Furnishing forest sustainability?

24th November 2016


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  • Mitigation ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Agriculture ,
  • Resource extraction

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IEMA

How to make timber sourcing more sustainable.

Despite the EU Timber regulations, there is still a significant risk that furniture being sold in the UK will contain timber that has been illegally sourced. In fact, total furniture imports from ‘high risk’ countries (where the potential for illegal timber is greater) is valued at €1.9 billion / year. This poses a very real reputational risk for businesses who may inadvertently by sourcing such material while having hugely damaging impacts on biodiversity in the forests from which the timber is extracted.

environmentalistonline.com profiled the WWF report examining how well the furniture sector is addressing issues of responsible sourcing of timber and timber products. A survey ranked furniture retailers based solely on publicly available information downloaded from their websites. Encouragingly, of the 74 brands surveyed, 10 achieved the maximum ‘performance’ rating. Less encouragingly, 39 of the 74 (53%) were rated ‘no information’, as they had made no reference whatsoever to responsible timber sourcing. Compared to earlier WWF studies of multiple sectors this suggests that the furniture sector is lagging behind in terms of sourcing commitments and to public disclosures of performance.

For good business, social and ethical reasons, no business would choose to use illegally or non-sustainably sourced timber or timber products. The ‘Are you sitting comfortably?‘ report helps to raise the issues for those companies that were not aware of the risks they face but also lay out some clear and simple steps that businesses can take to both reduce their risk and improve their performance. Most importantly, companies need to make a genuine commitment to doing better with understanding their supply chains and to put in place requirements that ensure their product components can be properly traced. None of these need be especially onerous – many companies across many sectors already do this as a matter of course, although it may take some time to fully integrate these measures into company standard practices.

Five key elements are identified:

  • Publish a responsible timber sourcing policy – that makes public your commitments to best practice with clear targets that are reported against annually.
  • Engage with suppliers – to make sure they are fully aware of your requirements and expectations.
  • Display a positive commitment to a credible forest certification scheme (especially to FSC) that through supplier’s ‘chain of custody’ can give assurances that timber has originated from a well-managed forest. This can be aligned with a clear articulation of the retailer’s aims for such things as use of recycled fibre/wood and prohibiting materials from a range of unacceptable sources.
  • Proactively communicate – with customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders on plans to source timber sustainably and to build credibility and trust through demonstrating a commitment to make genuine progress.
  • Seek support - from suppliers, industry bodies, environmental groups and even competitors who may be able to share experiences or resources to help with responsible sourcing.

There is no shortage of tools, case studies and guidelines to help companies embarking on this journey and our own programme, the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) assists businesses in overcoming obstacles to responsible sourcing. This helps with guidance on how to exercise due diligence on supply chains for forest goods, and prioritise sourcing from legal and sustainable forest sources.

We share a lot of tools online and are happy to pass them on directly with any businesses willing to take action. We can help point the way to others, like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world’s forests who also offer a series of resources and training to assist companies develop better practice.

The environmental performance of the private sector is coming under increasing scrutiny. This is a good reason to make sure that our house is in order but more than that, it is simply the right thing to do. It makes good business sense to secure a sustainable and responsible supply but in doing so there are tangible environmental benefits and so WWF have a strong vested interest in promoting these approaches and with working with companies wanting to transition to a truly responsible timber sourcing policy.

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