Certification Security | WWF

Certification Security

Posted on 18 August 2007

From Timber Trade Journal Online: Ensuring sustainable timber supply means we all have to be eco-evangelists, says WWF consultant George White

In 1993 I wrote to TTJ. I had just finished a thesis on “certification and the timber trade” and was anxious to share what I’d found. Certification had arrived and seemed to offer a promising future for a trade with a great deal of questions about its sources. Most people in the industry I contacted for the study said certification was going to be a big part of the future – but not all. A quote from the boss of one major processor lives with me – “the WWF 95 Group and its self-styled coterie of eco-evangelists have got it all wrong,” he said.

Fourteen years on, we can all say that certification plays a meaningful role in our industry. I say “our industry” as, in my role with WWF and the work we do with companies around the world, I do feel close to it. That in itself is perhaps one of the greatest changes over the past decade – industry and NGOs working together, not just fighting on the sidelines while Rome – or the forest – burns.

Certification has become a reality. Last month I was at the launch of FSC China. The day before I saw large volumes of PEFC-certified sycamore being processed in a Chinese mill, and wood from the first FSC natural forest in China being packed for a new UK customer.

Bumpy road

It has been a bumpy road, but in the past 10 years certification has made good progress. The conservation organisations wanted it at the outset as a way of recognising good forestry and to ensure that market forces drove more of it. The debate continues over whether the certification schemes available offer good forestry, but the framework is there and the process is to a large degree market driven.

Thankfully much of the heat in the ‘certification war’ has died down and in many places schemes are trying to improve their standards. Again the market is playing a key role, as are many NGOs, in challenging and engaging with these schemes. We probably won’t ever live in an “FSC only” world, but we might live in a world where production forests are managed responsibly and assessed against standards that take into account all stakeholder interests.

Unfortunately certification in the broadest sense hasn’t solved all the problems. With only around 6-7% of the world’s production forests certified, we should all be concerned about the rest. Forest conversion, illegal and high impact logging, loss of high conservation-value forest, poverty, and poor governance all remain prevalent in many of the places both WWF and the timber industry hold dear.

So are we on the right track? In an ever more globalised world with ever greater calls for transparency and sustainability, certification will continue to grow and the WWF and other NGOs will ensure that the growth is in forests that are most valuable and threatened. These are not easy to certify, but the alternative means this is as imperative as ever. The industry can look forward to a future where calls for certified product increase and second best material will need to be checked and verified in some way. Those who have ignored these issues are simply going to run out of excuses.

The recent trend for “legality verification” gives rise to hope and concern. It shows that producers in countries with high levels of illegality are responding to market demands; but it causes concerns that they will limit their ambition to just being legal and not achieving certification.

Forest ownership

The ownership structure of forests, especially natural forests, is changing and this will affect those that want to access the timber. Many communities are beginning to manage their forests and market their own products. The challenge for industry will be how it will adapt to sourcing from such young and often ill-equipped enterprises.

The hardwood trade, especially the tropical hardwood trade, has long had its favourite species. The search for these has a negative effect on many forests where over-harvesting of a single species is not only affecting the management of the forest, but threatens some major varieties with commercial extinction. There has to be room for more lesser-known species which often form 95% of standing timber.

WWF, through its Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN), and similar organisations will ensure that the area of forest certified continues to grow. That is our pledge. What we need is industry to keep asking and to keep pushing hard for credible certification and be prepared to try something different.

We face two potential futures: one where far-sighted companies recognise their sourcing problems, fix them and ensure security of supply; the other where those with their heads in the sand eventually get buried.

And what of the critic who didn’t like the “self-styled coterie of eco-evangelists”? He got FSC chain of custody a few years later. Don’t we all have to become “eco-evangelists”, self-styled or otherwise?

About the author 

George White is an independent consultant who has worked with WWF International's Global Forest & Trade Network since 2004. He started in the timber trade working for the Manson Group, learning the ropes of softwood and panel products merchanting.

For most of the 1990s until 2004, he worked for companies across J Sainsbury plc developing policies and processes to allow Homebase and Sainsbury's supermarkets to meet their commitments to the WWF-UK Forest and Trade Network. While at Sainsbury's he worked on diverse sourcing issues, from timber and paper to peat, fish, fuels and the Ethical Trading Initiative.

Mr White has a BSc (Hons) in Forest Products Technology from Brunel University and has been an associate of the Institute of Wood Science since 1989.

Source: Timber Trade Journal Online

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