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SUSTAINABILITY ADVICE FOR PUBLIC SECTOR TIMBER BUYERS AND SELLERS

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Definitive advice on sustainability to public sector buyers and ...
Definitive advice on sustainability to public sector buyers and

sellers of timber is to be developed, Environment Minister Elliot

Morley announced today.

The advice, to be developed by two of the leading expert bodies on

timber sustainability, is aimed at cutting through the thicket of

certification schemes currently applied to products.

The UK is a leading procurer of timber and the government has been

taking a lead on ensuring the public sector adheres to best practice.

The expert bodies - ProForest and ERM - will form a central point of

expertise on timber procurement and produce new on-line guidance that

will help suppliers and buyers judge the credibility of certification

schemes and assess their capacity for their meeting the requirements

of the public sector.

The bodies expect to complete the first phase of their work by

September 2004. The UK Timber Trade Federation is developing its own

code for responsible timber procurement for adoption by its members.

The government is confident that the existence of a central point of

expertise will accelerate this shift in timber procurement practice.

Mr Morley said: 'All those engaged in the fight to protect and conserve

forests have been keen to see the establishment of a Central Point of

Expertise on Timber The UK is one of the top consumers of timber,

much of which is imported, and we want to know that it comes from

legal and preferably sustainable sources.

'This first phase is the foundation for what we hope will become a

respected source of objective and reliable guidance and advice that

is accessible to all buyers and suppliers. The government is very

pleased to be working with ProForest and ERM on this project which is

strategically critical for the successful implementation of our

timber procurement policy.'

Dr Penny Bienz, head of environmental affairs at the Timber Trade

Federation said: 'The UK Timber Trade Federation welcomes this

move and recognises the importance of providing comprehensive

guidance on the sourcing of legal and sustainable timber supplies

to government procurement officials.

'It is in the interests of both the government and the trade to

maximise the use of legal and sustainable timber given its excellent

environmental credentials, that guarantees its place as the best

construction material to contribute to sustainable development.

'We will look to support the government process as part of the

advisory committee to CPET and through the development of a

Responsible Purchasing Policy, which looks to assist its members

in meeting government procurement policy demands.

Notes

1. DEFRA announced on 5 January 2004 the decision to proceed with

Phase 1 of the Central Point of Expertise on timber. Plans for further

phases are under consideration and to some extent will be influenced

by the experience gained from the Phase 1 project.

2. The concept of legal and sustainable timber is addressed by

international protocols on forest management. The agreed principles

donot 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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 sustainable timber in addition

to legal timber.

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