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Will the axe fall on UK businesses timber supply?


In WWF’s Living Forests report series, we estimated that increasing global demand for wood for timber, paper and energy  could triple by 2050 as population rises and consumption increases. Without urgent and decisive action on the sustainable future of global forest resources, to ensure timber supply, the only way to meet this is by the continuing decimation of our life enhancing forests.

Thankfully, many businesses are taking action to secure products  from sustainably managed forests to mitigate the risk of this continuing unabated. But too many others still consider the cost of investing in sustainability for timber too high for their business.  Sustainable timber supply is something everyone is counting on, but not enough people investing in as yet.

What would compel a business to think differently about their relationship to the timber they use, in whatever form, and its sustainability?

100% sustainable timber markets: the economic and business case (pdf) is a  new report we commissioned, released today – 10th August, that pulls together some of the evidence base from a financial and economic perspective. We hope this will make many more businesses look with  comprehensive cost-benefit analysis at this investment.

First, one thing is certain – the future of current timber trade patterns is in doubt unless sustainable forestry management becomes more widespread as a means of securing supply. We cannot take three times the amount of timber from global forests without investing heavily in maintaining and creating forest to meet this demand. At present, we lose forests on a massive scale, each year. Expansion of temperate forest cover does not make up for loss of tropical forest, where most deforestation takes place. And if our climate is changing as we lose forest and continue to see CO2 concentrations rise in our atmosphere, then all forests are affected by these changes – with forest drying, increased risk of fire, pest and disease.

© WWF / Simon Rawles© WWF / Simon Rawles 2010

At the same time, sustainable timber markets are a means to mitigating and adapting to climate change, which has significant implications for the global economy. This report highlights that in a number of locations, legal and sustainable supply of timber to the UK is at risk of depletion. If your business is at the end of one of those supply chains, sustainable forest management should be top most in your mind.

Second, some businesses are starting to report net financial gain by addressing sustainability in their organisation, including sustainable sourcing of timber. In this work, we asked our report author, Charles Dean, to investigate what quantifiable evidence was available to capture the financial benefits to a business of investing in sustainability for timber. There is evidence that addressing these issues makes an initial demand on company resources, but that this input can be compensated in a number of ways.

Tangible business benefits include advantages in regulatory position, easier raising of finance, brand value and an engaged workforce. The report outlines the extent to which this is, or can be, the case, from current examples and research in the market.

The risks of non-action

If some forest producing countries’ resources continue to take a hammering, there will be UK businesses that could find themselves struggling to get the product they want at the price they’ve been used to. Businesses need to look at how their timber is sourced if they want to play their part in securing supply for the future and in keeping supply and prices stable.  Ensuring long-term availability of supply gives manufacturers maximum scope for product development, and provides retailers with a full range of tradable products. These enable stronger revenues, a stronger market presence, good relationships with stakeholders, and ultimately, healthier businesses.

Even if we have good forest governance in the UK, a guiding hand from the respective forestry commissions or agencies on good forest management practice, healthy forest management and timber production sectors, access to good research and well qualified industry professionals, a long history of timber production planning, plus licensing and grants systems to enable forest management in the country – by 2030 our domestic production will drop and our imports of timber will have to go up to compensate. If we face significant change in sustained timber volume outputs with the advantages we have in the UK, then we can also see that in other countries, where governance, infrastructure, licencing, staffing, investment, and many other factors could be very much more challenging, there is a greater risk that forest resources, for production, may not be managed to maintain security of supply to meet global demands as they increase.

© Global Warming Images / WWF 2009© Global Warming Images / WWF 2009

UK forestry sector role

The UK forestry sector could use its significant experience to raise the need for a greater understanding of the critical role that forests and timber play in economic activity, which at present is incomplete, both in the UK and internationally, and also that wider UK businesses, where they depend on timber for their products, need to seriously engage in addressing the true value and benefit of sustainable forest resources to their own business futures in some cases, and factor this more comprehensively into decision-making.


If you are a business that uses wood in any shape and form – this report is for you. There are strong ethical arguments for committing to sustainable timber in order to preserve forests for the local people and wildlife that depend upon them. But there is also a strong business case that permeates timber-dependent organisations. Forests need you – and you need forests.

Read the new report 100% sustainable timber markets: the economic and business case (pdf)

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