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Last edited 09 Mar 2021
Wood and sustainable procurement
2050, the target date set by the Government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero, seems a long way away. But the construction industry’s hefty 40% contribution to the UK’s total carbon footprint means action needs to start now.
There are several ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and timber continues to be a good choice as a ‘green’ building material. Its natural ability to lock up carbon makes it a catalyst in the shakeup of how we can build in a more environmentally friendly way.
 How to spot sustainable timber
Forest certification programmes, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) protect and promote sustainable forest management. Both organisations work with the supply chain and relevant industry bodies to ensure timber imported and exported in the UK is legal and certified.
Certification confirms that a supplier has legally and sustainably sourced the timber. It also protects the environment, economy and people within the area of the forest the timber is sourced from. Neglecting to source timber in this way is illegal.
Verified Legal Compliance schemes (VLCs) work alongside timber regulations that require companies sourcing timber to have a due diligence system in place. They ensure all the administrative requirements have been completed, that any applicable and relevant laws and regulations related to forestry have been met and check forest management processes. The predominant VLCs are run by the Rainforest Alliance (SmartWood) and Bureau Veritas (OLB) and are particularly important in West and Central Africa.
In Southeast Asia, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) set up a scheme, the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS), which is the first of its kind in the region to be endorsed by PEFC.
TRADA operates its own chain of custody scheme for forest products that aren’t FSC or PEFC certified. It recognises other certification schemes such as MTCC and verification schemes such as Bureau Veritas’ OLB, the Forest Law Enforcement, Government and Trade (FLEGT), and the Rainforest Alliance VLC.
In Europe, the EUTR prohibits the placing of illegally harvested timber on the European market. This means there must be a record of the supplier, the product’s timber species, where it comes from, the amount bought, and a risk assessment on the product. The FLEGT action plan aims to reduce illegal logging by strengthening sustainable and legal forest management, improving governance and promoting trade in legally produced timber.
There are also Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPA), which are legally binding trade agreements between the European Union and a timber-producing country outside the EU to ensure timber products come from a legal source.
Other initiatives include the United Nations programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and the Forest Legality Initiative (FLI), a project run by the World Resources Institute.
Areas such as the Congo Basin in Africa and Southeast Asia count among the largest areas of biodiversity in the world. At the same time, some of the most vulnerable rural communities live here whose livelihoods depend on the forest.
Identifying sustainable sources from these regions can be challenging. FSC records a low number of chain of custody certificates and certified forest areas. According to PEFC, only 11% of the world’s forests are certified.
This places pressure on the supply chain to ensure the timber has not been sourced in a way that negatively impacts the local area. Instead of avoiding supply of timber from these areas, some companies go an extra-long way to ensure positive impact on local communities:
Interholco supplies wood from Africa but has taken strides to ensure the people and the forests are not negatively affected by the trading of timber. On the contrary: Its African base in the Republic of Congo provides income for more than 1,000 employees and more than 16,000 local and indigenous people living in the area. Everyone in the area has access to jobs and training, medical care, pensions and many of the other things we take for granted in the UK.
Interholco implements a forest management plan, carries out inventories, and studies the local wildlife among other things. In October this year, Inteholco’s conservation of several thousand gorillas earned them a German Nature Film Award. The project was filmed by Franco-German TV channel, ARTE, and showed the positive long-term economic impact for local people.
The main consideration when procuring timber is to guarantee it has been sustainably sourced. Check it has been verified and use due diligence systems. There is a wealth of information available from all of the initiatives mentioned in this newsletter and also from timber trade bodies such as TRADA and the Timber Trade Federation.
To keep up to date with the challenges facing global forestry, Global Forest Watch provides a free resource that allows users to explore the latest data and the impact on different areas around the world.
PEFC's guide is inclusive of all certificates - PEFC, FSC, GiB Chain of Custody - and can be downloaded here. PEFC also offer an inclusive CPD that talks you through benefits of all certification schemes and what to watch out for. More information can be accessed here.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Chain of custody.
- Confederation of Timber Industries.
- Delivering sustainable low energy housing with softwood timber frame.
- Environmental plan.
- European Union Timber Regulation.
- 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.
- Whole life carbon assessment of timber
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