As a first step this new Central Point of Expertise will research existing forest certification schemes and assess their requirements against those sought by government departments. Online guidance will also be set up to enable suppliers and buyers to access up to date information.
The UK government's timber procurement policy has been increasing the pressure on the UK timber trade to buy more timber from legal and sustainable sources. Demand from the public sector is increasing awareness among suppliers and the volume of certified products being offered is growing significantly.
The UK Timber Trade Federation is now developing an improved sustainable timber procurement policy, matching the Government requirements, for adoption by its members. Other European member states are beginning to set similar policies.
Announcing the initiative today environment minister Elliot Morley said: 'All those committed to protecting the world's forests acknowledge that demand for timber from consumers is a critical factor. UK stakeholders all agree that a Central Point of Expertise on Timber is key to the ultimate success of domestic procurement policies. The
centre will operate outside government and provide objective guidance accessible to all buyers and suppliers.'
1. The concept of legal and sustainable timber is addressed by international protocols on forest management. The agreed principles do not set specific standards against which forest management practice and the provenance of timber traded can be satisfactorily audited. Suppliers being asked to acquire legal and sustainable timber need to understand clearly what buyers mean by these terms so that they can demonstrate compliance with agreed terms and
conditions. Various certification schemes exist throughout the world to offer assurance to suppliers and buyers but the basis differs from scheme to scheme.
2. The legal and policy framework governing public procurement allows buyers discretion to accept certified products as assurance but also allows suppliers to provide alternative evidence as assurance.
3. Current guidance to central departments is to demand independent verification of suppliers' claims where there is no credible evidence of legal and sustainable timber sources. Implementation can be difficult for many suppliers and buyers. For example, tracing the sources of wood used to manufacture products from forest to consumer requires a sophisticated chain of custody system. Certification is likely to be the practical solution for suppliers but they are
confused about which schemes the government will accept.
4. Buyers are left to judge what evidence is and isn't credible. This is unsatisfactory because most public sector buyers do not possess sufficient information and expertise to make informed decisions. Purchasing the expertise on an ad hoc basis would be costly and might not be consistent. There is a clear need for a single organisation to
undertake an independent assessment of the extent to which the various known schemes satisfy the government's specific requirements.
5. The government's response to the environmental audit committee report: 'Buying Time for Forests: Timber Trade and Public Procurement' accepted that it would be sensible to set up a central point of expertise on timber to support buyers and suppliers by providing expert and impartial guidance and advice.
6. A Central Point of Expertise on Timber will be tasked initially with assessing existing forest certification schemes and publishing clear guidance on the extent to which they can assure central government buyers that contract obligations are being met. Advice published by the centre could be controversial and in some cases may lead to representations from disaffected parties. It is important the centre is impartial and accepted as such by stakeholders. This can only be achieved if the centre operates at arms length from government.
7. Forests that are well managed can provide timber and environmental benefits indefinitely. It is important not to make acquiring wood so complex and controversial that buyers are driven to demand less sustainable alternative materials.
8. It is also important not to disengage from poor producing countries that do not yet have the capacity to manage their forests as well as the developed world would like. With this in mind the government has accepted a recommendation to invite suppliers to offer legally logged timber as a minimum standard. As an inducement to
forest owners to improve management standards preference will continue to be given to bids offering legal and sustainable timber.