• The Le Bois c’est Essentiel campaign launched in 2004.
• The budget in the first three years was €5.6m.
• The Nordic countries have shared the cost with the French industry.
• The campaign website gets 50,000 visitors a month.

We may be separated by the Channel, language and culinary ability, but the British and the French do have things in common. Among them, as you find out by talking to the organisers of France’s “Le Bois, c’est Essentiel” (LBc’E) wood promotion campaign, are popular attitudes and misconceptions about forestry and timber.

Like the Brits, the French warm to wood in terms of the finished product around the home. They like its looks, its warmth, texture and natural appeal. At the same time, in recent years the view that felling trees is bad for the environment has been held as widely in France as it has in the UK.

A survey commissioned by the timber industry organisation, the Comité National pour le Développement du Bois (CNDB), found that the majority of the French population had a negative perception of the environmental performance of the timber industry.

“It seems that the widespread coverage of deforestation in the media has created the view that you just should not cut down trees,” said LBc’E campaign co-ordinator/director Bettina Horsch. “A total of 71% of respondents thought France’s forests were decreasing in size, whereas the reality is that they’re growing by 55,000ha every year.”

Timber construction

The study also confirmed that, while the French liked timber in their house interiors, they were not so aware of its potential as a structural material. France, like the UK, has a long history of timber-based construction, but most French people today regard masonry as the default option for their homes. “This is not surprising; France, after all, is where reinforced concrete was invented,” said Ms Horsch.

It was to counter these misconceptions and disinformation about wood that LBc’E launched in 2004. From the outset the campaign mirrored the UK’s wood for good marketing initiative in many respects, most notably in being co-founded and co-funded by the Nordic Timber Council (NTC).

“Like wood for good, our campaign was seen by the NTC as part of its international programme to improve market conditions for timber and, as a result, increase sales of Nordic softwood,” said Ms Horsch, who is employed by the Swedish Forest Industries Federation. “This initially caused some concern in some parts of the French industry. But we explained that the campaign was not about Nordic timber competing against French, but about helping all wood compete against other materials.”

For the first two years the budget was €2m, split 50/50 between the NTC and CNDB, and in the third year the spend was €1.6m. Its backers set LBc’E a bold target. “The vision was to change the image of timber in the consumer’s mind and alter purchasing behaviour,” said Ms Horsch. “Ultimately, the aim was to increase consumption of wood in France overall by 30% by 2010.”

Initially LBc’E had a strong consumer focus and included television and press advertising. These both got a good response, but perhaps the biggest impact has been made by the website, This has developed to include general background on timber and the timber sector, including its environmental performance, plus sections on building with wood, timber interiors products, and even a DIY section. “The site is now getting 50,000 visitors and 400,000 hits per month,” said Ms Horsch.

Second phase

In 2006, LBc’E moved to its next phase, focusing more on specifiers, including architects and engineers, and another critical group, building control officers. “Building control is a big influence in the market and can shape decisions on what materials are specified,” said Ms Horsch. “In particular, this part of the campaign looked at thermal and acoustic performance of building with wood, as well as sustainability. ”

As part of this new thrust, the LBc’E developed a sub-campaign focused on construction under the slogan “Osez construire en bois” (dare to build with wood). An inaugural conference in Paris at the end of last year attracted an audience of 300. From 2007, the LBc’E financial contribution from the Nordic countries has been pared down and the whole annual budget is now €800,000. But the campaign is set to carry on into the future with a 50% contribution from Swedish Forest Industries Federation.

“Our main focus will be on the professional audience, although the website will also continue,” said Ms Horsch. “We know this has got to be a long-term commitment. The campaign has already had an effect. It is too early to say if it has had an impact on actual wood consumption, but a survey found last year that it has strengthened the view in France that using timber is good for the environment and has a role in combating climate change. The opinion that persists is that felling trees is bad for the forests, but you do not change such long-held views over night. It needs a long-term effort.”