Harnessing markets to support sustainable forestry

Photo: Mark van Benthem

Demand can drive positive change in the tropical timber sector. This is the view of international sustainable timber and forest analysts and advisors Probos and the European Timber Trade Federation (ETTF). It’s also the belief that prompted their engagement in the European Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC), alongside fellow founding partner and lead funder IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative.

The backdrop to the STTC’s formation and mission to encourage sustainable tropical timber procurement in Europe, explained Probos director Mark van Benthem, was IDH’s tropical producer programme in the 2000s. “This supported certification in the Congo basin and via the Amazon Alternative project and Borneo Initiative,” said Mr van Benthem. “It was important work, but we felt that, to enable tropical producers to sustain a high level of certified sustainable forest management, you needed an associated programme to increase demand for their products.” Probos’s discussions with IDH ultimately led to the creation of the STTC, with its broad, more than 80-strong membership including timber businesses and federations, central government agencies, city authorities, certification schemes and NGOs. A core goal was to increase the proportion of total European tropical timber consumption taken by verified sustainable timber to 50%.

“This hasn’t been reached, but we have seen an increase in market share,” said Mr van Benthem. “Importantly, we feel, the work of the STTC, alongside others, including the International Tropical Timber Technical Association ATIBT, has also helped improve the market image of tropical timber. There’s greater recognition that buying sustainable tropical timber supports sustainable forest management and weakens the economic case for forest conversion to other uses  – the use it or lose it argument.” This image building, he added, continues via the STTC website and its newsletter, produced with the ATIBT Fair&Precious tropical timber campaign (F&P). “The high profile STTC conferences, recently run with F&P, have also strengthened sector exchange,” said Mr van Benthem. “They have brought together NGOs, trade, public sector, certification bodies and other stakeholders in a friendly environment for constructive discussion.”

Another STTC focus was development of European federation sustainable procurement policies. “We discussed how to convince federations – and individual companies – to implement policy plans and codes of conduct on sustainable procurement comparable to the successful programme of the Netherlands Timber Trade Association,” said then ETTF Secretary General and now ATIBT board member André de Boer. “I was asked to develop a plan, financed by IDH, to get the ETTF’s national federation-members to adopt such policies. The ambition was implementation of action plans by at least five federations, which was achieved. Their task was to set credible goals for members to increase share in trade of sustainably produced tropical timber.”

According to Mr van Benthem, this work paved the way for the Thémis data collection tool and portal, which is supported by the Programme for the Promotion of Certified Forest Operations (PPECF) the STTC and IDH. Also backed by ATIBT, Belgian trade federation Fedustria and French association Le Commerce du Bois, its role is to collate and analyse sustainable tropical timber purchasing data. This can then be used by associations and businesses’ to set sustainable procurement growth targets.

Going forward, Mr de Boer sees scope for further European trade exchange on sustainable tropical timber market development. “It would make sense for trade federations to recommence meetings, perhaps funded and organised by IDH or another donor, where members can discuss specific problems and opportunities of the tropical timber sector,” he said.

Probos believes the STTC’s role as a data gathering and information exchange platform can also grow in significance, as can its lobbying of policy makers. “We also see supporting market uptake of sustainable lesser known tropical timber species (LKTS) as vital work for the STTC,” said Mr van Benthem. “Increasing the market for LKTS can strengthen the economic case for uptake and maintenance of certified sustainable forest management.”