FSC backs Gabon certification programme to boost timber demand

Photo: JPDodane

The FSC says it was not consulted by the Gabon authorities on their decision to make its certification scheme compulsory for forest concession holders in the country. However, it said it ‘strongly supported the ambition shown by the government’ and would back Gabonese forest managers in meeting FSC standards.

The consensus of a Forestry Sector Forum in Libreville at the end of November, attended by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, was also that Gabon was making the right move and the focus was primarily on how government certification goals could be realised and in what time scale.

Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba said that forest operations must embrace an  ‘international  standard’ on responsible logging by 2022, mentioning solely the FSC scheme.

“Any business not committed to the certification process will have its permit withdrawn,” he said on a visit to a sawmill in the north of the country.

FSC Congo Basin Director Mathieu Auger-Schwartzenberg said that the FSC supported ‘all initiatives that can lead to making responsible forest management the norm’.

“This is the core of our mission and of our Global Strategic Plan,” he said.  “We will ensure Gabon’s forest managers are given necessary support, while at the same time making sure their performance is checked rigorously, using our systems of independent third-party verification. We’re confident this will lead to measurable social and environmental benefits in Gabon.”

The FSC says it will collaborate with all involved stakeholders to develop an action plan for implementation of the government’s decision.  As a first step, it participated in the Forestry Sector Forum in Libreville in November, where FSC International Managing Director Kim Carstensen presented its certification scheme.

Also taking part in the event were forest businesses, government representatives, the PAFC/PEFC and OLB schemes, NGOs, banks and other financial and donor organisations. The PAFC/PEFC was also among those to make a presentation, although the question did not arise as to whether Gabonese concession managers should also be allowed or encouraged to adopt its scheme too.

“In his closing remarks, the [Forest] Minister reiterated that the President had made a political decision and it was now up to the experts (at the meeting) to come with a practical plan how to implement this,” said Jaap van de Waarde of the WWF Netherlands, who attended the meeting.

The WWF itself has also backed Gabon’s decision.

“It is a positive step to protect Gabon’s forest ecosystems and to ensure benefits for local communities,” said Marthe Mapangou, Director of WWF-Gabon. “WWF will continue to support the government and companies in Gabon to implement sustainable forest management and to communicate best practice in forest management through implementation of Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) tools.”

Currently just over 2 million ha, or 14%, of Gabon’s forest  concessions is FSC certified, comprising areas managed by Rougier, Precious Woods and Compagnie des bois du Gabon.

FSC says it will work in coming months with Gabonese forest sector stakeholders  ‘to see how concrete action plans for each concession can be developed and implemented to achieve the government’s vision’.

As for the finance needed for certification, Mr Van de Waarde said that the agencies Agence France de Developpement and KfW both indicated at the Libreville forum that they have funds to support activities that would be needed in such a process’

Mr Auger-Schwartzenberg said it would like to see other Congo Basin governments encouraging certification. ‘The Gabon government decision creates an important precedent by signalling to forestry companies in the region that this is a serious issue and that it is committed to seeing companies manage the country’s forests in a sustainable manner for the benefit of people and nature and Gabon’s place in international markets.”

Taking the sustainable timber message to EcoProcura

FSC Ecoprocura study tour

The beneficial impacts of using sustainably sourced tropical timber were news to some delegates at the latest EcoProcura Conference in Nijmegen, according to FSC Netherlands.

The EcoProcura event promotes exchange and dialogue among purchasers from government, plus suppliers and other policy makers on strategies and solutions for sustainable and innovative procurement. This year’s event attracted over 400 delegates from around the world, with the plenary programme ranging from such diverse topics as buying green electricity and sustainable finance, to supporting local communities through social procurement programmes and the purchasing policies of several major European cities.

While sustainable timber and forestry was not covered in the plenary sessions, FSC Netherlands and FSC International partnered the conference and had a booth. They also organised ‘market lounge’ presentations of the FSC IMPACT tool for calculating the environmental benefits of using certified timber in the building sector, plus a study tour on the use of certified timber in construction.

“So we were quite visible during the event,” said Mark Kemna of FSC Netherlands.

