STTC conference explores tropical timber’s bioeconomic role

One focus of the 2020 online Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition Conference was the need to halt tropical forest loss and consequent adverse climatic impacts by growing sustainable tropical timber demand. The associated theme was that, to tackle the environmental crisis more broadly, society globally must switch to a circular bioeconomy.

Post-pandemic economic reconstruction is seen as an opportunity to accelerate bioeconomic transition and, said speakers at the Conference, entitled ‘Holding the line and moving forward: Roots for green recovery’, the sector must present sustainable tropical timber supply as core to achieving it. This could grow the market for the material, so incentivizing uptake of sustainable forest management (SFM) and creating a virtuous circle.

Jeroen Nagel of the Dutch Public Works and Water Management Directorate General told the 150-strong international conference audience that moving to a circular bioeconomy required public-private partnership. An example was the biological highway, a blueprint from his ministry and industry for using sustainable tropical timber for motorway fixtures, such as barriers and signage .

Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forestry Dr Lee White stressed that tropical wood producers, as well as consumer countries, should adopt a circular bioeconomic approach. This was Gabon’s ambition, exemplified by an industrial zone near Libreville undertaking multi-level timber transformation, with all waste turned into charcoal. Describing the EU’s circular economy action plan and its ‘Green Deal’ goal of deforestation-free supply chains, Hugo-Maria Schally, of the European Commission Directorate General Environment, said both had potential to develop tropical timber use. But this demands total market confidence that forests are sustainably managed and supply chains are transparent.

Maria Smith of consulting engineers Buro Happold looked at the role of timber in achieving a ‘regenerative built environment’ and John Williams of environmental and technical services consultancy RSK at hardwood’s potential in engineered wood building products.

Liesbeth Gort of FSC Netherlands described its initiative for certifying forest ecosystem service provision and Iwan Kurniawan of The Borneo Initiative a proposal to co-audit and so cut costs of third party forest certification and FLEGT/SVLK legality assurance compliance.

Tullia Baldassari of Interholco addressed the social obligations of sustainable tropical timber businesses, describing the pandemic healthcare support for workers and local communities provided by her company in the Republic of Congo. And Geneviève Standaert and Isobelle Polfliet of importers Vandecasteele stressed the need to drive uptake of lesser known tropical species to further strengthen SFM economic viability.

Mark van Benthem of SFM knowledge institute Probos presented its latest data report, commissioned by STTC founder IDH-the Sustainable Trade Initiative. This focuses on the EU secondary tropical wood products market, concluding that if it achieved 100% verified sustainable sourcing, over 2 million ha of tropical forest would be positively impacted.

Looking forward, Chih-Ching Lan of IDH confirmed continuation of its work on tropical timber and support for the STTC post 2020, with a focus on data, sector alignment and public-private partnership. And Dr White concluded the Conference with a call to industry action. “We must work to establish markets where tropical timber has best competitive advantage and persuade the public that sustainable harvesting will preserve rather than destroy the tropical forest,” he said.

Click here for the full Conference report.

Growing secondary wood product demand to support tropical forests

In 2019, 33% of secondary tropical wood products imported by the EU and UK were certified sustainable, positively impacting 763,000-925,000 ha of tropical forest, according to a new report from IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative. If importers sourced 100% certified sustainable, it concludes, this figure would rise to over 2 million ha.

The just-released publication, ‘Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data’, covers the four main types of tropical secondary products imported by the EU and UK – doors, mouldings, windows and other joinery. It was commissioned by IDH for the STTC and undertaken by sustainable forest management institute Probos and the Global Timber Forum.

It builds on these partners’ 2019 report, which covered EU and UK primary tropical wood products imports, estimating that 28.5% were certified sustainable. Bringing the findings of the two publications together, the new report states that, if all these countries’ tropical timber imports were certified, 18 million ha of forest would be positively impacted. This, it says, could also cut global carbon emissions by 100 million tonnes per year.

Like the earlier report, it estimates volumes of FSC and PEFC-certified timber imports using the ‘exposure to certification method’. This takes the certified percentage of a supplier country’s total forest area and projects the share onto its exports to consumer countries.

The new report additionally takes account of EU and UK imports of FLEGT-licensed products (from Indonesia, the only country so far to start licensing under the EU FLEGT initiative), from other FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement countries and products covered by other verified legality schemes.

