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Councils: your wood may be good, but your suppliers may still be a risk


Durham County Council have achieved the gold level pledge – the top tier pledge to monitor their buying of wood, paper and other tree-based products. (Tell your council you want them to do the same.)

Jamie Thomas from Durham council talks about why they chose to do this – and why other councils should too…

A stream running through a FSC forestThis FSC certified forest is part of the bigger solution. © WWF-Switzerland / A. della Bella / WWF-Canon

“At Durham council we were very pleased to achieve WWF’s gold standard on sustainable timber. It’s reassuring to know that all the timber we purchase is up to scratch and that we’re supporting sustainable forestry. But, as pleasing an achievement as that is, it’s not the end of the road. In sustainable procurement there’s always a next step.

For one thing, ongoing work will always be needed to keep track of your suppliers and make sure they remain compliant. Having that monitoring and reporting framework in place is part of the requirement to meet the gold standard. But is that all?

Once you’ve got procedures in place to ensure all the timber products your council is buying are sustainably sourced, what’s next? Is there any more you can do?

Yes there is. For some contracts you can – and should – look beyond just the timber supplied to your authority, and look at the timber sourcing operations of suppliers as a whole.

Consider a tender for a contract to supply office furniture – which may include a lot of wood. The supplier may provide you with assurance that the timber supplied to you will all come from sustainable sources. But what if timber they’re sourcing for other customers doesn’t meet that standard?

Think of the headlines – “Council awards big furniture contract to illegal loggers” – that’s a reputational risk to your authority, even though the timber actually supplied to you was sustainable. That reputational risk makes the supplier’s wider timber-sourcing activities relevant to your tender.

So, on selected timber-related contracts, we’ve now started asking bidding organisations, as part of the shortlisting process, to tell us how they manage the sourcing of timber across all their operations – not just the timber we’re buying.

I’m happy to share more details with any public sector procurers interested in applying the same approach – drop me a line at jamie.thomas@durham.gov.uk”

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