“As a co-sponsor of EcoProcura, FSC was also mentioned by main organiser and STTC partner ICLEI as an important partner for cities in sustainable tropical procurement,” added FSC Chief Advocacy Officer John Hontelez. “I have the impression that those taking part take certification as a given, be it that they do not specifically focus on tropical timber, or even do not trust verified sustainable tropical timber entirely.”

Mr Kemna added that “most participants we spoke to were very positive about FSC and the role it can play in sustainable procurement. Although for a good part of them, learning about the wider positive effects of the use of certified tropical timber was an eye opener.”

Nordic Ecolabelling scheme to review tropical criteria

Photo: Mark van Benthem, Probos

After persistent lobbying, the criteria of the Nordic Ecolabel scheme, described by critics as a ‘de facto ban’ on sale of tropical timber, are now set to be reviewed. But those pressing for change are still urging more industry stakeholders to join with them in calling for revision of the scheme.

New criteria on tropical timber were introduced for users of the Nordic Ecolabel, one of Scandinavia’s highest profile green labelling schemes, in 2016. Besides insisting that all timber products bearing the Ecolabel were 70% FSC or PEFC certified, with the remainder FSC controlled wood or from PEFC controlled sources, the scheme’s executive drew up an 82-strong list, dominated by tropical species, that it would not cover. As well as many lesser-known species, these included a range of varieties widely sold in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. Among them are ipé, doussie, jatoba, movingui and okoumé.

Qualifications for being put on the prohibited list were CITES listing, and inclusion on the IUCN red list (categorized as critically endangered (CR)), endangered (EN), vulnerable (VU) and relevant species as Near Threatened (NT). Species from forest designated under a range of criteria as ‘unsustainable’ were also included. Requirements can be found here.

FSC Denmark, WWF Denmark, Forests of the World, the Danish Timber Trade Federation and 13 other Danish organisations and companies immediately wrote to Nordic Ecolabelling protesting about its ‘inappropriate non-approval of sustainable tropical wood’.

They said it amounted to an effective ‘dismissal’ of tropical species from using the Ecolabel and that the consequences, far from supporting maintenance of the forest, could actually damage its prospects.

“A frequent incentive for development of sustainable forestry in [tropical] areas is the substantial income that results from international demand for the timber,” stated the letter. “If this incentive is removed, certification is often abandoned, and the forest becomes vulnerable to illegal logging or conversion to other land use. We must support the forestry sector in tropical countries, purchase timber from sustainable forestry and, as a [Nordic] region, take responsibility for development of these areas.”

At the time, Nordic Ecolabelling chairwoman Kristin Linda Árndottir said its tropical list had been developed ‘through democratic process and skilled reasoning’. She said it would remain in place, with species added or removed as appropriate.

FSC Denmark is acting as the hub for current lobbying to revise the scheme.

“It’s a huge problem as it’s the most well known label in all of Scandinavia and increasingly a requirement in public procurement policies,” said FSC Denmark Project Coordinator Kristian Jørgensen.

He added that Nordic Ecolabelling was now looking at revising its criteria, with a consultation period mid-January.

“As well as seeking allies in Sweden, Norway and Finland, we would welcome letters of support from voices in the tropics and strong networks across Europe to help make the scheme understand that the markets can drive important change in  tropical forests, and certification is a reliable tool. We believe in a system based on requirements set in the forestry context instead of a single species evaluation. With all the local and regional differences in conservation status and protection and law and management practices, it would be hard to see  current species evaluation as a fair tool and it risks excluding those who have put  effort into the development of sustainable forest management,” said Mr Jørgensen.

For further information and to support the campaign, contact Kristian Jørgensen at kristian@fsc.dk.

Press release: Data collection and coordination key to unlocking sustainable tropical timber market growth

Animated discussions gave delegates the opportunities to debate the issues and give feedback. Photo: Mark van Benthem, Probos

European Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition Conference

The bold ambition of the Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition is to see an increase in sustainably sourced material’s share of European tropical timber sales from today’s 30% to 50% in 2020.

This in turn, it maintains, will be a significant driver for further spread of sustainable forest management in tropical supplier countries.

