Improved tropical wood marketing in Europe, with strong focus on certification

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Europe’s timber and wood products sector has stepped up the level of its marketing and advertising activity and the clarity, cohesion and effectiveness of its communications in recent years. This includes marketing initiatives related to tropical timber which currently focus more on third party forest management certification programs than on FLEGT-related activities.

The focus on certification is partly due to the more limited range of FLEGT licensed products currently available on the EU market and partly to continuing lack of clarity in EU procurement policies and practices on the status of FLEGT licensing relative to systems like FSC and PEFC.

These are key conclusions of a new study on EU wood promotion programs issued by the Independent Market Monitor (IMM), the project hosted by ITTO with EU funding, to assess the market impact of FLEGT Licensing.

The study draws on a series of interviews and a literature survey conducted in the spring of 2019. In total twentyfive interviews were conducted across a range of EU member states and from a variety of perspectives – including wood promotional campaigns, timber trade federations, civil society organisations, companies and other industry commentators.

The IMM study shows that Europe’s timber and wood products sector has developed a wide range of national and international marketing programs and campaigns. The sector has focused particularly on promotion and communications of timber’s environmental performance, in recognition that its key markets, notably construction, but also government decision makers are increasingly environmentally aware and informed and addressing climate change issues ever more urgently.

Campaigns incorporate latest findings on wood’s carbon and climate mitigation benefits, its life cycle analysis performance in relation to competing man-made materials and its potential role in developing a circular, bioeconomy.

There is also a stress on timber’s renewability and sustainability and the role sustainable forest management can play in maintaining the forest resource, with the carbon and biodiversity gains that entails. The stress here is very much on third-party forest and chain of custody certification as assurance that timber is from a sustainably managed forest.

Europe’s timber trade federations are involved both in these wider promotion campaigns and also conduct their own campaigns to highlight the industry’s efforts to assure legality of timber placed on the European market and combat illegal logging, with the main focus in this area on the EU Timber Regulation and associated due diligence.

On promotion of FLEGT and FLEGT licensing, there is a central communications hub in the EFI FLEGT Facility, which continues to develop its content, strategy and outreach. The UK Timber Trade Federation ran an exhibition exclusively focused on FLEGT, a UK initiative supporting development of Indonesian FLEGT marketing strategies is underway and other trade federations do communicate the facts on FLEGT.

But otherwise the profile of FLEGT licenses in industry promotion and marketing is low relative to third party forest certification. Europe’s two main tropical timber promotion campaigns – the Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC) and the ATIBT “Fair and Precious” branding exercise - commend only forest certification as a procurement criterion, although FLEGT licenses are seen to have potential to make the market more tropical timberfriendly generally and do not rule out more communication on FLEGT in the future.

The emphasis of European NGOs in their forestry and timber sector campaigning is also on sustainable forest management linked to third party certification. There is, however, communication of FLEGT and some active

NGO advocacy for the FLEGT VPA process in the sector

Some in the European timber industry believe there is potential for raising FLEGT’s profile in communications and promotion further, given a more holistic approach.

That includes greater emphasis on its wider social, environmental and economic impacts, but also a still greater trade focus, with more information on the actual products available with licences.

Another influence on the direction of wood promotion generally must be that rival materials sectors’ increasing communication of their environmental credentials, as the IMM report shows, is focused very much on issues of sustainability, carbon and climate.

The report recommends provision of targeted information on FLEGT to the managers of existing timber promotion campaigns, linked to a strong focus on continuing efforts to increase availability of FLEGT licenced products in the EU market, and further research and consultation to clarify the status of FLEGT Licencing compared to third party certification.

It also recommends measures to facilitate VPA signatory countries to themselves lead the process of communicating the role and positive impacts of the timber legality assurance systems being developed under the terms of FLEGT VPAs.

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