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Protecting forests for the future

Sustainably managed forests can protect wildlife, local communities and the wider environment from the devastating consequences of deforestation but how can you ensure that the timber you are buying has been responsibly sourced? Michelle Gordon talks to the PEFC and FSC about what to look out for

Around 129 million hectares of forest – an area almost equivalent in size to South Africa – have been lost since 1990 with huge swathes of forest being illegally cleared in some areas for conversion to agricultural crops such as palm oil or soy bean.

Deforestation can lead to issues such as soil erosion and increased flooding and can have devastating consequences for wildlife, local communities and the wider environment.

“Forests are under threat and disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Rosie Teasdale, executive director of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which was established in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world’s forests.

“Deforestation accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the global transport sector. In areas where systems are not in place to ensure that timber is sourced responsibly the damage caused by illegal logging, habitat destruction and expansion of agricultural land is now reaching a critical stage. We have already lost half of the world’s natural forests and this loss is continuing.”

The FSC and international forestry certification scheme the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), which was formed in 1999, are working across the globe to ensure that forests are sustainably managed and protected for future generations.

“Finding a balanced way to both utilise and protect our forests has become critical,” said Teasdale. “Those who buy timber, paper and other forest products could be rewarding damaging and destructive practices if they do not source responsibly. Basically, if you don’t know where your timber and paper come from, you could be part of the problem.”

Sourcing certified material enables you to become part of the solution, said Teasdale, supporting responsible forestry and reducing the market for products that are the result of damaging forestry practices. Both organisations have developed systems of forest certification, working with governments and local communities to ensure that forests are sustainably managed and that trees are planted to replace those that have been cut down.

They also run product labelling schemes that enable people to identify responsibly sourced wood, paper and other forest products. The PEFC has 30 endorsed schemes around the world covering 300 million hectares of forests, with several countries currently working towards having their national forest schemes endorsed.

“We work from a bottom up approach, so each country has to have a national forest certification scheme that has been developed through stakeholder engagement,” explained Alun Watkins, executive director, PEFC UK Ltd. “Each national scheme could be slightly different because forestry in Finland is different to forestry in Africa, but they still have to meet the core sustainability requirements of forest management and standard setting etc.

“If they meet those requirements it will then be approved by the PEFC Council and sent to the other PEFC members for a vote and those members will look at their scheme and make sure that they are acceptable as we don’t want a weak link anywhere.”

The only companies that can use a PEFC logo are those that are 3rd party certified and hold a chain of custody certificate or forest management certificate which means they buy their material from a sustainable source. FSC runs a global forest certification system with two key components: forest management and chain of custody.

The certification process is carried out by independent certification bodies, which assess forest managers and forest product companies against FSC standards.  Each link in the supply chain is audited.

“Our vision is to ensure that the world’s forests meet the social, ecological and economic rights and needs of the present generation without compromising those of future generations and our mission is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests,” explained Teasdale.

“The FSC logo on a wood or wood-based product is your assurance that it is made with, or contains, wood that comes from FSC certified forests or from post-consumer waste.”

A logo will be easy to spot on a piece of furniture, for example, but is unlikely to be marked on raw materials for building projects, so invoices and delivery notes should be checked for appropriate certification codes. Both organisations have online databases where you can check the validity of certification numbers and recommend regular checks on suppliers.

“Many timber suppliers will tell you, often in good faith, that their supplies are from ‘sustainable’ or ‘managed’ sources, or from plantations,” said Teasdale. “Without an independent certification system, there is often no way of verifying this or of demonstrating to your clients that you have met their expectations in terms of responsible sourcing.”

Timber procurement policies are recommended to ensure that everyone in the organisation knows what timber and timber products are acceptable for use. It can also help companies to make and meet Corporate Social Responsibility targets.

The use of timber as a building material is growing in popularity and most organisations are ensuring that they only use certified products, but Watkins believes that the sector is missing a trick with project certification, which is available for buildings, which have been constructed from sustainable timber.

People are clearly starting to get the message when it comes to the importance of certification but the total volume of certified forest in the world only stands at about 11% and there is still a long way to go.

“We can’t rest on our laurels,” said Watkins. “If everyone wanted certified wood tomorrow there probably wouldn’t be enough to go around so we have to keep expanding on that 11% to meet demand.

“So, the more we sell certification and try and get people to sign up to it and specify it we have to make sure that there is enough timber for them to buy, so it is a bit chicken and egg. We have to keep pushing from the specification side, but we also need to keep pace with demand.”

TIMBER PROCUREMENT TIPS

Make sure the timber you are using is certified by:

  • Specifying PEFC/FSC certified materials when placing your order and let your supplier know that you need them to make a PEFC/FSC claim on their sale documents
  • Sourcing from a certified supplier. Both PEFC and FSC have lists of certified organisations on their websites
  • Check that the delivery note and/or invoice clearly identifies the PEFC/ FSC certified products and includes the supplier’s PEFC/FSC certificate code
  • Check that the certificate is valid and that it covers the appropriate product categories using online databases
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