Are UK furniture retailers unwittingly destroying forest resources?

The majority of British furniture retailers are failing to treat responsible timber sourcing as a key issue despite having long-term business interests in such actions, a new report commissioned by the WWF suggests.

The report, released today (15 November), examines the sustainable sourcing policies of 74 major UK retailers for the procurement of timber used for their furniture. It found that more than two-thirds (68%) of the retailers assessed – including major brand names such as Selfridges, Harrods and DFS – have no published policy or any other credible sourcing statement on their website, or have policies but provide no performance information against them.

The greatest challenge regarding responsible sourcing concerns finished furniture imports from countries outside of EU Timber Regulation jurisdictions, the report claims. Almost 60% of €4.1bn UK furniture imports originate from outside the EU, WWF states, while total imports from “high risk” countries with recognised illegal logging and trade issues – such as China, Vietnam, and Malaysia – are valued at €1.9bn.

WWF insists that some of the retailers who featured in its 2015 Timber Scorecard have taken “little or no action” to get to grips with the sustainable forest trade agenda, despite having significant reliance on such actions to maintain supply of timber to their own businesses in the long term.

“UK furniture retailers could be unwittingly destroying forest resources due to their lack of clear commitments to sustainable sourcing of timber for their products,” WWF-UK global forest and trade network manager Julia Young commented.

“Retailers can not only reduce these risks but also enhance their reputation by engaging with the issue and by publishing and pursuing a credible timber sourcing policy. WWF-UK will produce its next wider Timber Scorecard in 2017, and we hope these companies will make dramatic improvements ahead of this.”

‘Urgent action’

WWF has previously warned that ‘primary’ forest areas are being depleted at an alarming rate in many forested countries. Nigeria and Vietnam, for instance, have reputedly lost 99% and 80% of primary forest respectively – almost two million hectares – since 1990. 

The organisation is now repeating its call for “urgent action” from British businesses to invest in more sustainable timber sourcing practices. Its latest report outlines key recommendations for all furniture retailers to build up sustainable practices that will both reduce business risk and enhance their reputation.

Among the recommendations include proposals for retailers to; publish a responsible timber sourcing policy; provide supplier guidance notes or training to ensure that all supply chain participants are aware of requirements; get third-party verification such as FSC; communicate policies to all stakeholders; and seek support from suppliers, industry bodies, environmental groups and competitors to help source responsibly.

Short supply

Many of Britain’s foresters are becoming increasingly concerned about the future of timber supply due to such high demands of wood and paper in growing economies and populations. However, a minority of retailers are making good progress or show industry-leading performance – the WWF report highlights that Marks & Spencer (M&S), Sainsbury’s and IKEA in particular, are demonstrating a very high level of commitment to responsible sourcing.

DIY retailer Kingfisher – which is working towards having a ‘Net Positive‘ impact on forests – recently told edie that it supports WWF’s call to action, recognising that security of timber supply is “hugely important” for the firm.

At a regulatory level, Defra looks set to increase its work on natural capital, with a comprehensive 25-year plan for the Natural Capital Committee due at the start of next year; with the life of that Committee being extended to at least 2020.

Globally, much hope for the forests rests on the New York Declaration on Forests – a voluntary and non-legally binding political declaration signed by the likes of M&S, Unilever, Nestlé in 2014, which pledged to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020 and completely end it by 2030.

George Ogleby

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