Getting to grips with the product at TP's timber centre.

Buy-sell-hold 5/5

Published:  03 June, 2011

Third-party certification and the sustainability of product supply remain the two key challenges facing the timber trading industry today – particularly where tropical timber is concerned.

The continued popularity of this species makes it increasingly challenging for timber traders to meet the demand. However, the solution to this challenge lies in expanding product portfolios to include fully certified and sustainable alternatives.

According to John Guerin, European commercial director of Weyerhaeuser: “Although third-party certification offers peace of mind that a timber product has been responsibly sourced, only 10% of the world’s forests are certified. Sustainability of supply is actually one of the biggest challenges facing merchants today.”

Mr Guerin says that where tropical timber and plywood is concerned, the declining availability of logs and in some cases, environmental pressures, have brought new supply sources such as China and other regions to the fore as ‘tropical’ plywood alternatives.

“To-date it is fair to say that these new sources have provided some of the solution in terms of an alternative supply base.

“However, they have fallen short on widespread technical and environ-mental credibility, and more critically from a commercial perspective, on-going supply availability.”

In response to the challenge, regions such as South America are driving change that will provide products to meet 21st Century requirements, with the establishment of effective timberland strategies and some powerful product innovation, he says.

For example, in Uruguay, Weyerhaeuser has established a sustainably managed timberlands base, and has also invested in long-term research.

“This will help ensure that timberland resources are managed and developed to provide products the global markets require. However, it also means thinking about market requirements 15-20 years ahead and adapting the management of the forests accordingly. That’s not always easy in the midst of global economic crises.

“This product innovation has provided access to plantation-grown, eucalyptus-based plywood from Uruguay and solid timber from Brazil. Used as tropical alternatives, these timber products have been proven to meet all of the technical and quality requirements demanded by global markets.”

Mr Guerin says that when evaluating the sustainability credentials of a product, the safe place to start is with third-party certification “as this has been highlighted as a deciding factor for market access”. Beyond this, rigorous assessment of the supply chain should take place and many tools, projects, initiatives and labels have emerged over the past few years to aid sustainable procurement.

These include a comprehensive evaluation of the supplier’s credentials, focusing on Chain of Custody, as well as a review of the forest products company and its activities in the region where the supply originates.

A common error is to only review supply lines at distributor level, when the product source is the critical factor.

“When looking to introduce a new timber product, particularly tropical species and alternatives, ask for evidence of the forest products company’s sustainable forest management strategy and its sustainability credentials. It is critical towards understanding long-term supply availability as this will be a key factor to business success.”

This article was first published in the March edition of Builders' Merchants News.

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