UK government makes 'clear-cut' decision on timber

Posted by admin — 29 November 2005 at 9:00am - Comments

In July 2000 the UK government introduced a policy requiring all of its departments and agencies to 'actively seek' to buy timber from legal and sustainable sources. Given that central government procurement accounts for approximately 15 per cent of timber used in the UK (and that the broader public sector may account for as much as 40 per cent), this was seen as a positive move to push the wider UK timber market towards environmentally and socially responsible sources.

Since that time the government has failed to live up to its own standards on numerous occasions. Examples of illegal and unsustainable procurement include the use of sapele timber in the Cabinet Office in 2002, Indonesian rainforest plywood at the Home Office in 2003, and on various National Lottery projects including Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in 2004.

In all these cases we took action to expose these failures. Consequently, in 2004, the Department of Food, Environment and Agriculture (DEFRA) established the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) to advise central government and its agencies on sourcing timber from legal and sustainable sources.

To date CPET has accepted four certification schemes as proof of legality and sustainability: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); Canadian Standards Association (CSA); Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC). It has also accepted the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCC) as proof of legality.

This has had two key impacts, one positive and the other negative:


  1. By only accepting certified timber onto government construction projects, CPET is helping to eliminate the worst examples of illegal and uncertified timber from being used in central government timber procurement.
  2. By accepting the CSA, SFI and PEFC certification schemes as evidence of legality and sustainability and MTCC as evidence of legality, CPET is giving a veneer of respectability to certification schemes that fail to recognise the rights of indigenous people, to protect forests of critical importance that have weak chain of custody tracing and no third party auditing. It is, in effect, driving procurement officers to certification schemes that certify timber from destructively logged sources.


We believe that, at this time, the FSC offers the best guarantee that timber products come from well managed forests. For information on the specific strengths of the FSC and weaknesses of the other schemes see the links below.

"This decision by the government will rubber-stamp destructive logging practices that threaten the environment and don't take into consideration indigenous peoples' rights. We urge both the public and private sector to clearly specify FSC on all contracts in order to guarantee that the timber they are using is from legal and sustainable sources," said Belinda Fletcher, Greenpeace forest campaigner.

About Earth Lady

Coordinator of the North Kent group and a Garden Design student

Follow Greenpeace UK