Olympic gold for procurement

31 March 2012

It's all cheers for the environmental certification of the Olympic site

And the first gold medal of the 2012 London Olympics is a dead heat, going to (Simon Cowell-style pause for effect), the UK timber industry and the Olympic Delivery Authority.

It might not whip the crowds into a frenzy like Usain Bolt slicing another millisecond off his 100m world record, but the award this week by the Soil Association of final approval for environmental timber certification on the Olympic site is a major cause for celebration, both in the timber industry and beyond. It means that every last piece of timber across the whole project, from the smallest section of joinery in the athletes’ village, to the Velodrome’s western red cedar cladding and the joists supporting its Siberian pine track, is sanctioned by the organisation as certified legal and sustainable. It is a colossal achievement on such a massive undertaking.

Added reason to mark the moment is that it may also be evidence of an unspoken rapprochement, or at least an outbreak of tolerance, between the superpowers of environmental certification, the FSC and PEFC (also encompassing Malaysia’s MTCS, the US’s SFI and Canada’s CSA schemes). Timber used on the site is a mix of FSC- and PEFC-certified products and materials. The Soil Association project approval embraces timber certified under both schemes, giving them equal weight, and both schemes are accepting its verdict.

According to Peter Bonfield, the Olympic Delivery Authority’s (ODA) leader construction products and one of the key architects of the Games’ timber procurement strategy, this is a significant world first.

Even before this week’s news from the Soil Association, he added, the whole London Olympics undertaking had already created an invaluable sustainable procurement and supply model for the timber industry to take to other public and private construction projects.

It started four years ago with the establishment of an Olympics timber supply panel. This was a group of timber businesses selected on the grounds they could source most of the products the Games needed. Moreover, they could do so in compliance with the ODA’s environmental procurement rules – and the latter followed those of the UK government, as laid down by its Central Point of Expertise for Timber, accepting FSC, PEFC, MTCS, SFI and CSA as proof of legality and sustainability. The approach wasn’t without its critics. Some saw the panel as a means for a handful of businesses to sew up the deal. But it became clear that it was as much a conduit for other suppliers and also that contractors could source ‘off panel’, provided they followed the procurement rules.

Dr Bonfield said some contractors were wary of the approach too, but were won round and are now interested in replicating it elsewhere.

Achieving the 100% legal and sustainable Soil Association blessing is the final seal of approval on the whole procurement strategy. Given ever greater stress by government on the environmental performance of the construction sector, a stress some major builders are pushing even further, it makes it even more valuable for the future. Now, said Dr Bonfield, it is down to the timber industry to take ownership of the model and promote it for wider use. It could provide an invaluable marketing and competitive edge in tendering on construction projects.

Whisper it softly, but might acceptance by FSC and PEFC of the Soil Association’s approval also bring the Holy Grail of mutual recognition between the schemes a hair’s breadth closer, or is that being carried away in the Olympic moment?

Mike Jeffree is editor of TTJ and ttjonline.com Mike Jeffree is editor of TTJ and ttjonline.com