But vital to achieving this objective, says the STTC, is to improve accuracy, accessibility and analysis of trade statistics, hence the title of its annual conference in October – held, appropriately, in the Tropical Gardens in Paris – ‘Using data to drive market share’.

To date the STTC has primarily focused, with private and public sector partners, on market education and promotion initiatives, encouraging uptake of lesser-known tropical species and supporting sustainable procurement policy implementation.

Now, with founder IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, it has made the strategic move to focus increasingly on gathering and interpreting trade data; to get a better handle on sustainably sourced tropical timber volumes entering European supply chains, its origins and destinations. This objective is to inform further market development activity and ensure it is precisely targeted.

Until now, the Coalition acknowledges, the European sustainable tropical timber market has lacked a coherent source of definitive trade figures. Some national data monitoring has proved successful, but the pan-European picture has been less clear.

However, the Conference also highlighted that this is changing. Alongside the STTC’s efforts, other initiatives, some with its support, have emerged to track the wider European tropical timber market. Speakers also highlighted growing cooperation in the field between different players sharing the same objective of understanding sector trends and market development potential. These included the Global Timber Forum, the ITTO and the EU FLEGT Independent Market Monitor Project.

Other presentations and table discussions were delivered by a wide range of industry voices, including FSC, PEFC, IDH, Probos, the Timber Trade Federations of the UK, Spain, France and Europe, the ATIBT, the French Development Agency, SNCF (French National Railway Company) and the Alliance for the Preservation of Forests.

New approaches, delegates heard, were also being evolved to improve tropical timber trade monitoring, including the ‘exposure to certification’ method. And there was also a call for ‘new metrics’ for sustainability, to complement current certification schemes.

In addition the Conference featured presentations on complementary STTC-backed projects to grow European awareness of sustainable tropical timber availability and exploit its market potential. These included the ATIBT’s My Tropical Timber Website, the FSC’s new ‘Together we are FSC’ campaign, PEFC International’s programme for growing certified timber trade flows from Asia to Europe and Le Commerce du Bois’s tropical timber marketing initiatives.

Highly animated Table Talks also enabled delegates to debate the issues, focus in on specific topics and give feedback.

The Conference themes were clearly ones that struck a chord. The event attracted over 90 delegates from across the EU and tropical supplier countries. They included the range of timber businesses and representatives of industry federation representatives from across Europe and supplier countries, NGOs and certification schemes.

STTC Conferences are gaining a particular reputation for their level of delegate participation. And led with zest by enthusiastic professional moderator Peter Woodward – now an STTC Conference regular – this year’s event also sparked lively audience discussion and debate.

The Conference closed with a presentation of the STTC’s 2018-2020 roadmap from IDH Tropical Timber Programme Manager Nienke Stam. She said that further data research to steer tropical timber market development would be a core element of the STTC’s focus going forward. And among new data-based reports would be a 2018 sequel to its 2016 publication ‘How Sustainable are Europe’s Tropical Timber Products?’. This highlighted the bottom line of growing the market for responsibly sourced tropical timber. If Europe’s seven leading timber-consuming countries sourced exclusively verified sustainable primary tropical timber, it concluded, 5.3 million ha more tropical forest would be brought under sustainable management.

The participants at the STTC conference in Paris. Photo: Elise Héral, ATIBT

More from the Conference will appear on the STTC website; www.europeansttc.com
For more information: Joyce Penninkhof, joyce.penninkhof@probos.nl

Data key to tropical timber market share growth – STTC Conference 2018

Arc de Triomphe – Fouquet’s – Bibliothèque François Mitterrand – Boat for the Fair&Precious event

A line-up of speakers from across the international wood sector will gather in Paris for the 2018 European Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC) Conference to address the vital role of accurate trade information in growing tropical timber sales. The free event, ‘Using data to drive market share’, takes place on October 25 in Paris at the Pavilion Indochine of the city’s Tropical Gardens.

The premise of the Conference is that reliable data is the key to shaping marketing strategy, enhancing transparency and unlocking market share in any business, but that currently the quality of intelligence around the European tropical timber sector needs improvement. Speakers will tackle actions needed to achieve this and an afternoon of workshop table discussions will enable delegates to input their ideas and opinions.

