Data can drive verified sustainable timber procurement

The first surveys to monitor timber companies’ levels of verified responsible procurement have been undertaken by trade association partners in the Thémis project using its data collection tool. Further timber industry federations have also voiced interest in joining the initiative, which aims to help them develop procurement policies and establish sourcing targets for members. The goal of this, in turn, is to promote increased trade in verified responsible timber and so incentivise uptake and spread of sustainable forest management (SFM).

Thémis, comprising the data collection tool, where analysis of the collated information is presented via dashboarding options, has been developed by sustainable forestry and timber advisor and analyst Probos, working with IT specialist Graphius. Funding has come from IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative, the Central African Programme for the Promotion of Certified Forest Operations (PPECF), plus the three initial trade federation Thémis partners; Le Commerce du Bois of France, Fedustria of Belgium and the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT), representing its trading members.

Development of the project has benefited from Probos’ and Graphius’ experience monitoring and reporting verified responsible sourcing by members of the Netherlands Timber Trade Association (NTTA) for the last 11 years. This has also highlighted the impact the process can have on trading patterns. The NTTA has used the data to set baselines for targets, which member companies have regularly exceeded for some product groups, until today 94% of their total imports are third party certified sustainable.

“By collecting this data, trade federations can monitor progress and target interventions,” said Probos Director Mark van Benthem at the time of Thémis’s launch. The exercise, he added, can also have market benefits for federations and their membership. The environmental commitment and support for SFM it demonstrates, helps differentiate member companies from non-members and the openness it shows can further build buyer trust.

Being part of Thémis currently involves federations inviting members to provide their information via the tool annually on an aggregated basis – and it covers the range of timber products; tropical and temperate hardwoods, softwood, panel products and a selection of secondary timber goods, like mouldings and joinery products. The process ‘demands quite a lot from companies’ said Mr van Benthem. Purchases are detailed by product type and whether third-party certified, or covered by verified legality schemes, or other forms of legality and sustainability assurance, such as FLEGT licensing or IDH’s SourceUp verified sourcing area programme. “But the tool benefits from Graphius’s experience working with us in monitoring NTTA members’ procurement and has been designed to be easy to use,” said Mr van Benthem.

Federations can use the data in a range of ways in market analysis and to inform development of procurement policy. Members can benchmark their performance against federation averages or targets for verified responsible sourcing. The response of participating federations’ members to the first round of monitoring was described as ‘fair’, although results for certain products were only reported by two or three companies, meaning they cannot be reported in case linked to the specific business. To encourage further participation in the next phase, the benefits of being involved for individual companies, the federations and the overall timber sector, are being further underlined. “We’ve also added new dashboard functionalities to the Thémis portal, enabling companies to select specific data sets and visualise them in graphical formats,” said Mr van Benthem.

Four more European federations are now considering getting involved with Thémis and it is hoped, pending additional funding, they will be included in the next monitoring phase. “Ways of engaging producer members of ATIBT and other tropical timber organisations are also being considered,” said Mr van Benthem. “The more participants and the more ambitious their responsible sourcing targets, the larger the positive impact on forests.”