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Proposals for a 100% sustainable timber market


This week saw the public launch of our Forest Campaign. The campaign now has over 30 businesses signed up in support and already – within 5 days of it beginning – our petition has been signed by 2,400+ members of the public. These businesses and individuals are the early movers in showing their support for a 100% legal and sustainable timber trade in the UK by 2020. A terrific start.

The Forest Campaign has two main goals. The first is to reform and better implement the EU Timber Regulation that is intended to prevent illegal timber and timber products reaching EU markets. Our research, however, has shown that it isn’t doing its job. The second is to develop a mechanism – or suite of mechanisms – that could be put in place to take the UK market to using only sustainable timber and timber products by 2020.

Let me share with you our latest thinking on the second objective. Following extensive literature research, new studies into public procurement and timber trade flows, discussions with other NGOs, a workshop with industry representatives and discussions with a specially formed working group of experts… we have drawn up a possible set of four mechanisms, set out below.

In the process we’ve considered dozens of options – from changes to VAT to international trade agreements. The remaining ideas are those that have proved feasible and have the potential for high impact.

The four proposals below were put to the test this week when nine business leaders – such as Kingfisher CEO Sir Ian Cheshire – discussed them at an event hosted by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who is also President of WWF-UK. This was an invaluable opportunity to gather support for the ideas from business.

HRH The Prince of Wales, Steve Backshall, Deborah Meaden and WWF-UK's Chief Executive David Nussbaum at WWF’s Forest Business Forum at the Royal Society, London. © Richard Stonehouse / WWF-UKHRH The Prince of Wales, Steve Backshall, Deborah Meaden and WWF-UK’s Chief Executive David Nussbaum at WWF’s Forest Business Forum at the Royal Society, London. © Richard Stonehouse / WWF-UK

But we are keen to hear more feedback too, from others working on forests and/or sustainable trade issues. Here are summaries of the four proposals.

Maximise public procurement

The UK has a respected Timber Procurement Policy that mandates central government departments to buy only legal or sustainable timber and timber products (including paper, office furniture, timber for construction and maintenance). The government is not only a big buyer but also a trend setter – this policy is widely regarded to have been influential in the UK timber market – so what it does matters. But new research we commissioned (to be released imminently) has shown that half or less (depending on the category of goods) of government departments reported that they were 100% compliant with the policy. The Government could maximise its impact by improving reporting against the policy, introducing a mechanism to address non-compliance and extending the policy to other big buying public sector bodies like schools, universities or the NHS.

A Government-Industry Voluntary Agreement and enhanced transparency

Alongside a renewed and extended public sector commitment, the government could sponsor and chair a new ‘voluntary agreement’ with industry towards the 100% sustainable sourcing goal. Like other agreements, such as the successful Courtauld Commitment, this initiative could create a pre-competitive space for businesses to collaborate and overcome common barriers. It could also come with collective or individual corporate reporting on progress towards the 100% goal to increase the transparency of the sector. Some companies may be covered by other agreements such as the reporting of the Timber Trade Federation, but this agreement could build on these and target those sectors not currently being addressed.

Favourable finance for sustainable sourcing

In response to the risk of funding deforestation related activities, many banks, including several in the UK, have adopted ‘forest risk policies’ or abide by the Equator Principles. These policies vary in ambition and level of implementation. Several banks – Barclays, Lloyds, RBS among others – have also signed up to the Soft Commodities Compact facilitated by the Banking Environment Initiative. That compact included two commitments. The first was that the signatories would develop appropriate financing solutions that support the growth of sustainably produced commodities like timber. The second was that the signatories would encourage improvements in the sustainability standards of clients in “high [deforestation] risk geographies.” Banks, indeed other investors too, need to be continually encouraged to adopt approaches such as these and to take them to implementation. When mainstream finance institutions make it the norm to require sustainable timber production and use, the sector will have a significant incentive to do just that.

Forests are being erased. Copyright: naturepl.com / Anup Shah / WWF-CanonForests are being erased. Copyright: naturepl.com / Anup Shah / WWF-Canon

Support improvements and invest in small scale producers

Cumulatively, small scale producers make up a decent chunk of timber production globally. Yet, they risk being left behind in the UK or EU push for sustainable timber. Small scale and community operations are often held back from changing practices or achieving sustainability certification because of a lack of access to upfront capital. This is for a combination of reasons, including that they are too small for domestic or international finance institutions, they lack the capacity to develop business cases and the forest sector is seen as inherently risky. Alongside demand side measures, more support and investment must be directed to increase the use and verification of sustainable practices in timber producing countries. This could be through new facilities leveraging impact investors and/or as part of a new and improved EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade – FLEGT – action plan, which is being reviewed in 2015.


For WWF, underpinning all these voluntary approaches is the possibility of legislation. Legal advice we have sought has indicated that it would be possible for the government to legislate on sustainable sourcing or on transparency thereof. If voluntary approaches do not prove successful in gaining new ground, this could be the only route to ensure our Christmas cards, wooden chairs or books are made from legal and sustainable timber and pulp.

We will continue to develop these ideas with NGOs, industry and our expert working group over the coming months. And if you have suggestions, we’d welcome your comments below.

So if you agree with the aims of our campaign, you can sign up here or your business can sign up here. You can also show your support using #SaveForests.

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