The event, led by established STTC Conference moderator Peter Woodward, opens with presentations of four STTC ‘flagship’ market projects and how these could inform further development of the sector. Speakers will be Benoit Jobbé-Duval of the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT), Arnaud Hétroit of France’s Le Commerce du Bois, Julia Kozlik of PEFC International and Anand Punja of FSC Europe.

David Hopkins of the UK Timber Trade Federation will then be one of the speakers examining ‘the data collection’ imperative and the part market information plays in the organisations’ tropical timber strategy. This will be followed by a panel discussion and questions and answer session.

Rupert Oliver of Forest Industries Intelligence and Trade Analyst of the EU FLEGT Independent Market Monitoring project will look at data gathering practice and use in the tropical timber business, leading onto table discussions where delegates can exchange experiences and perspectives on the issue.

Subsequent table discussions will address setting up collaborative efforts in trade data collection on a national and international level, with the second topic introduced by STTC founder and supporter IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative.

Discussion table hosts include David Hopkins, Rupert Oliver, Arnaud Hetroit, Julia Kozlik, Alberto Romero of AEIM, Paul-Emmanuel Huet of PEFC France, Emmanuel Groutel of Wale, Mathieu Auger-Schwartzenberger of FSC Congo Basin, Dries van der Heyden of Belgian NGO Bos+, André de Boer of the European Timber Trade Federation and Mark van Benthem and Jan Oldenburger of forest and timber sustainability analysts and advisors Probos.

Rounding off the event will be a presentation on the STTC’s latest developments and its future roadmap from IDH.

On the afternoon of October 24 delegates are also invited to join a tour of verified sustainable tropical timber applications around Paris hosted by ATIBT, followed by a drinks reception to mark the first anniversary of its Fair & Precious tropical timber marketing initiative.

For more and to register: www.europeansttc.com/25-october-2018-conference-using-data-to-drive-market-share/

Certified timber grows Belgian market share

Photo: Mark van Benthem, Probos

A new report shows a strong rise in certified timber’s share of the Belgian primary wood market between 2012 and 2016. At the same time, the study points to room for further improvement. It says more action is needed from industry and government to drive market share higher, notably in tropical timber and temperate hardwood. It also highlights questioning of the value of certification in the Belgian timber sector and a lack of transparency, which potentially hampers development of strategies to increase certified timber sales and thus support sustainable forest management.

“Certified timber on the Belgian market 2016” was jointly authored by the not for profit forest and timber sustainability analysts and advisors Bos+, Probos and Idea Consult and produced as part of the Timber sector agreement of 2011. It will be used in negotiations on a new sector agreement. The so called ‘source approach’ was used to conduct the study. This means that volumes of verified sustainable wood are determined as they enter the market. All importers and producers of primary timber products are consulted.

The report’s total of industry respondents gave it coverage of 42.8% of the Belgian primary wood market and of this 59.5% was certified. That compared with 40.5% in 2012.  This broke down into 71.6% of the sawn softwood sector, 17.8% of sawn temperate hardwood, 25.8% of sawn tropical hardwood and 53.8% of sheet materials.

The report authors describe the upward trend in certified sales as a ‘positive’. However, given the urgent need to manage forestry more sustainably, with an area of tropical forest ten times the size of Belgium lost to a range of causes in just the last two years, it maintains that more needs to be done to accelerate certified market growth.

One obstacle is the ‘sceptical attitude about certified timber among importers and producers’. “They maintain that there is too little demand from customers and criticise the extra administrative costs certification involves,” states the report.

The government and industry, it adds, must also ensure that the next sectoral agreement to ‘expand the range and increase awareness of sustainable timber’ is stronger than the first in 2011, which was ‘not very ambitious’. “Sustained deforestation and forest degradation worldwide require a stronger commitment,” states the report. “The new sectoral agreement must be ambitious, with specific and measurable targets for the various product groups and accompanied by a facilitating policy.”

The government is also urged to devote more resources to enforcement of the EU Timber Regulation and steer procurement policy among public bodies more effectively. “Guidelines on the use of certified wood are unclear and not always followed up,” says the report.

