Sustainable forest, sustainable future
"We were horrified and knew we would be next," says Young. "We had a longstanding policy of environmental responsibility, but didn’t know how to find timber from well-managed forests". That is when Homebase joined the WWF-UK Forest and Trade Network and became part of the WWF Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN).
Campaigning NGOs have a good reason to protest against European and North American companies’ buying policies. Asia’s forests, which supply a substantial share of tropical hardwood to the western market, are in crisis.
The Philippines’ forests are gone. China has imposed stringent bans on logging in the wake of the Yangtze River floods. Indonesia’s tropical rainforests, some of the richest in the world, are being cut down at an alarming rate of over 3.5 million hectares per year — the equivalent of 500 soccer fields per hour. As such, furniture manufacturers have started to talk about finding timber suppliers in Indochina when Indonesia can no longer meet their demands.
Supply & demand
While the world’s most important forests deteriorate, global trade in forest products continues to grow at a rapid pace. Each year the world consumes approximately 1.6 billion cubic metres of industrial roundwood, and consumption is projected to grow to between 2 and 3 billion cubic metres per year by 2050.
Yet the quality of management of production forests around the world is highly variable. In Asia, home to some of the world’s most valuable and threatened forests, just 2.79 per cent of forests have attained credible, independent, and certification as being well-managed.
Meeting this demand comes at a high price to Asia. Not only may businesses find Asian timber a much more expensive and scarce commodity in the future as a result of over logging, but may also lose services vital to the well-being of the planet that Asia’s forests provide. Forests reduce soil erosion and landslides, act as a buffer against global warming, and even filter the water and air we breathe.
Millions in China and Indonesia now face more flooding, mudslides, and wildfires as a result of denuded forests. Protecting forests can also help to provide high quality drinking water, and city authorities throughout the world need cleaner, cheaper and more secure water supplies. Today, half the world’s population is urban — and one-third of these people live without clean water. These 1 billion have-nots are unevenly distributed, and almost 700 million city dwellers without access to clean water live in Asia.
Demand in Asia as well as in Europe and North America contributes heavily to the logging frenzy in countries like Indonesia. In North America and Europe, some markets already favour environmentally friendly forest products, and major retailers, including Homebase, IKEA, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Carrefour, have announced policies to exclude illegally cut timber from their supplies.
With their global sourcing, these companies are bringing green buying policies to Asia. Smaller companies manufacturing furniture and other wood products in Asia are also seeking third-party verification of responsible practices to gain preferential access to high-value markets in North America and Europe.
The Asian wood consuming countries, primarily China and Japan, may be poised on the brink of a paradigm shift. According to Lily Lee, Coordinator of EcoWood Asia, the Architectural Services Department of Hong Kong has recently rewritten its general specification for building with, remarkably, the objective of sustainable forestry in mind. Beginning January of this year, contractors may only use wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or other approved authority.
WWF’s GFTN intends to leverage this demand for responsibly produced wood into concrete changes in forest management and conservation, while helping businesses meet the demand for sustainable forest products. The GFTN consists of demand oriented FTNs, called buyer group and producer group. The buyer group includes retailers, distributors and specifiers, like Hong Kong’s Architectural Services Department. The producer group includes forest owners or managers and forest product processors and manufacturers.
GFTN works to improve the management of valuable and threatened forests through trade links between companies committed to responsible forestry. GFTN helps responsible buyers and sellers to locate one another and provides technical assistance that aids in realising the market push towards environmentally sustainable wood products.
"With the right market conditions," says Dr Justin W Stead, senior advisor, and former executive director of GFTN, "we can conserve the world’s forests while providing economic and social benefits for the businesses and people that depend on them."
At its inception, the GFTN focussed primarily on buyer group members purchasing wood that received independent certification. The United Nations reported in 2001 that more than half of the demand for certified forest products in the 1990s were generated by members of GFTN.
Today, certification is recognised as a useful tool in the achievement of responsible forest management, and the use of certified forests is expanding rapidly. Credible certification is the most effective way to guarantee that wood comes from legal and noncontroversial sources, but credibly certified wood is difficult to find, particularly in valuable and threatened areas such as the tropics.
Accordingly, WWF’s GFTN has endorsed another process for obtaining ‘good wood’. Known as the ‘stepwise approach’, it is designed to improve the environmental status of forests and supply chains. It is a pragmatic approach to sourcing responsibly.
Supply chains do not change over night and neither does forest management. Buyers start on a path that leads to 100 per cent sourcing of certified wood. It begins with identifying the source of wood products, rejecting those identified as illegal, progressing to working with sources that are on the road to certification, and finally, purchasing only certified wood.
To assist buyers looking to improve their supply chains, the GFTN has recently published a guide called Responsible Purchasing of Forest Products, which strongly encourages buyers to work with WWF producer groups to help buyers and sellers achieve their goals. In many countries, these producer groups are likely the only means of effecting forest certification, with producer group members also engaging in a step by step process that ends with credible certification.
Value for business
One new producer group member, Inspiration Furniture, hopes to play a leading role in the push for responsible forestry in Malaysia, and by doing so, to increase its business opportunities. Inspiration Furniture Sdn Bhd became the first member of Malaysia’s producer group, Kumpulan Khazanah Hijau, on 10 May 2004.
Established only four years ago, Inspiration has already become one of Malaysia’s top manufacturers and exporters of garden furniture. Between November 2002 and February 2003, Inspiration exported more than 4,000 units of furniture a month to European buyers. Its product lines include garden chairs, tables, and benches of various designs. Inspiration is committed to supporting sustainable forest management, through increasing the percentage of its source materials purchased from forests moving towards certification.
Many companies have used similar approaches over the past decade with significant success. Organizations that could otherwise risk their reputations and potentially even legal action as a result of knowing nothing about the origin of their wood. This can move to a position of greater security, which will increase with time.
"After ten years working with WWF we know that there are benefits all round," says Homebase’s Young. "When it comes to trying to keep our supply chain moving in the right direction, we know we are working with the right people. We are now achieving the results our business needs."
* Kate Fuller is Asia-Pacific communications officer at WWF International. Feature first published in FDMasia online, October 2004.
WWF's Global Forest & Trade Network
The Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) is WWF's initiative to eliminate illegal logging and improve the management of valuable and threatened forests.
By facilitating trade links between companies committed to achieving and supporting responsible forestry, the GFTN creates market conditions that help conserve the world's forests while providing economic and social benefits for the businesses and people that depend on them.
Forest certification and the FSC
Widely seen as the most important initiative of the last decade to promote better forest management, forest certification is a system of forest inspection plus a means of tracking timber and paper through a "chain of custody" — following the raw material through to the finished product. This is to ensure that the products have come from forests which are well managed, meaning they take into account environmental, social, and economic aspects.
The key to improving the way forests are managed through forest certification is the credibility and quality of the certification system. WWF supports credible certification, and currently considers the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to be the only credible system to ensure environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of forests. FSC enjoys the support of most national and international environmental NGOs, unions, social groups, indigenous peoples, private, communal and state forest owners, timber industries, scientists, and numerous individuals in more than 60 countries worldwide.