Responsible Timber: is certification enough?

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Timber is one of the world’s most exploited resources, it has been used by the human race for millennia. It is quite literally part of the fabric of our society; essential for building, packaging and paper to name a few. But what is the real impact of timber exploitation on people and the planet?

This article will describe the current outlook of global timber and forest products, highlighting the social and environmental impacts of unsustainable forest management. It will then outline the two most popular timber certification bodies for businesses and explore the pros and cons associated with sustainable sourcing of timber through certification.

Responsible Timber: is certification enough?

Current outlook

The trade of forest products has increased substantially since the mid-20th Century with an ever growing demand for low-cost timber products. This is fuelling illegal and unsustainable logging around the world. Timber and paper comprised 16% of international trade commodities in 2016 according to the WWF Business and Economic case report.  Illegal logging represents between 15 and 30% of wood traded globally, with up to 50% of all logging taking place in the most valuable and threatened forests. These forests include the Amazon and Congo Basins, where up to 90% of all forest activities can be attributed to illegal logging (find out more from WWF).

FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment 2015 reported that, since 1990 planted forest area has increased by over 105 million ha, and in the same period 31 million ha of primary forest is reported to have been cleared or modified. This demonstrates that the planted area exceeds the area of primary forests harvested, however it takes time for these planted forests to reach maturity. There are many social and environmental issues associated with the production of timber commodities from primary forest areas. These issues impact the immediate area of timber production and the planet as a whole.

Timber can be a renewable resource if it is managed responsibly.  Action is being taken internationally and at individual country level to curb the rate of illegal logging, and promote the responsible sourcing of timber and timber products by businesses.

Current commitments

In order to control unregulated logging, forest management policies need to be developed and responsible demand established. Policy can be found at all levels of government, from the UN to EU-wide provision such as the EU Green Public Procurement Policy and at national government level.

Commitments from the United Nations such as the New York Declaration on Forests encourage businesses to sign up to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020, and as a result can contribute towards increased uptake of sustainable timber production. Most businesses and governments are meeting these commitments through the use of certification bodies.

Leading certification schemes

The main certification bodies for timber are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification scheme (PEFC).

FSC is a global not-for-profit organisation promoting responsible forest management. It operates in over 100 markets, safeguarding the production of timber, non-timber products and ecosystem services, preserving the forests’ ecological processes, biodiversity and productivity. Their standards are developed at a global level and adapted to each country’s national standards.

FSC Principles for Forest Stewardship:

1. Compliance with Laws
2. Indigenous People’s Rights
3. Benefits from the Forest
4. Management Planning    
5. High Conservation Values


6. Workers’ Rights and Employment Conditions
7. Community Relations
8. Environmental Values and Impacts
9. Monitoring and Assessment
10. Implementation of Management Activities 


PEFC is the largest forest certification system in the world, meeting the requirements of small family forest owners. PEFC certification endorses national forest certification systems which have been developed with a multiple stakeholder approach and is recognised in 36 countries.


Certification shows that a company recognises the need to procure timbre products from a sustainable source.  However, in order to address some of the biggest challenges in the timber industry, around illegal logging in developing countries it is important that companies don’t just tick the certification box and do nothing else to ensure that their supplies are sustainable.  More needs to be done by businesses to understand the risk of their operations being linked to illegal and irresponsible logging. Some businesses, including Waitrose and B&Q UK are leading the way in going above and beyond certification to ensure the responsible sourcing of their timber products.

Waitrose goes beyond EU Timber Regulations to ensure that all the timber they purchase is legal and traceable. Currently, 98% of Waitrose timber based products are FSC or PEFC certified or from recycled sources, but they have taken this certification to the next step and have traceability back to the forest for each of their suppliers to be able to demonstrate that the forest management practices really are sustainable. 

B&Q UK has full chain custody with FSC and PEFC to ensure that they can give assurance to their customers that their products have been sourced sustainably. This chain of custody allows for full traceability from forest to mill to retail, which enables certification bodies to track exactly where the wood has originated from and monitor the forest management practises used.

WWF Timber Scorecard

In 2017 the WWF rated 128 businesses against each other on their timber buying policies and performance towards sustainable timber for 2015/16. It covers the key timber sectors: construction, paper/printing and publishing, retailers and furniture builders.

The WWF want UK businesses to pledge to buy timber from sustainable sources by 2020 in order to reach a 100% sustainable timber market. By putting businesses up against each other it is the hope that they increase their individual efforts to improve sustainable sourcing of timber.

Pros and cons

Benefits of sustainable sourcing:

Negative impacts of sustainable sourcing:

  • Opportunity to use materials, energy and resources more effectively
  • Create local employment
  • Driving local innovation and developing potential markets
  • Rewarding responsible local companies
  • Improving public image
  • Contribute to global sustainability
  • Raises industry standards
  • Securing long term supply
  • Protecting wildlife and the natural world
  • Protecting social benefits
  • May need temporary constraints on current supply and short term increase in prices to allow for future supply (especially for hard woods)
  • Certification is often seen as an easy solution by many businesses, may discourage businesses to do more
  • Certification was initially driven by the rapid loss of tropical forests, however the majority of certified forests are in developed countries. It is not targeting the areas of most need.



There is a clear need for regulation and control of timber production. Certification is the start of this processes, however, it is often seen by businesses as “ticking a box” in terms of addressing their timber policy. In order to deliver direct and long term change it is necessary for businesses to take an active interest in their supply chain risks surrounding illegal logging. Mapping supply chains is one way a business could do this to identify the key threats and understand how they can make changes to improve their timber sourcing strategy.

For more information or support in understanding risks associated with timber products in your supply chain contact Emily Mason

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