Checking for recognised sustainability labels, such as FSC or PEFC, is the safest way to get certified wood.
Photo: © Schradi Garten- und Landschaftsbau GmbH

Tropical timber for the park benches in the Berlin City Park?

The regulations on timber imports have been tightened up world-wide. Importing certified tim-ber from sustainably managed forests contributes to environmental protection. A GIZ experts’ meeting with the Senate of Berlin/Germany on the sustainable procurement of certified timber.

Timber is a much-sought commodity world-wide, being used as building material, to generate ener-gy or in the manufacture of furniture. Especially in developing countries, illegal logging is contrib-uting to the deforestation of large areas. In many cases, however, clear-cutting is practised in these countries not only to obtain timber, but above all to create space for cropland and pastures or soy, palm oil or rubber plantations. Illegal exports of valuable timber varieties bypassing customs and tax legislation is a financially attractive business, however short-termed it may be.

The European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR), which came into force in March 2013, seeks to put an end to trading in illegal logging in the countries of the EU and commits corporations to strict compliance with due diligence and information obligations regarding the origin of imports. Further-more, a plan of action agreed between the EU and the timber-producing countries provides for the establishment of monitoring systems and authorisation procedures in the countries of origin. This ensures that only legally cut timber and legal timber products are imported into the EU.

The sustainable procurement of certified timber in Germany and Europe was at the centre of an experts’ dialogue that Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) was commis-sioned to organise in co-operation with the Berlin Senate Urban Development and Environment Authority by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in Berlin/Germany in October 2014.

At the event, Michael Thielke, Head of the Environmental Policy Department at the Berlin Senate Environment Authority, said that public procurers in Germany – the Federal Government, the State Governments and the municipalities – had created the legal prerequisites to ensure that in future, it would only be allowed to buy timber products that could be proved to originate from legal and sus-tainable forest management. This is meant as a sign to influence purchasing practice at municipal level. Thielke pointed out that in January 2013, an administrative regulation had come into force in the State of Berlin in 2013 stipulating, among other items, the procurement of certified timber. Thielke reported that initially, these regulations had by no means been undisputed. In the meantime, however, the responsible courts have ruled that environment-related award criteria do not consti-tute illegal restraints of trade and may therefore be considered in calls for tenders.

The aim of the experts’ dialogue was to eliminate uncertainties and information deficits regarding the administrative regulations on the procurement of timber that are now in force in Berlin and thus raise demand for sustainably produced timber in the future. Dr. Iven Schad, who is responsible for the sustainable use of natural resources at the BMZ, calls on planners and those responsible for pro-curement in the public authorities and business representatives on the supply side to both keep an eye on proof of origin. “The BMZ seeks to contribute to getting sustainable timber production out of the market niche that it is still in,” he told the meeting. “Sustainable management can protect forest areas while simultaneously helping the local population and the local enterprises for which the for-est is an important source of income. Now certified businesses have also been established in tropical forest regions. They ought to be rewarded for their sustainable management approach with a corre-sponding demand. This is why it is important to take care that labels are really credible here in Ger-many. For our conscious consumer behaviour can contribute to forest conservation and poverty reduction in the countries of origin.”

In simple terms, the concept that German development policy has opted for is to conserve natural resources by using them. But for the “use it or lose it” logic to add up, there has to be more demand for certified tropical timber from sustainably managed forests. “The physical properties of many tropical timber varieties give them a special quality that makes them a sensible supplement to local timber products,” emphasised Andreas Brede, a GIZ environmental and social standards consultant. “If consumers and public procurement create a greater demand for certified tropical timber, they will contribute to more enterprises and forest users in developing countries switching to sustainable management.” The BMZ has published a video addressing this issue that demonstrates the link be-tween the sustainable use of tropical timber and the conservation of tropical forests.

But how can timber products with this characteristic be identified? Michael von Stackelberg, a GIZ expert on quality checks regarding sustainability, points to a rule of thumb: “Anyone wishing to use certified timber for hydraulic engineering, parquet flooring, window frames, garden furniture or veneers originating from tropical timber has to check for recognised sustainability labels, such as FSC or PEFC.”
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certifica-tion Schemes (PEFC) are the most widespread forestry standard systems throughout the world. Around 440 million hectares of forest is under management complying with the PEFC and FSC stand-ards today, alone 8.2 million hectares of which is in Germany. The labels of these and comparable organisations serve as proof of timber not originating from illegal sources but from sustainable for-est management and are part of a comprehensive system of standards that has been developed for the monitoring of and compliance with the regulations. This also includes concrete requirements for producers, importers and merchants regarding observance of environmental and social criteria as well as a controlling and monitoring mechanism guaranteeing the credibility of the procedure. The German Federal Government has commissioned GIZ to develop an IT-based instrument for compari-sons and assessments ensuring the necessary degree of comparability and transparency among the different standards and certificates.

Chain of Custody certification along the supply chain ensures that timber can be traced back from the retail shelf across borders to the certified forest.
The State of Berlin’s procurement regulations for timber stipulate that, similarly to many other con-ditions for awarding contracts of public procurers, “Proof” [of timber and timber products originat-ing from legal and sustainable forestry management] “is to be provided by the tenderer, who is re-quired to submit an FSC certificate or equivalent proof in the form of a comparable certificate or individual proof.”
In accordance with the binding provisions of the certificates, it is essential for complete documenta-tion for the enterprise ultimately processing the certified timber (e.g. the gardening company in Berlin) to also hold a valid certificate. The aim here is to prevent potential mixing of certified and non-certified timber in the manufacturing or final processing of finished products made of wood.
In the case of certified finished wooden products such as garden benches, in which nothing can be changed, a pure supplier is not required to hold a certificate.

For example, the Berlin administrative regulation requires that, in public construction measures (structural and civil engineering, gardening), procured certified timber predominantly undergoes final processing or assembling on site. This means that in such cases, in addition to the timber prod-ucts, the company involved in final processing has to be certified too in order to meet the certified timber procurement standards.
In Berlin, the question was discussed whether small enterprises in Germany, e.g. those being award-ed such a contract perhaps two or three times a year, could afford certification costing a couple of thousand euros. Here, the Berlin Senate Environment Authority provides the option of group certifi-cation, in which e.g. companies that have organised themselves in a network can have joint certifi-cations carried out and thus share the costs.

At the end of the event, the organisers of the Berlin experts’ dialogue once again stressed that un-like with regulations concerning other building materials, the legal requirements for timber were very strict. The EUTR makes it illegal to import illegally cut timber into the EU. Thanks to the high standards applying to the certification of tropical timber from sustainable forest management, pri-vate consumers can feel just as reassured as public procurers that the use of certified timber pro-tects forests, the environment and the livelihoods of many millions of people who have to rely on sustainable forest management. One of the results of the Berlin experts’ congress is that public pro-curement sets an example for sustainable management and bears potentially enormous leverage in getting sustainably manufactured timber products out of the market niche they are still in.

For further information, a documentation of the Berlin Experts’ Dialogue as well as more detailed material can be obtained at: