Thémis tool tracks European sustainable timber procurement

Thémis, a new data gathering tool and online portal is being developed to enable various European timber trade federations to monitor, benchmark, communicate and so help increase verified sustainable procurement levels.

The project is being led by Netherlands-based international forest and timber sustainability consultant Probos, which has over a decade’s experience of monitoring and reporting on verified sustainable procurement in the Dutch industry and for the Dutch and Belgian governments. It is working on Thémis with the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT) and the trade federations of France, Belgium and the UK; Le Commerce du Bois, Fedustria and the UK Timber Trade Federation. Funding is being provided by IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative and the Congo basin Programme for Promotion of Certified Sustainable Forest Management (PPECF), plus the federations themselves. Though the focus of the main donors is on tropical regions, the tool will also cover softwood, temperate hardwoods, panels and some secondary timber products. “Growing the market for responsibly sourced timber”, says Probos Director and Senior Advisor Mark van Benthem, “is key to incentivizing uptake of verified sustainable forest management, in turn supporting maintenance of the forest and its critical climate stabilising role.”

Some European timber trade federations (TTFs) have already implemented responsible timber procurement policies (TPPs) for members. But it’s generally acknowledged that these need to target continued growth in levels of responsible timber purchasing and also that other federations need to follow suit to increase positive impact on the forest. Facilitating sustainable procurement data gathering and monitoring, says Probos, can assist ongoing enhancement of existing TPPs and encourage adoption by organisations which don’t yet have them. “By reporting procurement data, TTF members create transparency and can monitor progress and target interventions,” says Mr van Benthem.

Probos points out that since procurement data monitoring and annual reporting was introduced for members of the Netherlands Timber Trade Federation in 2010, the proportion of their imports backed by verified sustainable forest management chain of custody has risen from 71% to 92% by volume in 2019. Within this figure, the percentage for softwood has risen from 88% to 99%, wood sheet materials 64% to 96% and hardwood 31% to 62%.

It’s difficult to show precise cause and effect between data reporting, setting targets and this growth in sustainable procurement. But Probos maintains that the process can increase companies’ focus on the latter, enable them to compare performance with peers’ or the industry average, identify room for improvement and develop strategies for achieving it. Monitoring responsible sourcing also has added value for those involved, it says.

“Companies get insight into development of this part of their corporate social responsibility performance and how it relates to performance of competitors and the sector as a whole. Where they are performing well, they can communicate the fact and be highlighted as ‘distinguished traders’ on platforms such as,” said Mr van Benthem. “The data also gives TTFs a better view on members’ CSR performance, helps target interventions, distinguishes them from non-TTF members and adds value to membership. If it shows a high percentage of imports coming from well-managed forests, it helps positively brand the sector and timber generally.” He added that governments and donors targeting reduced imported deforestation are also keen to monitor responsibly sourced product consumption.

The data gathering tool is designed to be easy to use and enables companies to detail imports by product type covered by certification schemes, regulatory systems (e.g. FLEGT) and legality verification schemes. Frequency of data gathering and reporting, how the process is audited, and the results analysed, will be down to the TTFs implementing the tool and their members.