Fair&Precious Partners in the spotlight: Royal Wijma

In the latest of our interviews with Fair&Precious partners, we ask Gijsbert Burgman, Sales Manager of Royal Wijma, about its business, its outlook and ethos.

How would you describe your business; who you are, what you do and what you stand for?
Royal Wijma is a timber company which traces its roots back to 1897. We specialise in forestry, with involvement in tropical forest operations in various countries, sawmilling and the manufacture of timber elements for marine constructions, in which role we are involved in major timber engineering projects, from bridges, to waterway and sea defences. We control supply and guarantee chain of custody from forest resource all the way to the end product and we pride ourselves on being a professional business partner, with a focus on continuity, sustainability, quality and ethical values.

Why did you become a Fair&Precious partner?
Wijma has been actively involved in the development of F&P from the outset in 2017 because we attach great importance to growing the market for certified sustainable timber to support and increase uptake of certified sustainable forest management. F&P shares our objective of promoting and expanding a sustainable, ethical and legal tropical timber market to ensure the long-term maintenance of the tropical forest, an objective clearly underpinned by the 10 trading commitments made by F&P partners.

What do you see as the challenges for tropical timber to retain European market share?
We have seen a drop in the use of tropical timber in European market over the past few years because of an image problem – the common association of the tropical timber industry with deforestation. But we can turn this around by creating awareness that timber, when originating from certified sustainable resources, is the best, lowest environmental impact and the only renewable building- and manufacturing material. A certified sustainable tropical timber industry also provides the incentive to keep the forest standing in the long-term. We believe governments should create tax incentives to grow the use of verified sustainable tropical timber to help increase the area of forest under sustainable management.

How do you see current market opportunities for timber ?
The increasing concern and discussion around the climate crisis are giving a boost to the use of certified sustainable timber, because – as said – it is the only renewable building- and manufacturing material that combines significantly lower carbon and wider environmental impact than alternatives with technical properties that suit it to everything, from house building to marine project construction. This is underlined by the appearance of factories across Europe for production of pre-fabricated timber-based housing, with the aim of shrinking the construction sector’s carbon footprint and boosting its overall environmental performance.

What areas do you feel are particularly important for the industry to develop?
Market development of Lesser Known Timber Species (LKTS) is vital for the future of the tropical timber sector, but it takes a lot of time in research and testing of physical and technical properties. It can only be achieved when players through the whole supply chain work together on trial projects to realise the potential of these often untried materials. There must be a continuous process of matching timbers to specific end-use and ensuring they are fit for purpose.

What would be your sales pitch for sustainable tropical timber or timber products to a customer?
Tropical timber should be sold as a renewable and environment positive building- and manufacturing material when sourced from forests that are managed in a sustainable way, through such certification schemes as those of the FSC and PEFC. In comparison with energy intensive products, such as steel, aluminium and concrete, timber as a construction material has by far the lowest environmental impact. It should also be promoted on the basis of its beautiful, natural appearance, combined with its unique technical properties.
A healthy market for tropical timber also ensures sustainable livelihoods for millions of people in supplier countries, while incentivising maintenance of the forest for the future and disincentivising conversion of forest land to alternative uses.

Are you optimistic for the future of the sustainable tropical timber sector?
Yes, but if the European market isolates itself through very restrictive timber import measures, it is going to limit its leverage with tropical timber producing countries and its ability to support maintenance and growth of the forest.
The way to success is through wide-ranging promotion of certified sustainable timber in close cooperation with tropical countries, thus supporting them in the protection of their forests through greater uptake of certified sustainable forest management.