Of the EU and UK’s 187,500 tonne import total of secondary tropical wood products in 2019, 90% were accounted for by France, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and the UK. The Netherlands was the biggest importer of such products exposed to certification, with a total of between 25,800 and 27,800 tonnes, followed by France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain. Biggest overall suppliers were Indonesia and Brazil, together accounting for 77% of EU and UK imports, while Indonesia was the biggest provider of products exposed to certification, with 76% market share.

The report also draws on findings of an enquiry undertaken by the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT) and Probos. With input from companies in Central and West Africa, it compiled data on forest yields, certification and its impacts, and trade flows. The information on yield was used by the IDH report authors to help calculate potential impact of EU and UK demand on sustainable forest management area.

The report concludes that ‘all actors must support raising the bar to 100% sourcing of verified sustainable tropical timber products and promote their applications’. The sector should also work together to further ‘improve availability, quality and transparency of information’ to inform strategies for achieving this objective. Given the goals they have in common to advance SFM, the report also urges exploration of synergies between the EU Timber Regulation, FLEGT licensing and certification.
“A growing European market for sustainable timber can foster sustainable forest practice across the world, and a more resilient and sustainable society and environment globally,” concludes IDH chief executive Daan Wensing. “We urge European governments, companies, and NGOs to act to reach 100% verified sustainable tropical timber imports.”

Read the report

Analysis lays out action plan for Sisflora reform

An action plan has been put forward to develop and strengthen market confidence in the Sisflora-MT legality and sustainability chain of custody and assurance system in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. This follows in-depth analysis of the system by IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative and the state’s Centre of Wood Producing and Exporting Industries (Cipem).

The background to the analysis was that, despite implementation of Sisflora-MT, Mato Grosso – like the rest of Brazil – still has an international market image as a high risk timber supplier in terms of the legality and sustainability. The goal was to help change that reputation (focusing first on the EU market), boost trade in wood from sustainably managed forest and ultimately enhance Brazil’s status as a global sustainable tropical timber supplier.

This, in turn, is intended to underpin Mato Grosso’s target, under its Produce, Conserve and Include strategy (PCI), to increase the area of its forest under sustainable forest management (SFM), from the current 3.7 million ha to 6 million ha. In their analysis, IDH and Cipem surveyed producers, local authorities and European buyers to gauge market perceptions of Mato Grosso and Brazil as timber suppliers in order to identify gaps in Sisflora-MT that impacted marketing and exports.

Their conclusion was that the system was robust and ‘broadly compatible with international protocols and certifications, capable of guaranteeing the legality and sustainability of the forest productive chain’. However it was ‘too complex to be communicated and understood by external agents unfamiliar with the numerous steps, procedures and legislation involved’.

Their proposed action plan has five core elements, to :
• ensure alignment of Sisflora with the EU Timber Regulation
• establish rules for an independent audit
• lower the risk of misuse and fraud
• ensure greater transparency of information about the system
• and establish standard SFM rules for the Amazon.

IDH adds that three main developments are needed to improve risk perception of potential buyers of timber from Mato Grosso. First is extension of Sisflora to cover the entire custody chain, which says IDH will take place with the launch of Sisflora 2.0 next year. Also required is greater transparency and accountability, to be ensured via third party audit of the system – which will again be introduced under Sisflora 2.0. Thirdly, the analysis concluded, third party tracking of ‘sustainability aspects above legality’ is needed. IDH notes that this will be addressed in a ‘risk-free timber for export’ pilot following Sisflora 2.0 implementation.

Also to improve Sisflora’s operational aspects and transparency, technical staff training was recommended and this too will follow introduction of Sisflora 2.0. Under the latter, a digital version of the system will also be developed, which, says IDH, will have a ‘more dynamic validation process, closing the chance for illegality’. The aim is a system, in Sisflora 2.0., that assures buyers Mato Grosso timber is very low risk on legality and traceability, with compliance making producers ‘ready to export to Europe’.

A new framework will subsequently be developed for sustainability assurance that will be compatible with FSC and PEFC, state-recognised and adopted voluntarily by producers. Findings of the IDH and Cipem analysis and the action plan are now being further discussed with state government (SEMA) and REDD+ for Early Movers donors under the auspices of the Instituto PCI.

FSC addresses Congo Basin intact forest landscape concerns

FSC Africa Deputy Regional Director Steve Ball has responded to concerns of Congo Basin forest and timber companies that FSC rules stipulating protection of 50% of intact forest landscapes (IFLs) in certified concessions can threaten their commercial viability.  He has laid out how current rules can operate flexibly in the interests of environment and business and also highlights that other options will be discussed at the 2021 FSC General Assembly.

