by Nigel Hollis
I spent a day last week at a conference hosted by the European Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC). The primary objective of the Coalition is to increase demand for tropical timber, which is tough to do when most people assume that cutting down any tropical timber is bad. But a tough challenge often brings out great creativity.
As I learnt from the conference, far from destroying forests, sustainable timber harvesting helps preserve them. A presentation by Nienke Stam of the Netherlands-based IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, highlighted that simply protecting tropical forests is no guarantee that they will not be logged. One example showed how a national park in Guatemala had been extensively deforested over time while nearby certified concessions used for sustainable harvesting had not. If people have a vested interest in the forest then they are more likely to protect it.
However, increasing demand for sustainable tropical timber faces many challenges. Not least the fact that many architects do not know just how many tropical timbers there are or the benefits of using the different types. A presentation by Loa Dalgaard Worm of the FSC Denmark highlighted a very creative way of taking on that challenge. Instead of producing ads or brochures highlighting the wide range of timbers available, FSC Denmark used toy animals made from a selection of different tropical timbers to get them into an architect’s office. Architects readily allowed the FSC to come and make their pitch for sustainably sourced tropical timber in return for getting one of the toys. Later the toy would serve as a good reminder of the colour and tactile nature of each of the woods that was available.
However, the European STTC faces a much bigger challenge if it is to improve demand for sustainably sourced tropical timber. Not the least of which is that World Wildlife Fund campaigns from years ago have left most of us with the impression that cutting any tropical timber is a bad thing. This is a huge barrier that must help overcome if it is to increase demand for sustainable tropical timber, helping to protect the forest and local people’s livelihoods.
My role in the conference was to help the delegates identify ideas that could form the basis for an effective marketing campaign to boost demand and overcome negative perceptions. While I cannot share the ideas we came up with, I will say that the discussions reminded me of the fact that wood, unlike almost all the alternatives that might be used for construction, is regenerative. You can recycle steel and plastic but it does not grow back. Wood does and it looks beautiful too.
FSC Denmark’s wooden animals reminded me that great marketing is not about making ads, it is about solving problems. What other non-traditional marketing solutions come to your mind? Please share your thoughts.