Communicating FLEGT is key

26 February 2018

Indonesian FLEGT-licensed timber has been available for over a year, but still more has to be done to communicate what lies behind the licence, writes TTF head of sustainability Mike Worrell.

At times I feel like the main FLEGT spokesperson, trying to convey what I’ve been lucky enough to see with my own eyes.

We are at a crossroads in the FLEGT VPA initiative. Indonesia is issuing licences, and Ghana has transformed its entire legal system, timber processing and tracking on the road to licensing.

However, wider understanding, perceptions, information and opinions of FLEGT are either limited, negative, or based on incomplete, outdated and often irrelevant information.

FLEGT in terms of licensing is still new. It’s a different dynamic for the timber market, and not just for importers who are the first point of entry. It extends through the user and value chain.

I have learnt an incredible amount in my work on the FLEGT initiative. I’ve met dedicated, passionate people and had experiences I will remember for the rest of my career. However, it’s no good one person seeing this and communicating it to a relatively small audience.

As part of the Timber Trade Federation’s (TTF) work under the Department for International Development’s Forest Governance, Market and Climate programme (FGMC), we had to think of new ways to convey complex messages and show there are alternatives. I feel personally there are limitations in current methods and messages and, unless people are willing to innovate and challenge existing perceptions, the status quo will be maintained.

The TTF’s Timber Transformer exhibition on Indonesia’s 15-year journey to FLEGT licensing, on from now until March 28, is a different concept I and my colleagues have worked hard to see it through. It’s aimed at anyone who has a connection to timber and even those that don’t.

The venue is the Building Centre in central London, which has an incredibly diverse range of visitors, and the exhibition introduces FLEGT to the public for almost the first time. It demonstrates the transformation it has produced in Indonesia and showcases products, timber, people and the rainforest.

Most important, it tells a story.

I feel as an industry there are too many distractions, drowning out tropical timber as a material. We are letting arguments over standards and terminology to dominate thoughts, instead of working together and seeing all pieces of the puzzle.

FLEGT is a positive change in our industry. It is tackling entire country governance reforms, sectoral reforms and supply chains and it’s embedding constructs of sustainability within entire country processes. It doesn’t claim to be perfect from day one, but it’s a force for good and change and it’s part of our industry, not in competition with it.

I’ve been focused on communicating ‘what lies behind the licence’, which is key to FLEGT’s success and yet still not fully understood. It’s a collective effort to understand and engage with it and, in the first instance, the onus is on those who understand it best to work with communicators to disseminate tailored information.

It will take time, but it’s only with time can we embrace what the FLEGT VPA process represents, what it’s done and how it can be a force for good for all markets connected with tropical timber.