Hans Stout has announced his retirement as Programme Director at IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, the founder and funder of the European Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC).
Reflecting on his long and varied career, the tropical trade veteran views involvement with the STTC among the high points. It has, he maintains, already had market impacts and can continue to grow, evolve and develop the European market for sustainably sourced tropical timber further, in turn driving the spread of sustainable forest management in supplier countries.
Mr Stout has been in the timber sector for 35 years, working in senior positions with businesses worldwide. His roles included managing director of Van den Berg hardwoods and chief executive of Precious Woods. He was also Director of FSC Netherlands.
“I’ve been in this industry a huge part of my life – I’m a tropical timber man!” he said. “It’s involved hard work and a lot of air miles, but it’s a business I love.”
Mr Stout joined IDH four years ago. Up to this point, the organisation’s tropical timber focus had principally been supporting forest management certification.
“And achievements in this area were considerable,” he said. “With Netherlands, Swiss and UK funding, we supported the Amazon Alternative Project, the Borneo Initiative in Indonesia and Malaysia, the Congo Basin Programme in Africa, and the Guiana Shield Programme in central-south America. In total in the last four years these accounted for certification of around 10m ha of tropical forest, a third of the total certified worldwide.”
Despite this success, there was growing realisation at IDH that other strategies were also required to encourage take-up of sustainable forest management. A report it commissioned from PricewaterhouseCooper came to the same conclusion. What was needed, it said, was a major complementary demand-side effort to grow the market for sustainable tropical timber and incentivise producers.
“While the area of certified forest was increasing, the market for the resulting timber was shrinking,” said Mr Stout. “Our figures showed European tropical timber imports halving between 2008 and 2013 from 2.2 million m3 to 1.1 million m3.”
Part of the decline was attributed to global recession. But also involved were poor environmental image and lack of awareness of either the availability of certified sustainable tropical timber or the material’s technical capabilities. So the STTC was created, backed by public and private sector.
“Its role was to connect suppliers with clients, communicate the synergy between sustainable tropical timber consumption and sustainable forest management and to tackle technical barriers,” said Mr Stout. “Most importantly, we had to give tropical timber a strong voice in the market, which it lacked.”
The STTC, he maintained, has achieved success in all these fields.
“It has also communicated the positive effect private and especially public sector sustainable timber procurement policies (STTPs) can have, helping convince suppliers there will be an ongoing strong, reliable market for sustainable timber. Our successful and impactful STTC Conference in Rotterdam last summer focused on this and our message is clearly getting through. Besides representatives of the timber trade, federations, end-users and retailers, members now include the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Leeuwarden and France’s Reseau Grand Ouest regional organisation; all committed to procuring sustainable tropical timber and increasing its applications.”
Also significant, said Mr Stout, has been the STTC’s support for life cycle analysis of tropical timber and technical evaluation and promotion of lesser known sustainable species (LKTS).
“LCA is increasingly a criteria in material and product specification and the projects backed by STTC have already highlighted tropical timber’s superior LCA performance compared to steel, concrete and plastic,” he said. “The LKTS work is also vital, helping suppliers make more economic use of their certified forest, taking supply pressure off more popular species and increasing sustainable tropical timber availability. The key is to persuade buyers and end users to specify for end use, rather than species. And that’s starting to happen.”
Going forward, he added, this work will continue to form part of STTC activity.
“The key is to communicate the outcomes even more strongly to specifiers and end-users,” he said. “And within that context, it’s significant the ETTF has assumed its management role in STTC activity.”
As for Mr Stout himself, it comes as little surprise that he will not be disappearing over the tropical timber horizon quite yet.
“I’ll continue to be involved through my consultancy, Stout adviesburo,” he said. “I will also stay in touch with the STTC’s developments in coming years. It has great potential to make a real difference.”