Walk through any city, park, school or woodland and you will almost definitely come across the signs of one of your biggest neighbours. Wherever you live – either urban/rural, detached or high-rise – your local authority will be omnipresent. The council is likely to be one of the biggest employers in your area and, with a multi-million pound budget, will be spending significant amounts of public money.

Each local authority will have a slightly different approach but all will have some focus on improving or maintaining the social, economic and environmental well-being of their neighbourhoods. Add the need to care for everyone in the community, and you’re on the way to capturing some of the basic fundamentals of why a local authority exists.

The term that attempts to describe this holistic process is “sustainable development”. As a practical way of delivering this, many local authorities are developing sustainable procurement policies. These focus on everything purchased by the authority, including building materials, food, energy and timber .

Timber provides an excellent example of what sustainable development can mean. With the government pressing for more sustainable living and the emergence of a national local authority sustainability team, many councils are taking up the challenge of buying this diverse product. Whether purchased locally or from overseas, timber offers an attractive solution to meeting our need for an environmentally-friendly material. However, if it is really going to deliver this, it has to be proven to come from a sustainable and renewable source. Great efforts have been made over the past few years to encourage this, but clearly there is still more to be done.

Local authorities provide a huge potential market for sustainable timber products, but as public organisations we have a duty to provide ‘best value’ to all stakeholders. Sustainable timber is on the wish list of many, but it’s still relatively hard to source, and there’s also a need to demonstrate to procurement managers that timber is a better product than the synthetic alternatives.