The Timber Trade Federation (TTF) was in upbeat mood at its second annual conference in Birmingham last month. With forestry minister Elliot Morley as keynote speaker and a raft of speakers addressing the theme of “The challenge of sustainability” from diverse angles, the event had all the ingredients to give delegates food for thought.

A broken down train delayed Mr Morley’s arrival but Michael Ankers of the Construction Products Association (CPA) stepped in, saying his organisation had seen more input from the TTF during the past two years.

“One reason the CPA was established was because we weren’t punching our weight with government, Brussels and the rest of the construction industry. There were two objectives – punching the weight of the individual and adding value, plus complementing the work done by other trade associations,” he said.

CPA membership includes practically all the major companies in the industry and 63 trade associations.

The CPA focuses on key areas such as increasing investment in the built environment; getting the government to spend more on the built environment; and making sure government delivers.

He described the TTF as “influential with the ear of government” and added: ” The CPA is a single contact point but we don’t aim to be a single voice. When we meet government ministers we always try to get across what the trade associations have said, but we are a gateway facilitator and it is up to individual associations to get their message across.”

Mr Morley described the conference theme as “excellent”, adding that sustainable development was an inescapable responsibility that all must carry if there was to be a decent future.

Speaking about certification, he said the government appreciated the TTF’s commitment to ensuring that timber imports by its member companies came from legal and well managed forests.

Improving procurement

Proving chain of custody, he said, was crucial for forest certification and had to be addressed for government procurement. “We are actively seeking ways to improve our performance in our procurement of timber and wood products.”

A timber scoping study commissioned by DEFRA aimed to help buyers implement the commitment more effectively, he said. Among that report’s recommendations was one for a “central point of excellence” to provide departments and their agencies with information on timber and timber products to help them implement the government’s commitment on timber procurement.

He praised the TTF’s code of conduct and the wood. for good campaign and said there were plans to work with the TTF to combat illegal logging and build on initiatives like the Memorandum of Understanding on timber signed with Indonesia.

“We have a lot of contact with the Federation and that will continue. I want to encourage the use of wood as it is a good product and it is sustainable and people like it – but procurement policies must be applied properly and consistently. If people get a piece of paper saying this timber is OK then they accept it without understanding that the certificate may not be worth the paper it is written on. So we will keep the dialogue going and the TTF’s experience is valuable.”

Timber promotion

Mr Morley said that, as forestry minister, he saw part of his role as promoting timber in a sustainable way and making sure it gained proper recognition in the economy.

TTF director-general Paul Martin said the challenge of sustainable development was how to reconcile doing business successfully without doing irreversible damage to the environment at a time when consumers and electors were increasingly environmentally aware.

Sectors pressurising business to become more sustainable included the UK government, the EU, local government, NGOs, pension funds, the media and the public. Investors are under pressure too.

“For too long our industry has looked upon environmental issues as a threat instead of an opportunity. The sustainability agenda is one we can turn to our advantage – after all, who else trades in the most sustainable material on the planet?” he asked.

Industry summit

Mr Martin said there would be a continuing programme of meetings with chief executives of sister organisations and he intended to call a Timber Summit before the end of the year.

TTF president Geoff Rhodes said that now the TTF had repositioned itself as the leading trade association for the industry it must look at how it worked with other bodies in the sector, adding that the Timber Industry Awards and the wood. for good campaign had shown that collaboration could bear fruit.

During his term of office he wanted to see a photographic resource built up which could be used as a promotional tool by members to other parts of industry, schools and higher education.

Pan-European perspectives

Future TTF activity would include the development of involvement with pan-European trade associations, while on a national level trading standards officers and building control officers would be sent details of the TTF’s Conduct Assurance Scheme.

Mr Rhodes said a priority was to bring fresh blood to the industry by raising its profile and matching those looking for a career with appropriate opportunities.

And he said the Federation would continue to improve its statistics to give a clear picture of the sector including its turnover, employees and contribution to national income.

George McRobbie, chairman of the Forest Industries Development Council Task Group and operations director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd, brought members up to date on the UK’s progress on the forest industries sustainability strategy. “We are intent on tackling difficult issues, not just the easy ones,” he said.

Tasks included ensuring that all timber came from legally managed sources, increasing market share for wood, minimising waste and making timber transport more efficient.

Sustainability strategy

The first draft of Naturally Wood, a sustainability strategy for the UK forest industries sector, had been published and Mr McRobbie added: “If we can maintain our nerve we can create an example for other business sectors – we really do have that lead. We need action, not just dialogue.”

Rachel Butler, environmental manager at Finnforest UK Ltd, described the steps Finnforest was taking towards commercial sustainability. “Sustainable development isn’t just part of the environmental movement. It is an integral part of decision making,” she said.

The case for a medium-sized company was presented by Charles Hopping, chairman of Hoppings plc. He said: “We would like to do the same as major companies but can’t direct resources at the problem.

“We need good quality, regularly updated information about our suppliers, but it takes time to get it.”

Brendan Burns, national vice-chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, told delegates that small businesses cared about sustainability because it was about their sustainability – they called it survival.

“Big companies have to recognise that real sustainability is about the everyday working practices of the people who work in the forest,” he said.

Andy Roby, on secondment to the TTF from the Department for International Development, aims to help tackle forestry industry difficulties in countries with which the UK timber sector trades, starting with a Corporate Social Responsibility study.

He said: “I want to produce a business driver on the timber trade and analysis of situations and trends. I also want to see the UK record on illegal logging improved. We have made a great start and are ahead of the game so let’s keep it that way.”

wood. for good

Details of the latest initiatives of the wood. for good campaign were outlined by its managing director Charles Trevor. He said 2003 would see greater emphasis on building with wood. “We will have an additional push on timber frame construction and promote large span wood structures. We will also improve communication with small builders, while the environmental message will be front of centre of the campaign.”

Finally, Darren Sherborne, an employment lawyer with BPE Solicitors, set out the latest details of the Working Time Directive and the risk to business of non-compliance.n