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

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

The Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition’s goal is to see an increase in the share of European tropical timber sales taken by verified sustainable material from today’s about 30% to 50% in 2020. This in turn, 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 verified sustainable tropical timber volumes entering European supply chains, its origins and destinations. The objective is to inform further market development activity and ensure it is precisely targeted.

Until now, the Coalition acknowledges, the European verified 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 were delivered by a wide range of voices, including FSC, PEFC, IDH, Probos, the UK Timber Trade Federation, the ATIBT, the French Development Agency, Le Commerce du Bois, SNCF 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 range of verified sustainable 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 follow-up to its 2016 publication ‘How Sustainable are Europe’s Tropical Timber Products? ‘. The original report highlighted the bottom line of growing the market for verified sustainable tropical timber. It concluded that if Europe’s seven leading timber-consuming countries sourced exclusively verified sustainable primary tropical timber products, 5.3 million ha more tropical forest would be brought under sustainable management to supply the demand.

For the full report on the STTC Conference click here