Different pathways - same destination

19 December 2019

The 2019 Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition saw varying views expressed on the route to tropical timber sustainability, but agreement on the importance of getting there, reports Nienke Sleurink, programme manager at Netherlandsbased IDH-The Sustainable Trade Initiative

The annual STTC conference was held in booming Berlin, with the booming part, in the form of a busy construction site, quite literally just outside the window of our venue.

The purpose of the November event, entitled ‘Exploring pathways to verified sustainable tropical timber’, was to create a better understanding of the different roles that certification, FLEGT and other initiatives have to play in the drive to a more sustainable sector.

By having two completely different (and quite expressive) views from UK Timber Trade Federation managing director David Hopkins on the one hand and Jesse Kuijper of The Borneo Initiative on the other, the scene was set first thing in the morning. Personally I wasn’t sure where these bold statements would leave us, but I think we succeeded in having good and open discussions, something we really aim for when organising these meetings.

As someone who started in this sector four-and-a-half years ago and who only works part-time on the subject, I learn a lot at these conferences. This year I was inspired by Eric de Munck’s presentation on how a group of timber companies in The Netherlands works together pre-competitively to promote tropical timber.

By speaking to specifi ers, they realised that these people know nothing about (tropical) timber, so it was key to educate them. If you don’t know anything about a material, how can you prescribe it?

This seems like an effective way to reverse the declining usage trends of tropical timber, and an initiative which could be copied in more countries, with a package of lessons learned that are ready to be shared.

Perhaps one of the ways in which the sector could collaborate more – even though I fully recognise that this pre-competitive collaboration is easier in theory than in practice. But if you have the same objective, and it benefi ts everyone – why not try?

We had already seen preliminary fi gures from it in June this year, but I am especially happy that we had the opportunity to present the new STTC tropical market monitoring report as a whole.

This is the first report that truly goes into depth on the sustainable tropical timber volumes imported by the seven main EU consumer countries, as well as where it’s from. It also includes first research on the potential positive effects on carbon this could have.

With approximately 28.5% of Europe’s imports exposed to certification, the report shows us that, despite all challenges the sector is already dealing with, the sustainability figures need to improve.

At its conference two years ago, in Aarhus, Denmark, we defined five priorities for the STTC – collaborating to promote the use of verified sustainable tropical timber, development of better data, alignment on FLEGT, advocacy for better (procurement) policies and better sharing of information.

The conference has given us insights on how to strengthen our approach, for instance, through brainstorming, using a lobbyist or using feedback we received on the FLEGT and certification approaches. A clear follow up is that our five priorities need to be revisited. To be continued!