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Wood - even more good news for specifiers and users (March 2007).

David Sulman of the Scottish Timber Trade Association reports on progress in the important field of timber certification.

In the space of just a few years, the timber industry in the UK has made outstanding progress in the adoption of chain of custody certification and the procurement of certified wood products, thereby assuring specifiers and users of the environmental credentials of these products.

In the late 1990’s there were increasing questions about the sourcing and sustainability of some of the wood products being used in the UK and it was against this background that the timber industry responded positively to customer needs and adopted certification, thereby assuring specifiers and users that products have been obtained from legal and sustainable sources.

Such was the rate of progress that by 2005, over two-thirds of all wood and wood based products entering the supply chain in the UK were certified, which represents more than 11 million cubic metres of product. Even more encouraging is the expectation that by the end of 2007 about three-quarters of the wood used in the UK will have been obtained from certified sources.

Sustainably managed forests provide valuable economic, social and environmental benefits - indefinitely. The certification of forest products provides assurance, supported by independent inspection and monitoring of forest management and subsequent processing of wood, that wood has been obtained from forests which are being managed sustainably and in accordance with internationally recognised standards.

It’s easy to take wood for granted, after all, we’ve been using it in one form or another for thousands of years. Yet wood is unique – it is the only truly renewable and sustainable construction material – a fact that is not appreciated as widely as it should be. No other commonly used construction material can justifiably claim this attribute. Life cycle assessment shows that for many construction uses, wood and wood products are the best environmental choice.

Certification is not just applicable to sawn wood products, but to wood based sheet materials, including particleboard, MDF, OSB and plywood, as well. Although the UK imports a significant proportion of its wood based panel needs, UK producers account for about 50% of our requirements and it is worth noting that 100% of UK panel production is certified, which gives increased confidence for specifiers and users in the construction, furniture and other panel using markets.

The Scottish Timber Trade Association, the Scottish arm of the Timber Trade Federation, actively supports measures to provide increased assurance to specifiers and users. In-company vendor assessment procedures and the Timber Trade Federation’s Responsible Purchasing Policy provide companies with tools to objectively assess and monitor their suppliers’ performance. The UK is in the vanguard of the fight against the trade in illegal and unsustainable timber and its progress has been praised by the UK Government.

Despite the rapid adoption of certification in the UK, it has to be appreciated that the rate of progress towards certification made in the many countries which supply wood products to the UK varies considerably; this impacts upon the availability of certified products. It is also important to recognise that not all uncertified material is derived from illegal or unsustainable sources. Much of the uncertified material which enters the UK originates from sustainable sources where sound and long established forest management practices not only support local communities, but also ensure that forests, and increasingly, plantations, are constantly renewed. Specifiers and users of timber and wood products should not disregard products simply because they have not yet achieved certified status. Certified products, such as those certified by the PEFC, FSC, CSA, SFI or MTCC schemes, that are fit for purpose should be the materials of choice, however, if a product is not certified, it does not necessarily mean that it has been obtained from illegal or unsustainably managed sources. In many overseas countries, although certification has yet to be achieved, usually because of more pressing priorities, there are usually comprehensive Government standards for forest management in place. In such cases, suppliers can provide information about their procurement policies and give assurances about particular products. If in doubt, ask; Members of the Scottish Timber Trade Association will be pleased to assist enquirers.

In the UK, DEFRA is leading the Government’s activities in relation to timber procurement and has established a Central Point of Expertise in Timber Procurement (CPET). CPET regularly reviews the principal forest certification schemes to ensure that they satisfy UK Government procurement requirements. Following its most recent assessment of the major schemes, CPET has confirmed that four schemes, CSA, FSC, PEFC and SFI, provide evidence and assurance that products have been obtained from legal and sustainable sources. A fifth scheme, MTCC, currently provides evidence of legality of supply. For more information on CPET and timber procurement, visit the CPET website at www.proforest.net/cpet.

With the availability of certified wood and wood products continuing to increase, there are now even more reasons to specify and use wood with confidence; its unique attribute as the only truly renewable and sustainable construction material, supported by certification, is yet another aspect of the good story that wood has to tell.

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