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Last edited 12 Jan 2020
European Union Timber Regulation
Timber is often heralded as a sustainable building material as it absorbs carbon when it grows, effectively acting as a carbon sink. However, improperly managed tree felling can lead to land degradation, pollution of watercourses, a loss of biodiversity and displaced populations.
In 2011, EU imports of solid timber and timber products amounted to £12billion  with 82% (by value) from high risk countries . The UK is actually the largest importer from countries defined as high risk, followed by Germany and France. Fortunately not all timber coming from these countries is necessarily illegal, but it does highlight the UK's challenging position.
The European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) came into force in March 2013, with a remit to prevent illegal timber products entering the EU. The regulatory requirements vary depending on whether you are an operator or a trader:
- The operators, defined as those who place timber products on the EU market for the first time, bear the most responsibility and are required to exercise 'due diligence'.
- The traders, those who buy or sell timber products already placed on the EU market, are required to keep information for five years about their suppliers and customers to make timber easily traceable.
Legally, the onus is mainly on the operator. However traders should not simply rely on the operator stating on headed paper that they operate a Due Diligence System (DDS)  and consequently all timber is EUTR compliant. Traders should seek a copy of the operator's DDS and scratch below the surface, to ensure that the system is actually implemented (for example, checking that there are filled in risk assessments and evidence of legality where risks have been identified).
Although the EUTR is a step forward, it is worth noting that it only covers approximately 50% of the timber products supplied into the EU and it does not address wider issues of sustainability. Legal timber is not necessarily sustainable. Certification schemes like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) can provide further assurance that forests are managed sustainably. The Grown in Britain campaign and certification scheme aims to create a sustainable timber culture in Britain.
The forestry industry currently contributes over £4billion to our GDP and employs almost 40,000 people, but forests only cover 13% of the UK compared to 37% of Europe. There would be significant benefits to the nation's health, well-being and economic vitality if more businesses promoted the use of home-grown timber.
Most construction companies are familiar with these third-party certification schemes and feel safe because they have the requirement to buy FSC or PEFC products in their contracts. However they should be encouraged to double check, as sometimes, apparently clear requirements amounts to little more than an ambiguous clause buried in a hundred page contract, and supposedly robust audit and assurance mechanisms are actually inconsistent checks from untrained staff.
The lucky few, who feel confident they have a reliable management system in place, may want to double check the timber studwork used in the toilet cubicle manufactured offsite, the plywood hidden on the elevator, and tackle timber packaging, and take some time to consider how many transport miles timber products have travelled to site.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Chain of custody.
- Forest ownership.
- Forest Stewardship Council.
- Legal and sustainable timber.
- Legally harvested and traded timber.
- Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.
- Sustainable materials.
- Sustainable timber.
- Sustainably procuring tropical hardwood.
- Tree preservation order.
- Tree rights.
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