Importers share views on growing sustainable tropical timber market

Growing the European market for verified sustainable tropical timber demands more coordinated, cohesive industry-wide promotion. This should particularly target specifiers and consumers to convince them of the benefits of buying sustainable tropical timber, notably in incentivizing uptake of sustainable tropical forest management. NGOs and government must also be persuaded to actively encourage its use. These are among recommendations from timber importers in six of the leading European tropical timber importing countries, responding to a Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition survey.

The aim of the survey is to ensure the market relevance of STTC’s communications and promotional activities. A total of 38 companies across Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and UK took part.

Except for those in the Netherlands, the majority of survey respondents think that, while sales share of certified timber is rising, the overall market in their country for tropical timber is decreasing.

Some respondents have heard of the STTC, ATIBT and the Fair&Precious sustainable tropical timber promotional campaign. Overall, however, they expressed limited awareness of existing tropical timber marketing tools and information. The effectiveness of marketing and communications efforts, felt some, is also limited by there being too many, so diluting their impact. They maintain that a coordinated approach is needed to have any hope of success and UK respondents called for one single sustainable tropical timber promotional body.

Respondents also think that existing sustainable tropical timber marketing is addressing the wrong audience, the timber trade. Instead, it needs to be directed at consumers and key market influencers, such as architects, say French, Dutch and UK respondents.

Belgian, German and UK importers all stress the need to get NGOs behind sustainable tropical timber promotion. Their campaigning to combat deforestation, say Belgian respondents, has created the impression that they oppose the tropical timber sector. The trade needs to undertake a programme of communication and education to convince NGOs not just to support, but participate in and initiate verified sustainable tropical timber promotion and convince the public that buying it ‘is the right thing to do’.

Government procurement policy is also seen as vital in shaping the timber market place, and Netherlands respondents say their government’s policy has been a strong driver for sustainable tropical timber. Other nationalities feel their governments should be pressed to follow the Dutch example.

Promotion of sustainable tropical timber by respondents themselves is in general limited, with the view expressed that this is primarily the role of their national federations. Other to-dos to grow the sustainable tropical timber market, say respondents, are to reduce the price differential between certified and non-certified timber, increase trust in certification and improve availability and reliability of supply.

Survey recommendations:

  • Timber trade federations should support members in trading solely in timber  from responsibly managed forests and in formulating sustainable  purchasing policies
  • Governments should continue to implement and improve timber procurement policies
  • STTC could initiate more coordinated European level tropical timber promotion and link with other timber sectors in promoting use of sustainable tropical timber to end customers
  • Companies could do more to promote sustainable tropical timber products and advertise that they contribute to sustainable forest management
  • NGOs should be persuaded to promote the values of sustainable tropical timber
  • VAT and other tax measures could be used to make verified sustainable tropical timber more competitive versus non-certified.