Positivity not passivity for tropical timber

20 October 2017

The STTC Conference underlined an energy and breadth of ideas for promoting sustainable tropical timber and forest management, writes Mark van Benthem of independent sustainable forest products and services institute Probos

The core message of the Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC) is that a healthy, viable market for verified sustainably sourced tropical timber and wood products is vital to incentivise and drive uptake of sustainable forest management in supplier countries. And there’s a clear realisation among this international grouping of wood and wood product traders, end users, specifiers, NGOs and public and private sector procurers, all dedicated to growing EU tropical timber consumption, that no-one else is going to convey this message for the sector. It’s down to them.

It was apt then that the 2017 STTC Conference held in Aarhus, Denmark, in September was not a passive event. The headline was ‘Sustainably sourced tropical timber: Selling a positive story’ and the theme was marketing and promotion. And delegates were not there to just sit back and listen. They were challenged for ideas and driven and drilled for input by dynamic moderator Paul Woodward and insightful and energetic keynote speaker Nigel Hollis, executive vice-president of international branding consultancy Kantar Millward Brown. Nonparticipation was not an option.

Delegates had already demonstrated their enthusiasm for the STTC and its mission by being there. Aarhus is not easy to get to, but this, the second STTC conference organised by Probos, on this occasion jointly with FSC Denmark, attracted a full house of 110.

Once there, they were clearly willing to stand up and be counted. They engaged in lively table session debates and took on board messages from participants who presented their STTC-backed Action Plans for sustainable tropical timber market development and procurement.

In a group exercise, led by Messrs Hollis and Woodward, they then had to encapsulate all this into marketing campaign concepts, branding and messaging for sustainable tropical timber.

To inspire them, they were thrown such questions as ‘what would people miss if all tropical timber was dead and buried tomorrow’, and ‘who would come to the funeral?’! This prompted unexpected new thinking.

Besides the usual suspects, such as ‘sustainability’, ‘climate change’ and ‘saving the forest’, promotional themes emerged around ‘pride’, ‘protection’ and ‘beauty’.

The energy was palpable, with delegates willingly taking the floor, and I hope they now use the outcomes in their work – we would be keen to help them move forward if they did.

Probos believes that, for initiatives to promote sustainably sourced timber to be effective, it’s crucial to know which markets to target. That demands comprehensive market intelligence and monitoring, which is why we conduct extensive work in this field. From this, we also understand that you can’t just copy and paste best practice ideas to other countries. Input is required from all parties to develop solutions and they must be tailored to the needs of different environments.

For the sake of the sustainable tropical timber sector and sustainable forest management, we must all explore opportunities for collaboration and exchange.

A network like the STTC, with such a range of voices and expertise, facilitates the necessary experience and knowledge sharing, participation, dialogue and networking. So I sincerely hope it’s here to stay.