The FSC Congo Basin Regional Working Group (RWG) on High Conservation Values recommended that, to ensure the success of forest businesses, a 20% minimum threshold for protection of IFLs in concessions should operate in the area. A study commissioned by FSC from Form International into the economic, social and environmental impacts of its IFL rules in the region, which was accepted by FSC this year, subsequently provided support for the recommendation. Despite the study findings, Mr Ball said that the 20% threshold did not meet FSC IFL requirements as currently framed, which were laid down in its motion 2014/65.

However there were ‘two avenues under which a lower threshold [than 50%] could be incorporated into FSC national standards’. “The first is if the membership passes an amendment to M2014/65 at a future FSC General Assembly (GA) and the various motions proposed for discussion at the GA2021, on which FSC is committed to high quality, informed debate, suggest some possible alternate solutions,” he said.

Secondly, he added, M2014/65 does not specify that the requirement “to protect the vast majorities of IFLs” must be wholly achieved through FSC-certified concessions. “If it can be shown that those IFLs exist within a  well-managed landscape incorporating official government protected areas, in which the intactness of large areas of IFLs are effectively maintained, then it may be possible to set a lower minimum protection threshold within FSC-certified concessions in which IFLs extend into government protected areas,” said Mr Ball.  Currently, he pointed out, IFL mapping in Gabon is being refined to see how this applies to concessions there, which, for some, may lead to ‘significant changes’.  “If the results are helpful, FSC will endeavour to support similar exercises in other countries of the Congo Basin,” said Mr Ball.

He also explained that, as they currently stand, FSC rules do not require a minimum percentage of IFLs to be protected in addition to other conservation zones concession managers have ‘delimited’. “Neither do the rules require that a percentage of the whole concession be protected,” he said. “The rules as adopted in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo (and shortly to be adopted for Gabon) require 50% of IFLs falling within the concession be protected. If only 10% of a concession is IFL, then that would mean only 5% of the concession would be affected. Furthermore, if existing conservation zones partly or fully overlap with IFLs, then some or all of the IFL protection obligation will already have been delivered.”

Mr Ball also apologized for ‘poor guidance’ issued earlier by  the FSC issued to the Congo Basin RWG. FSC rules also require that standard development groups (SDGs) develop national standards with ‘vast majorities of IFLs’ protected in ‘core areas’ and that, unless they reflect this requirements, a default applies where ‘the core area’ comprises at least 80% of the IFL. The FSC’s clarification stated that the term ‘vast majorities’ meant at least 50% of IFLs in concessions needed to be protected in core areas. “We at FSC acknowledge that better guidance should have been issued to the Congo Basin RWG around the ‘vast majority’ requirement, and apologize for the upset caused by our failure in this case,” he said.

Report: Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data

If the EU27+UK would source 100% verified sustainable tropical timber products, it would positively impact over 18 mill ha semi and natural tropical forests and reduce CO2 emissions by at least 100 million metric tons. These are the main findings of our latest market data report developed with the Global Timber Forum and IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, breaking new ground regarding secondary timber products ‘Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data’ 

With COVID-19 crippling economies and trade across the globe it has never been more important to halt illegal deforestation and fuel the growth of verified sustainable tropical timber. This is a fragile time for the world’s ecosystems, and ensuring that they can continue to thrive, support local communities, and provide sustainable economic benefits is paramount. We release ‘Understanding sustainable secondary tropical wood products through data’ in the hopes of guiding all actors in the tropical wood value chain towards more sustainable production and trade.

The report explores Europe’s impact on tropical forests as a result of secondary tropical wood imports (doors, moldings, other joinery, and windows). It builds on our 2019 report that analyzed the primary tropical wood sector, and reveals the way that these two aspects of the tropical timber trade impact tropical forests. Volumes of the selected secondary tropical wood product imports (187,500 tonnes in 2019) are significantly less than primary tropical wood (2,300,000 tonnes in 2018), but the impacts are still meaningful.

The results show that secondary timber largely mirrors primary timber – in 2019, 33% of Europe’s direct imports of the analyzed secondary tropical wood products from ITTO producer countries were exposed to certification (compared to 28.5% of primary timber in 2018). This level of exposure to certification positively impacts at least 763,000–925,000 hectares of tropical forests.

