Sometimes the only thing that seems to be sustained by the government’s sustainability agenda is inconsistency.

The fencing industry’s grievances over Sector Scheme 4 (SS4) are a case in point. The joint Highways Agency-industry initiative is all about sustainability. The aim is to ensure that only quality, properly treated timber fencing is used alongside roads. It took a lot of time and effort to complete and is generally agreed in the industry to be a positive development. The emphasis on product traceability and audited training of treatment operators draws special plaudits.

The only trouble is, after all the hard work, SS4 doesn’t seem to be being enforced by the Highways Agency. Despite the fact that they are obliged to use SS4 fencing, road contractors are still reported to be buying the cheapest, non-compliant product available. And because the Scheme is not being properly policed, there’s little incentive for more fencing suppliers to implement it – after all, it costs them money.

Let’s hope there’s more consistency in the government’s timber and wood products environmental procurement policy. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently announced the launch of the website of the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET) which explains its procurement guidelines. This is aimed at central and local government procurement officers and their “direct suppliers”, but also contains information of interest to the wider timber market.

Earlier this year, CPET announced its assessment of the best known certification schemes present in the UK, dividing them into two categories: proof of “legality and sustainability” and proof of “legality” only. Now it’s assessing other forms of evidence of timber’s environmental credentials. The idea is that procurement officers will opt first for timber backed by “approved” certification schemes, then work down the pecking order depending on the availability of the product they want.

CPET’s conclusions weren’t universally approved but, so everyone knows where they stand, it is vital now for the trade that its guidance is observed consistently – otherwise it won’t be sustainable.