From uncertainty to a firmer future

19 August 2016

Mark Bowers, product director at Snows Timber, says the trade’s future prospects are good if belief remains high in timber’s credentials and products

As expected, the value of Sterling has dropped around 10% since the EU Referendum. For the importing members of the timber trade, which is still the majority, this has had an immediate and genuine effect, with price rises the inevitable result. Whichever major contractor is in the headlines, the message seems to be one of uncertainty about the medium to long term. The effects of the slowing up of construction projects, however, is very real, and happening now.

So how can we as an industry pull ourselves out of the mists of uncertainty and give ourselves a firmer footing for the future? The climate change agenda hasn’t altered: it is still more beneficial to the climate to build in wood than in any other material. Our future should therefore be bright, wherever we sit in the timber supply chain.

Can we make sure we garner as many opportunities as we can for timber and wood products as the low carbon economy develops? To coin a phrase from Barack Obama, I believe the answer is “Yes, we can,” if we take certain steps to ensure belief remains high in our industry’s products and credentials.

Trade bodies in other, related fields have schemes that either make statements of quality to which members adhere, or actually perform checks on members to assure a certain quality standard. Both approaches reinforce the commitment of their members to being the best they can be, and living up to customer expectations. For a long time, the timber trade has relied on timber chain of custody certification to give an overall flavour of the quality of supply, though of course that is only one element in the wider business landscape.

When buyers go online to research products and services to procure, they look upon the standards upheld in an industry as a benchmark of quality. Depending on the industry, that benchmarking scheme can include anything from business ethics and human capital to business efficiency, standards in electronic data exchange, and service levels. Is it time for the timber industry to do the same?

Going beyond the honourable ‘badge’ of sustainable timber purchasing, towards making ourselves a firm fixture in the low carbon economy, will take some doing. But I would argue the prize – trust – is worth the effort. Trust between procurer and supplier enables more than immediate bottom line gains. It enables long-term partnerships for the future to be established. It also means timber can stay at the forefront of sustainable building, as that trust will be based on good business practice and good service, as well as good wood.

As the international business world now looks to integrate Natural Capital into its accounting, it behoves the timber trade to look at all its business and environmental practices to make sure we are at the top of our game. I look forward to playing my part in creating a firmer footing for the future when I join the TTF’s governing board in September.