaluating possibilities for establishing a common European database for wood LCA information as a basis for country-specific analysis.

“The Danish government is also looking into a way to define the environmental impact of buildings and building materials as a whole and is interested in learning from the Netherlands, where we already have a method, database and regulations for this in our building code. We also have a specific adaption of this system for civil works, called DuboCalc,” said Mr de Munck. “Perhaps as a spin-off from the STTC Conference, there will be an exchange of views on the topic in the new year.”

The overall pan-industry Dutch strategy for timber promotion, presented  by Mr de Munck at the Conference, with the whole sector, tropical and temperate, working together, is also seen as providing a model for a wider marketing programme.

“It was positively received at the Conference and it would be good, if, perhaps under the flag of STTC, there could be consultation among parties willing to develop a similar blueprint for use all over Europe,” said Mr de Munck.

The STTC responded that it would be interested in supporting spin-offs from the Dutch initiatives.

Mr de Munck’s presentation can be found here.

STTC importer survey reinforces need for coordinated marketing

Photo Mariska Massop

The STTC Conference saw the main findings released from its European importers survey, looking at their experience of tropical timber promotion and views on market prospects and development.

The survey was commissioned from forest sustainability analysts and advisors Probos by STTC and IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative. It targeted key importers in Europe’s seven leading tropical timber consuming countries and, at the time of the Conference, 33 responses had been received in total from the UK, Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Italy.

Respondents were asked whether they expected tropical timber sales to increase, fall or remain stable. Only in the case of the Netherlands did a greater number anticipate an increase than a decrease. At the same time, the majority expected the share of the tropical timber market taken by certified sustainable material to rise.

The survey questioned importers on what they felt was needed in their country to promote sustainable tropical timber and what tools were used. They were asked how much support there was from trade federations and what level of knowledge or use there was of FSC and PEFC communications, the www.europeansttc.com website as an information hub, tropical timber life cycle analysis, specification guides and other promotional material and resources, such as the Fair&Precious branding campaign.

Respondents felt there was market momentum for greater use of timber. “However, they had limited awareness of marketing campaigns and tools, what tools they did know they felt had limited impact and generally their own communication was ‘passive’ to non-existent,” said Mark van Benthem of Probos.

The key requirements from marketing, according to respondents, were generation of greater demand for tropical timber, which, according to importers in many countries, meant that end-consumers needed to be targeted. Establishing greater trust in tropical timber and certification schemes was also deemed crucial. To succeed, marketing also needed to be backed by greater and more consistent supply of verified sustainable material.

Initial conclusions from the feedback included that a more coordinated, less fragmented approach is needed in marketing, while at the same time, it had to be tailored to the requirements of each country. Companies also looked to their trade federations as marketing and communications hubs, so their investment and involvement was also important.

Respondents additionally raised the importance of verified sustainable tropical timber being price competitive and said price differentials between certified and uncertified should be tackled.

“But feedback was also that the onus is on the trade to take responsibility and insist that wood must come from sustainably managed forest,” said Mr van Benthem.

Mr van Benthem had also earlier directed some of the key questions on sustainable tropical timber marketing to the audience at the UK Timber Trade Federation’s Tropical Timber Forum in London. Comprising principally importers, delegates at the October event said in their experience the preferred term was timber ‘sourced from well-managed forests’ rather than sustainable. They also commented that lack of specification by customers meant the amount of timber they sourced as certified sustainable exceeded the amount they sold.

The consensus was that more and more collective trade-wide promotion of verified sustainable tropical timber was needed. Government and architects especially needed to be persuaded to specify it and the latter needed more timber training, said delegates.
Marketing lessons could also be learned from other sectors, including retail.

“Look at the example of the gin market,” said one importer. “Not long ago, it was an outdated, fringe product for the old-fashioned drinker. Now it’s the must-have, on-trend spirit for the young, fashion-conscious consumer. It shows what can be achieved with smart, inventive, targeted marketing and communication.”

Another STTC presentation gave a prime example of industry successfully working together in sustainable tropical timber marketing; a precompetitive collaboration in the Netherlands to promote wood from responsible managed forests use in civil engineering.

Fair&Precious website gets an impactful makeover

The Fair&Precious (F&P) website has been redesigned and relaunched, featuring sections targeting specific tropical timber consumers, specifiers and market influencers and new videos on the multiple benefits of using certified sustainable tropical material.

The promotional campaign, launched by ATIBT in 2016, now prominently flags up on its home page that it is working closely in collaboration with the STTC on verified sustainable tropical timber market development.

Under its ‘You are’ section, the new site also tailors its campaign messaging to five key market groups; private consumers, industry professionals, distributors, public bodies and journalists.

The private consumer page, for instance, highlights how sustainable forest management preserves habitats, flora and fauna, creates livelihoods, supports the well-being of local communities, delivers climate benefits and helps deter forest conversion.

“Buying FSC, or PEFC-PAFC certified timber helps to encourage a sustainable industry, and means buying an exceptional natural material with unmatched ecological impact,” it says.

The site also includes an impactfully revised presentation of the 10 commitments of F&P campaign supporters on sustainable, and socially responsible tropical timber sourcing.

The press area and media library provide a wide range of articles and publications on F&P, its campaign and sourcing and using tropical timber from certified sustainably managed forests.

The professionally produced 40-second videos give a concise commentary on the values and approach to forestry of F&P forest managers. These focus on their contribution to combating wildlife poaching, provision of healthcare, education and access to housing for families in forest areas and contribution to socio-economic benefit.

They also look at the technical performance, aesthetics, design potential and multiple uses of tropical timber, from decking to railway sleepers.

All the videos conclude with the catchline ‘Certified African wood – much more than just wood’.

In addition the website provides contact information for visitors who want to know more and links for the joint STTC and F&P newsletter and becoming an F&P member.