Jewson‘s Woking branch in Surrey is one of the first of its branches to achieve joint Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) chain of custody certification.

The others – Reading, Waltham Abbey, Peckham and subsidiary Merton Timber at Mitchum have been chosen along with Woking as the vanguard of Jewson’s national certification drive for a very good reason.

Environmental and quality director Steve Millward explained: “We are having certification just in the nick of time, particularly around London because that’s the area which is most prevalent [for government and major building projects]. That’s why we’ve gone for our five London depots as the first branches to be chain of custody certified.”

When Woking achieved dual certification earlier this year orders for chain of custody certified wood were one or two per month, but this is now up to one a week and expected to increase. One recent order for FSC-certified timber was for 3.775m3 of sawn treated softwood destined for work at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. The timber was supplied to Jewson by James Jones & Son Ltd.

National network

Jewson’s plan is to have a national network of over 100 branches offering certified timber from sustainable sources within the next 12-18 months. It hopes to have 50 chain of custody certified this year.

Mr Millward said there was now a much more open approach from the trade with regard to certification, due to two key factors – the government’s procurement policy moving towards sustainability and a big education programme driving certification. “Large contractors are realising they need to have the right policies in place and are also conscious they need to be in a position to win government contracts,” he said.

Mr Millward regularly visits building sites operated by the likes of Shepherd Construction, Mansells and Mowlems to talk about certification issues. He remembers one case when he had to sit down with Shepherd representatives on a prominent building project and explain that PEFC certification, not solely FSC, was also acceptable for their certified timber needs.

“Everyone is learning the hard way. There is a problem and it’s being solved by dialogue, and in that solving of problems a much better understanding of certification has come about.”

Mr Millward’s job also brings him in frequent contact with WWF and Greenpeace. He said what really annoys them is uncertified timber and hardwood plywood specified “unnecessarily” where it could be substituted by other certified panel products.

Panel products

He said certified plywood is available, albeit at a premium, but the building industry does not really know it is out there. Jewson is looking to change customers’ perceptions by asking them what the product is needed for, as OSB may be a cheaper and less controversial option for hoardings, for instance. And WISA certified birch plywood may be a better choice for other end uses.

With regard to Indonesian plywood, Jewson is backing the Timber Trade Federation‘s scoping study of Indonesian mills, which is being independently conducted by the Tropical Forests Trust.

Jewson has suspended its purchases of Indonesian timber, switching to Malaysian, and working with a mill that can demonstrate legality of product and progress towards the country’s MTCC national certification scheme. The mill already has the ISO 9000 and 14000 standards, plus it operates CE marking.

Mr Millward said this was the step-by-step approach – getting rid of the illegal stuff and making sure it’s the minimum legal standard. “You cannot do that in Indonesia.”

In excess of 40% of all timber products on sale at Jewsons are from certified wood, with the vast majority being solid softwood. The company can meet the current demand for certified products, but there can be a problem if a customer wants a large quantity of a specific length in a specific certification.

Mr Millward said: “Personally, I think FSC is the gold standard. But commercially, if you want sustainability and sustainable timber products in the market place you have to be looking at FSC and PEFC as a minimum.

“If the whole construction industry overnight decided that FSC was the only standard, then everybody would just give up. I think what will happen is the availability of certified product will rise gently and the demand will increase quite rapidly, but hopefully not overtake it. The restrictive thing is not the product availability, it’s chain of custody. That is a much bigger restrictor of certified product.”