Prepare for a global ‘timber supply crunch’, WWF warns UK retailers

"Urgent action" is needed from British businesses to invest in more sustainable timber sourcing practices, as highly-sourced areas suffer from a dangerous shortage of resources, a new report commissioned by the WWF has warned.

The report, released today (10 August), investigates the economic and business case for the UK moving towards a ‘100% sustainable’ timber market, and details the environmental and social benefits of doing so.


By 2050, less than 22% of the timber sold in the UK will originate from Britain, WWF claims, but many of Britain’s foresters are becoming increasingly concerned about the future of supply due to such high demands of wood and paper in growing economies and populations.

The 46-page report concludes that retailers that fail to become more resilient against this timber supply risk could be left exposed with few commercial options in the future, because countries that supply timber to the UK – such as Brazil, Vietnam and Thailand – are either reaching the point of expiry or running at a deficit as forest resources are used up without adequate provision for sustainable timber supply.

‘Devastating consequences’

WWF’s global forest and trade network manager Julia Young said: “Committing to sustainable timber sourcing isn’t just an added bonus, but is something that any timber dependent business must be investing in if they want a healthy and resilient business that will survive.

“We can no longer rely on our usual sources of timber as unsustainable practices are having devastating consequences on forests, and we face a real danger of not having enough timber to satisfy our growing population needs.”

With the use of timber expected to triple worldwide as a result of increasing demand of wood and paper in growing economies and populations, WWF warns that ‘primary’ forest areas are being depleted at an alarming rate in many forested countries.

The report notes that Nigeria and Vietnam have lost 99% and 80% of primary forest respectively – almost two million hectares – since 1990. Brazil, meanwhile, has 16 years of timber forests remaining; Thailand has nine years remaining, and South Africa just seven years. All of this has a huge impact on the biodiversity and other important forest ecosystem functions, WWF says.

The organisation is therefore encouraging UK businesses to shift 100% of their trade in timber and timber products to legal, sustainable sources by 2020, through its ‘Forest Priority’ campaign.

On the flip side of the negative effects of unsustainable timber sourcing, the report details the positive effects of switching to sustainable sourcing practices. Businesses would see advantages in regulatory positioning, easier raising of finance, added brand value and a more engaged workforce as a result of a rapid switch to 100% sustainable timber. This would also benefit ecosystems through carbon sequestration, water provision, flood prevention, erosion control and biodiversity, according to the report.

“Businesses need to review how their timber is sourced if they want to secure supply for the future, and in keep timber prices stable,” Young said. “This will have tangible business benefits. It also gives manufacturers maximum scope for product development and provides retailers with a full range of tradable goods. These business benefits can increase performance and ultimately aid the bottom line.”

Industry reaction

Commenting on the report’s finding’s Becky Coffin, head of sustainability at DIY retailer Kingfisher – which is working towards having a ‘Net Positive‘ impact on forests – told edie: “We support the call to action within WWF’s report and recognise the challenges raised therein. Timber is an essential element in around a third of our products, so security of supply is hugely important for us.

“For more than 20 years, we’ve been working to make our timber sourcing sustainable. Right now that’s around 96% of the timber we sell and we have a 2020 target to reach 100% responsibly sourced timber and paper in all our operations.

“Business has an important role to play by fulfilling commitments to avoid deforestation and demanding legal and certified sustainable products. We are taking this a step further by championing a restorative approach to degraded forests, their ecosystems and their communities. We are also actively supportive of projects to replenish and sustain the UK’s forests.”

Jonathan Gorman, sourcing manager for Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, added: “The increasing demand for timber and timber products, and the significant pressure on forest resources means we have a clear responsibility to ensure the timber used in Tesco products is from sustainable sources. 

“That’s why, in 2014, we joined the WWF-UK timber campaign and are on track to meet our commitment to source 100% sustainable timber by 2020. We also know the issues around deforestation go beyond our supply chains, and our long-term goal is to contribute to developing the right conditions for a strong sustainable timber market.”

New York Declaration

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 later this year; and the life of that Committee being extended to at least 2020. WWF’s Young added: “The UK Government must lead by example and address sustainable forest use in the urgently upcoming 25-year plan for nature.

Globally, much hope for the forests rests on the New York Declaration on Forests – a voluntary and non-legally binding political declaration which was agreed upon at the UN Climate Summit in 2014. The Declaration, which was signed by the likes of M&S, Unilever, Nestlé and Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), pledged to halve the rate of deforestation by 2020 and completely end it by 2030.

A report released one year after the signing of that Declaration, compiled by US not-for-profit organisation Forest Trends, revealed that many of the Declaration’s endorsing companies have taken concrete steps to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation from their supply chains.

Read the full WWF sustainable timber sourcing report here.

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Luke Nicholls & Alex Baldwin

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