With UK demand for plywood already low and vulnerable to any continuation of the malaise in the building trade, traders have reason to rue the timing of a new plywood-focused report from Greenpeace which claims that, despite the best efforts of some UK construction companies, the vast majority of the sector “continues to use illegal and unsustainable timber”. And the environmental lobby group has reiterated its call for the UK government and the EU to adopt legislation which would make it illegal for companies to buy timber products that do not originate from legal and well-managed forests.

The document, entitled “Setting a new standard: alternatives to unsustainable plywood in the UK construction industry”, offers guidance on avoiding the use of illegal plywood on construction sites and also promotes the use of “environmentally and socially responsible material such as that certified by the Forest Stewardship Council”.

Claiming that the UK is the third largest importer of illegal timber in the world, the report argues that there is no tech-nical reason why unsustainable tropical hardwood plywood cannot be replaced with alternatives such as FSC-accredited OSB which is “locally sourced”, “competitively priced” and “already readily available on the UK market”, according to Greenpeace.

A leading producer of OSB described the report as “a huge bright spot” for the sector and one which could have a “significant” impact on demand. “I believe the future’s good,” he said. The UK had yet to fully appreciate – and capitalise on – the advantages of the product but, he added, “it will happen – there’s no question about it.”

For the moment, OSB manufacturers are also confronted with the adverse impact of the construction industry downturn, with the drop-off in orders from the timber frame housing sector contributing to a substantial decline in OSB sales when compared with the summer of 2007. With OSB prices understood to have dipped more than 10% since the spring, and with glue, energy and logistics costs all rising, producers are thought to be falling short of break-even. “I can’t believe anyone’s making money,” said a spokesperson for one of the leading domestic firms. As in other areas of the panel industry, significant periods of downtime have been taken within the production sector.

Increasing logistics costs, coupled with currency changes, have reduced the flow of OSB from mainland Europe into the UK. Meanwhile, OSB demand in certain parts of the Continent – notably eastern Europe – is said to be surprisingly robust.