Ramping up demand for SFM-certified products to 100% of imports would impact an additional 1,160,000–1,322,000 hectares of semi- and natural tropical forests. Combined with primary timber, shifting Europe’s demand to certified sustainable products could impact 18 million hectares.

The new data shows that the current demand of Europe for certified tropical timber primary and secondary products reduces CO2 emissions per year by between 18.9 and 29.2 million metric tons. An EU27 and UK market using only sustainable tropical timber products might reduce emissions by at least 100 million metric tons. These figures illustrate the necessity of a new way forward, and demand action by all actors in this sector to grow demand for tropical timber, explore novel applications, and support producing countries in shifting production practices.

STTC Conference examines sustainable tropical timber’s role in green recovery

The focus of the online 2020 Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition’s Conference on November 19 will be the need to seize the opportunity of post-pandemic reconstruction to establish a greener economic model.  

Specifically, the Conference will examine how driving the uptake of certified sustainable tropical forest management by growing the market for sustainable tropical timber can and must be part of the process of green recovery and building a circular bioeconomy. The title of the event is ‘Holding the line: roots for green recovery’.

The circular bioeconomy will be a core theme and the subject of presentations and panel discussion. Speakers will address how the model works, its goals and the place of the timber sector, notably the tropical timber sector, in a bioeconomic future. They include Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forestry, who is responsible for implementing the government ruling that all forest concessions in the country must be certified sustainable by 2022. And Hugo Schally, Head of Sustainable production, products and consumption, DG Environment who is coordinating and developing the European Commission’s work on the links between trade and environment as well as on deforestation and forest degradation.

Also speaking is circular bioeconomy expert Jeroen Nagel of the Netherlands infrastructure agency Rijkswaterstaat. Joining them on the panel will be John Williams of environmental science, research, engineering and technical solutions provider RSK and Maria Smith, Director of sustainability and physics at Buro Happold.

The Conference will also explore how the tropical timber sector has tackled the Covid- 19 challenge on the ground. There will be input from INTERHOLCO, which manages over 1 million ha of certified forest in the Republic of the Congo (RoC), and Belgian-based international timber trader Vandecasteele Houtimport. Tropical timber companies have been highly proactive in implementing Covid-19 prevention and treatment strategies, with another RoC-based operation commenting that the pandemic had ‘underlined the importance of investing in health as part of sustainable ecosystem management’.

Following a break and networking, the subject will be innovation in forest and chain of custody certification and its importance for bioeconomic development. Speakers will include Iwan Kurniawan of The Borneo Initiative and Liesbeth Gort of FSC Netherlands.

The role of the STTC itself going forward in supporting certified sustainable tropical timber market growth will be addressed by Chih-Ching Lan of IDH-The Sustainable Trade Initiative.

Closing, Lee White will issue a ‘call for action’, urging the sustainable tropical timber sector to play its part and maximise its opportunities for development as the world moves to a new bioeconomic model.

Targeted at a broad audience, from STTC partners and participants, through timber traders and federations, to concession holders, NGOs and policy makers, the Conference will be moderated by Peter Woodward. The platform opens on November 19 at 8.30 a.m. CET and the event will close around 1 p.m. To register click here.

ATIBT urges action on illegal timber comeback in Europe

The ATIBT is urging government and trade in Europe to step up efforts to tackle an increase in illegal timber imports.  Currently, it maintains, the EU Competent Authorities (CAs) with responsibility for monitoring and policing imports are under-resourced and lack knowledge of the trade.

In its call to action, ATIBT takes a new stand against the illegal timber trade, the organisation says that ‘import of illegal wood into Europe is suddenly making a comeback’. “This is causing serious damage to an industry that has been striving for two decades to make progress towards sustainable management and promotion of legal and certified timber,” it says. “We need to be careful, because we’re witnessing a step backwards that is endangering our sector.” The ATIBT maintains that those involved in the illegal trade are widely known and said that its marketing commission highlighted the need for a crackdown in 2019. “But to date, there is nothing to indicate that measures are being taken at the European authority level to stop the  actions of companies that we all know,” it says. “In particular we need to work more closely with customs and ports and raise their awareness regarding this menace.”

The EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) is described as a key tool in the fight against the illegal trade. But the ATIBT maintains that enforcement is not sufficient to ‘counter the excesses of some of these players, which operate illegally with impunity’. “The EUTR monitoring system does not work due to lack of resources and knowledge about our sector,” it states. The illegal trade, it adds, causes deforestation and forest degradation and constitutes unfair competition for certified logging companies. It also damages the market image of the trade as a whole.