It concludes that further improvements in Belgium’s public and private sector wood procurement can be made, pointing out that its neighbour the Netherlands achieved certified timber market share of over 83% in 2015.

The full report in Dutch, with a French summary and conclusions and recommendation, is available here: www.probos.nl/images/pdf/rapporten/Rap2018_Gecertificeerd_hout_op_de_Belgische_markt_in_2016.pdf

SVLK/FSC differentiation is needed, says Biomaderas

Photo: Biomaderas

Importer and STTC member Biomaderas found suppliers in Indonesia keen to know the market health and level of interest in sustainable tropical timber in Europe on a trip to the country. But the company’s Christian Körting was also concerned at the number of Indonesian companies substituting FSC-certified timber and wood products with FLEGT-licensed / SVLK-accredited material. He also maintains that more European market education about sustainable tropical timber is needed.

German-based Biomaderas sells principally in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and imports from Vietnam, Peru, Bolivia and Columbia, where it has a small team coordinating procurement, as well as Indonesia.

Mr Körting was in the latter to attend the workshop ‘Boosting international trade in certified wood products from Indonesia’, jointly organised by FSC, the Borneo Initiative and Indonesian legal association APHI. He also visited FSC-certified suppliers and met more at the Jakarta IFEX exhibition.

“I found some suppliers were thinking of not renewing their FSC certification because of the availability of the SVLK [legality assured] certificate,” said Mr Körting. “So it’s very important for them to know that there is an interest in Europe in sustainable products and that they can do better by marketing the fact that they’re certified.” Biomaderas products are now 80% FSC- and 20% SVLK-certified.

“We’d like to have only certified products in our portfolio but it’s getting harder to find them because of either availability, pricing or quality,” said Mr Körting. “But we’re in contact with several organizations, which promote the use of sustainable tropical timber and encourage certification in Indonesia, including   The Borneo Initiative.”

He does not feel that the SVLK, which is the timber legality assurance system underpinning FLEGT certification, was a serious threat to FSC or PEFC certification overall. “But to co-exist successfully, more needs to be done to differentiate the schemes, including through education by the FSC and PEFC themselves, as some companies are marketing FLEGT licensing and EUTR compliance as a direct replacement for certification,” said Mr Körting.

Biomaderas sees a role for European business in this area too. “For example, we’ve been able to reach a lot of final customers through our www.betterwood.de online shop and inform them about the sustainable tropical timber,” said Mr Körting.

Going forward, he added, still more also needs to be done through such channels as the STTC to educate the European customer about the availability of verified sustainable tropical timber. That in turn will lead to market growth, increasing interest in tropical countries to supply the market and underpinning sustainable forest management. “If the final customer asks for verified sustainable tropical timber products the market will automatically try to fulfil their needs. If they aren’t well informed they’ll keep buying wood plastic composites, thinking they’re helping preserve the rainforest by not buying tropical forest products.”

More: www.biomaderas.com


Raising tropical sustainable timber profile an urgent task

Photo: Mark van Benthem, Probos

Reports on problems faced by European forest concession operators in Central and West Africa further underline the importance of efforts, including those of the STTC, to grow and diversify Europe’s market for sustainable tropical timber.

The 1-15 August edition of the International Tropical Timber Organisation’s  Timber Trade Market Report cites several developments as evidence of weakening European presence in the African timber sector.  These include the administrative receivership of France-based Rougier and subsequent sale of its Cameroon and Central African  Republic operations, Dutch-based Wijma’s disposal of four out of five of its Cameroon concessions and Italy-based Cora’s sale of a Gabon concession.

Immediate reasons for Europeans downsizing African operations, states the ITTO, include logistical issues at the Cameroon port of Douala and slow repayment by African governments of VAT on timber exports.  But longer-term structural market shifts are also involved.

“While these problems impact all operators, they’ve fallen particularly heavily on European-owned companies because of declining European consumption of tropical timber and low profitability of certified sustainable timber operations, which receive little or no market premium for higher operating costs,” says the report.

The decline in European tropical timber sales is attributed to continuing poor consumer environmental perceptions, declining availability of Europe’s most popular African species and growth in competition, including from engineered and modified wood and composites.

