Committing a superlative to print is a gamble. But it’s probably a safe bet to say few would contest the statement that the two timber resources we focus on this week, the US hardwood forest and UK forestry overall, are among the most sustainable worldwide.

Over the millennia, the UK may have put most of its forests under the plough, but that trend is in reverse and the more ambitious forecasters say that total tree cover could double to 25% of land area by 2050.

Meanwhile, the volume of standing timber in US hardwood forests has risen from 5.2 billion m³ in 1953 to 11 billion m³ today.

In both countries sustainability is also about more factors than forest area; it’s about wider environmental impacts, preserving habitats, maintaining biodiversity and species mix, to name but a few.

But a key difference between these two industries is their approach to proving sustainability. The UK has opted wholesale for certification, with over 40% of forest now audited under the FSC and PEFC-compliant UK Woodland Assurance Scheme and a five-year target to increase this to 60%.

This level of certification take-up has been possible partly due to the relative concentration of forest ownership. Why it has not taken off to the same extent in the US hardwood sector, it is argued, is because its structure is virtually the mirror image, with the forest fragmented among 4 million owners. This hasn’t been an issue to date but, as speakers at the recent American Hardwood Export Council Convention stressed, the danger is now that the EU will base new wood procurement rules around certification.

The situation, said delegates, highlights the need for diversity in the way timber suppliers prove sustainability and legality. They want to see EU procurement policy differentiate between countries and for risk assessment to be accepted as an alternative to certification for low environmental risk producers, like the US. If it doesn’t, the risk is that European buyers could see their access restricted to one of the most sustainable timber resources in the world.