Assessment of five forest certification schemes found they all give assurances of legal harvesting – the basic requirement – but only two of them also provide assurance that forests are being managed in a way that meets the government’s contract definition of sustainable forest management (SFM).

The government has now set a period of six months before central departments begin making distinctions between the schemes to allow industry and the certification schemes time to prepare for changes in procurement practice.

The assessment found that certificates from the Canadian Standards Association and the Forest Stewardship Council should be accepted as assurance of legal and sustainable timber.

However, certificates from the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC), the North American Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) and the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) should be accepted as assurance of legally harvested timber, but could not be accepted as wholly sustainable timber as defined by the government’s model contract specification.

“The government is not saying that forests certified under the PEFC, SFI and MTCC schemes are not well managed – just that the schemes as they currently work don’t provide adequate assurance that our particular requirements are fulfilled. They were very close to doing so and it is my hope that they will work in collaboration with the central point of expertise on timber, to give us the assurance we seek as soon as possible,” Mr Morley said.

At the end of last month the Rainforest Action Network cast doubt over the eligibility of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) labels (see related story) claiming they were simply greenwash as the certificate covering the final product does not say the percentage of uncertified material used.

In September, work was halted on the National Lottery funded refurbishment of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow after it was found to be using illegal, unsustainable timber (see related story).

Mr Morley added that the government would, from now on, be requiring all of their contractors to supply any virgin timber from sustainably-managed forests.

“To ensure clarity for consumers, the UK government would therefore prefer to see all schemes offering the same degree of assurance of sustainability – a position which has not yet been reached,” he added.

By David Hopkins

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie