Environment minister Elliot Morley told TTJ last week that he welcomed the initial assessment of environmental certification schemes by the government’s Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET).

He appreciated that its findings had not met with universal approval from backers of the schemes given the lesser “proof of legality” stamp by CPET. But he congratulated the organisation on the “robustness” of its approach.

CPET has been evaluating the five highest profile schemes present in the UK market against government procurement criteria; those of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the US Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC).

Under the initial assessment, CPET has judged the CSA and FSC schemes as evidence of “sustainability” . This also extends to the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS) which is FSC approved. But the PEFC, SFI and MTCC programmes were only given the proof of legality status.

Mr Morley pointed out that government procurement officers would still be able to buy timber certified under these schemes, albeit giving preference to CSA and FSC-certified products if available. The schemes also had six months to achieve the “proof of sustainability” status before CPET’s findings become official procurement guidelines.

” PEFC and SFI are fairly close to achieving this,” he said. “And it will be in their interests to do so. Total UK government procurement is worth more than the GDP of Greece, so its big business. Also we know for a fact that CPET and our procurement strategy are being monitored very closely in the rest of Europe. The likelihood is that, rather than reinvent the wheel, other governments will adopt a very similar approach. ” Supporters of the schemes which did not get “proof of sustainability” approval have suggested the government should have waited until after the six-month grace period before making its findings known. But Mr Morley said this would have been a mistake.

“We can’t keep putting these things in abeyance,” he said. “If we’d waited six months, people might have wanted another six after that and we’d never move forward.”