WWF surveyed more than 50 retailers from 20 countries on how responsible sourcing policies relating to forestry were generating tangible business benefits. According to the report, more than 80% of retailers noted positive impacts on risk management and brand reputation, while 60% of retailers highlighted positive impacts on customer satisfaction and stakeholder engagement.

“Companies with genuinely responsible timber sourcing strategies – based on clear commitments and public reporting – have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd,” WWF’s forest practice lead Alistair Monument said.

“This is particularly important for retailers, who operate in a highly competitive public-facing space where maintaining a competitive edge and a positive reputation is crucial. We need retailers to take the lead and understand that sustainability is no longer a niche, but the norm.”

As listed in the report, one of Switzerland’s largest retailers Migros increased sales of sustainably-sourced products by more than 30% between 2012 and 2015, highlighting the consumer demand for these products.

Numerous companies, including Australia-based home retailer Bunnings, also reduced supply chain risks by developing longer-term relationships with a fewer number of suppliers. The report also found that 70% of retailers were experiencing enhanced employee engagement as a result of sustainability commitments.

The report noted that cost, often cited a major barrier for sourcing practices, wasn’t a cause for concern for these retailers. Companies worked with suppliers to absorb added costs through contractual arrangements and capacity-building support. Collaborative partnerships will deliver greater value to consumers, the report claimed.

Wider work

The latest report forms part of WWF’s wider responsible forest management research, which has previously found that the Net Present Value (NPV) on the decision to pursue FSC-certified Roundwood was, on average, $6.69 per cubic metre for businesses.

By 2050, less than 22% of the timber sold in the UK will originate from Britain, separate research from WWF claims. 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.

In fact, 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. More than two-thirds (68%) of the 74 retailers assessed by WWF have no published policy or any other credible sourcing statement on their website, or have policies but provide no performance information against them.

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.

Numerous companies are pledging to introduce deforestation-free practices in supply chains. However, the Rainforest Alliance has suggested that these targets need definition, focus and accountability to turn the objective into reality.

Matt Mace

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