Sustainability standards provide benefits for trade in timber products


At furniture giant IKEA, they like to say they’ve gone “all-in” on a more sustainable future. As the purchaser of one full per cent of all wood sold worldwide, they know that what they do matters. To positively influence others and also contribute to the important work of ending deforestation, IKEA actively promotes the adoption of sustainable forestry methods by ensuring that all of their wood comes from more sustainable sources by 2020 – meaning from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified forests or recycled sources.

According to Mikhail Tarasov, the Global Forestry Manager at IKEA, it’s a positive step for IKEA, and a sensible business decision, since the company relies on natural resources and people. Going all in on people and the planet means that they are securing the future of their business, the value chain and the livelihoods of the millions of people that work for it.

But what about those millions of people? Is it reasonable to expect small-scale logging companies to meet sustainability standards to gain access to IKEA’s supply chain, or markets such as the European Union, which has recently instituted its Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade to combat illegal logging?

The prevalence of voluntary sustainability standards such as the Forest Stewardship Council certification required by IKEA, which specifies social and environmental safeguards for forest products, has grown rapidly in recent years. Voluntary sustainability standards serve to address negative environmental impacts occurring in industrial sectors, as well as in agriculture and forestry. These impacts often occur in less developed countries, where environmental regulation may be weaker. To improve the environmental footprint and enhance market access for a variety of products, voluntary sustainability standards can bring a multitude of benefits to producers.

Voluntary sustainability standards, for example, can specify safeguards for sourcing timber. They can tackle environmental degradation and limit deforestation. They can also offer a multitude of opportunities for developing and developed countries alike to access new markets. If timber producers can prove the legality of their timber, it becomes easier to export to countries with more stringent environmental standards. Voluntary sustainability standards provide a mechanism to do so, supporting trade and sustainable development, and offering win-win benefits for both the economy and the environment.

However, producers from developing countries may lack the capacity to operationalize voluntary sustainability standards and to transform their production from conventional to sustainable. UN Environment supports developing countries to overcome this obstacle. UN Environment’s Environment and Trade Hub provides capacity building, conducts analyses and offers guidance on voluntary sustainability standards, their applicability and opportunities for sustainable export. Furthermore, UN Environment forms part of the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards, which serves as a platform to help producers, traders, consumers, standards-setters, certification bodies, non-governmental organizations and researchers convene and share best practices on topics relating to standards. Earlier this month, the Forum, with the support of UN Environment, launched its third flagship report at the International Convention on Sustainable Trade and Standards in New Delhi, India. The report looks at voluntary sustainability standards’ contribution to targets within the Sustainable Development Goals, illustrating their environmental and social impact.

Another approach UN Environment has taken has been to help incentivize the uptake of voluntary sustainability standards. For example, between 2011-2017, UN Environment worked with the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and the Forest Stewardship Council in several countries to enable Forest Stewardship Council Certificate holders to benefit from responsibly managed ecosystem services (that is, water, carbon, biodiversity, soil and recreation). On the back of this support, 112 households across two villages in Quang Tri province, Viet Nam, organized themselves into the Quang Tri Smallholder Forest Certification Group, becoming the country’s first group to become Forest Stewardship Council-certified.

Cases like this are good news for companies like IKEA, which have chain-of-custody requirements. With growing appetites for timber from sustainable sources, increased certification gives them more opportunities to source competitively. This trend also benefits local furniture makers, as they are now able to locally source certified timber for their products and gain more competitive access to international markets.

Voluntary sustainability standards have provided a mechanism for Vietnamese timber producers to access the European market, while also creating sustainability improvements throughout the value chain and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Learn more about the Environment and Trade Hub.


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