Overall latest data from the EU FLEGT Independent Market Monitor shows Europe’s share of African timber exports falling in the decade to 2017 from 49% to 21%. At the same time the proportion taken by China, which accepts a broader range of species and grades, rose from 25% to 57%. Moreover the report says that some anticipate a boost to Chinese African imports following its imposition of a 25% tariff on US hardwoods.

The ITTO quotes a blog by Alain Karsenty, CIRAD Research Director in which he describes these developments as part of a trend of structural change in the African timber industry, as “operations are reoriented away from Europe towards Asian markets”.  He is also cited by Mongabay pointing out that no Asian operator had yet ‘sought to become FSC-certified’

However, the ITTO report says that the long term potential of an African timber business model based on certification should not be dismissed out of hand. It highlights efforts to ‘bolster awareness of the benefits of sustainable tropical timber’, such as the ATIBT’s ‘Fair & Precious’ brand marketing campaign and the work of the STTC. The latter said the report, was communicating the economic, social and environmental benefits of certified tropical forest operations. “STTC is also working to expand the European market for certified tropical forest products by developing pan-industry partnerships, promotion of lesser known tropical species, and provision of technical advice,” it stated.

The report also points out that there has been some recovery in solid tropical wood consumption in the EU and that the FSC and PEFC had increased the appeal of their certification schemes by aligning chain of custody and legal conformance standards to EUTR. PAFC Gabon had also awarded its first certificate, potentially paving the way for lower cost African certification models.









Totally tropical construction

Photo: Natrufied Architecture

Netherlands-based Natrufied Architects continues its striking use of tropical timber, not only for specific elements of projects, but for entire structures.

Among the company’s latest designs is Bosvilla, or ‘forest house’.

This imposing private home with its dramatic upward V-shaped roof is based on an iroko glulam structure. It features jatoba for its window frames, afrormosia for the ceiling and cumaru for exterior wall cladding. “It also uses afzelia as exterior decking and inside flooring,” said Natrufied founder Boris Zeisser. “And that’s to name just a few hardwoods in the house.”

The practice has also not long completed a 1500-pupil school in Breda which mixes jatoba and loura gamela in exterior cladding. “And projects underway include a beach pavilion in Bergen aan Zee in iroko and houses in Texel with cumaru cladding,” said Mr Zeisser.

Natrufied uses third party sustainably certified wood only, but insists that using the timber incentivises spread of sustainable forest management, while abandoning it for alternatives can help lead to conversion of tropical forest land to such uses as oil palm plantation and cattle ranching.

“That’s how I explain to clients and students why using sustainable tropical wood can be among the most environmentally positive ways of building,” he said. “It can help ensure we have tropical forests, rather than just fields of cows!”

Focus on EU FLEGT feedback at Berlin IMM consultation

Photo: IMM

The third EU FLEGT Independent Market Monitor Trade Consultation of 2018 takes place in Berlin on November 16 and the stress will be on delegate participation and exchange.

The free event is being held with the support of the German timber trade federation GD Holz and runs from 10am to 2.30pm at Berlin’s Verbändehaus.

IMM Trade Consultations communicate latest findings from the organisation’s monitoring of EU trade flows and market impacts of FLEGT-licensed timber products from Indonesia and goods from other FLEGT VPA-engaged countries. They also allow EU stakeholders to share their perspectives and give their suggestions for the development of the EU FLEGT VPA project.

The first took place at London’s Building Centre with the support of the UK Timber Trade Federation, the second in Nantes in conjunction with the Carrefour International du Bois exhibition and in association with the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT). Delegates attended from across import, end-user and specifier sectors.

Responding to feedback from the first two events, the Berlin Consultation will place an even stronger emphasis on workshops. These will focus on three themes, with delegates able to attend all sessions.

  • Trends in the European tropical timber sector.
  • Recognising priorities and purchase dynamics for tropical wood products, including the impact of FLEGT licences.
  • FLEGT and “sustainability” – European timber procurement policies/sustainable timber definitions and their recognition of FLEGT.

The final programme and speaker line-up will be on the IMM website soon (www.flegtimm.eu).

To register click here and for more information contact IMM Lead Consultant Sarah Storck at lead@flegtimm.eu.