The ATIBT says that it and timber trade federations ‘cannot act beyond our prerogatives’ and create a ‘black list’ of those involved in the  illegal trade. It constitutes large-scale organised crime and is thus the responsibility of the EU and Interpol. However, it says that the legitimate trade can play a role by expressing its views on the issue and only buying legally and/or sustainably certified timber.
“It is through certification systems that imports will be 100% reliable and ensure the future of our profession,” it states.

It calls on European CAs to strengthen monitoring and to target known illegal timber importers. “We all know the fight against illegality is an effective way to reduce deforestation,” it states. “Even if this trade affects only a small share of imports, it needs to be eradicated.”

ISEAL and Gold Standard collaborate on carbon assurance

ISEAL, the international association for sustainability standards, has entered a collaboration with Gold Standard, the organisation dedicated to ensuring the wider environmental integrity of carbon impact reducing projects. The goal is to provide companies with a means of demonstrating that certified products, including timber, are not just sustainable, but also that their supply is geared to minimising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

The mission of Gold Standard, which was created in 2003 by the WWF and other NGOs, is to ‘catalyse more ambitious climate action to achieve global goals through robust standards  and verified impacts’. Its partnership with ISEAL , of which the FSC is a member and PEFC a subscriber, will see development of guidance and systems for companies to consistently quantify emission reductions achieved  through ‘supply chain interventions’, so they can be reported in their  GHG inventories.

“The growing urgency of the climate emergency has led to increased demand for credible guidance to support corporations’ transition towards net-zero carbon emissions,” states ISEAL. “For companies, the largest sources of emissions are often linked to supply chains and accounting for them can be challenging. Large emissions sources may lie far upstream in deep and complex supply chains, leading to obstacles to data availability, quality and traceability. This innovation [in partnership with Gold Standard] would allow companies sourcing certified products to better achieve emissions targets, while enhancing the value of commodity certification. Thus the benefits of a climate intervention can be transferred along certified supply chains from landscape to purchasers and investors.”

It added that founding the system at landscape level in supplier countries and regions was key. “Emissions of many of the world’s major commodities are calculated using a ‘supply shed’ approach [whereby suppliers in a given area are grouped in a ‘shed’], with values linked to specific regions. The [new] project will explore how supply-shed boundaries can be set at a landscape level, allowing for standardised landscape emission calculations,” states ISEAL. “[It will] support the value, allocation and transferability of emissions factors linked to certified commodities sourced from a given landscape, with attributes reportable in line with leading corporate reporting protocols.” It added that the approach could also ‘drive large-scale collective action for landscape-level funding’.

The guidance developed by the Gold Standard/ISEAL partnership will be tested by ISEAL members and corporate partners, with results shared via an online community platform.

“We intend to start the piloting phase in April 2021 and this should last until the end of the year when we will report our findings,” said Gold Standard Programme Manager Matthew Thomas. “During the programme we will be consulting with participants on the draft guidance and launching a public consultation at COP26.”

For more information:


Broadening horizons for tropical timber

The outcome of ten years of civil engineering application testing of a range of certified lesser used sustainable tropical hardwoods at a marina facility in the Netherlands will be released soon.

The evaluation forms part of a continuing programme to performance test tropical species in order to widen their application and increase the range of lesser used species (LUS) in the European market.  Funding is from FSC Netherlands and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water, with financial contributions from Van Swaay Harlingen BV, GWW Houtimport BV and Precious Woods Europe BV who also provided part of the timber in 2009.

The assessment was undertaken by the Stichting Hout Research (SHR, a testing and knowledge institute for o.a. timber) at the Houtexpo duurzame waterbouw site (Sustainable wood for waterways expo) in Akkrum. The latter was established in 2009 and forms part of a working marina, so the material is effectively tested in real life situations.

Some of the timber has been evaluated in water contact, with a view to use in such applications as pile planking, with other types tested in different forms, such as decking and beams.  A particular focus was to test the various hardwoods in applications where they are currently not generally used.

Among the more than 20 species involved in the project, which also included some temperate varieties, are Muiracatiara, Sapupira, Angelim da Campina, Fava Amargoza, Acariquar, Gindya udu (Tanimbuca) and Manbarklak.

SHR undertook field evaluation of the timber in situ at the Houtexpo, comprising visual inspection and strength and resistance testing, followed by testing of samples at its laboratory.

Read more in the SHR report

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.