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Consumers and authorities want to know the wood in their products does not originate from a warzone or illegal sources. How can we verify the origin of our timber and paper?

Log pile

The certification of timber, paper and other forest products is a success story, with the area of certified forest and the number of certificates in the supply chain steadily increasing. Certification cannot, however, satisfy the increasing demand for information concerning the geographical origin of the wood. Furthermore, there is a limit to the number of certified products that can be made available. Complementary systems, such as online databases and timber due diligence schemes, may be the answer to filling this void.

Conventional methods for ensuring timber originates from responsible sources are the Forest Management and Chain of Custody (CoC) certification schemes, such as those run by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) and the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC™). With these methods, forests and organizations, for processing or trading, are certified to the appropriate standard before being allowed to apply the label to their final product.

These systems are highly valued in the timber sector because they give assurance that sustainable forest management procedures have been followed and therefore the risk of using material from controversial sources is minimized. Globally, about 500 million hectares have been certified by FSC and PEFC and more than 40,000 CoC certificates have been issued. Certification is performed by approved assessors like SGS, the market leader in forestry, timber and paper certification.

Certification schemes verify that an organization is following the correct procedures relating to purchasing, processing and trading wood and timber products (CoC). However, no information regarding timber flow is retained and data, such as the geographical origin of the harvested trees, is not necessarily passed along the supply chain. The system provides assurance that the timber is obtained from responsible sources but no more specific information.

Online Claim Platform

The FSC has tried to address this problem by creating its Online Claim Platform (OCP). This system collects information on the trading of all certified materials, allowing sellers and buyers to confirm deals. This allows certified organizations to access information relating to geographical origin but only independent control organizations are given access to information about the timber flow supply chain. The timber and paper industries are not currently willing to introduce such a system, stating concerns over confidentiality and security, as well as a fear of additional administrative costs.

Certification schemes also fall short on answering the question of origin because, on a global scale, certified woodland only represents a small percentage of forests. This means, only a small percentage of end-products can comply with the eligibility criteria needed for labeling. Therefore, certification cannot fulfill the needs of retailers, traders and finally end-consumers, because they need an assurance that all products and packaging originates from timber sources that are not controversial and/or illegal.

Timber Due Diligence

A potential solution to this quandary is the Timber Due Diligence of Origin system. These programs were originally developed by the standard-setting organisations (FSC and PEFC) to allow the mixing of certified and non-certified materials in industries where physical separation of the product would be impossible. For example, in the pulp and paper industries. 

Timber Due Diligence schemes ensure that non-certified components do not originate from controversial sources, but certification systems do not allow that products which only consist only of such non-controversial and controlled sources are labelled. This would be in direct competition to the certified materials and undermine the reason for Forest Management Certification.

European Timber Regulations

In March 2015, European Timber Regulation (EUTR 995/2010) came into force and includes prescriptions concerning Timber Due Diligence. It requires organizations placing timber products on the European market for the first time (so named Operators) to conduct Due Diligence on their origin.

The EU intends to prevent the import of timber that has been:

  • Illegally harvested or traded
  • Taken from regions with armed conflicts
  • Traded from regions where export bans are in force

Operators working in Europe must comply with these mandatory regulations, or face penalties for non-compliance. To assist them, operators may request support and verification from formally registered ‘monitoring organizations’, such as SGS.

Implementing Due Diligence Systems

All Timber Due Diligence systems have a similar structure. To verify due diligence, an organization must demonstrate it has: 

  1. Gathered relevant information on species and geographical origin
  2. Conducted a risk assessment, considering topics such as governance in the country of origin, the rarity or endangered status of the species
  3. Mitigated all risks, if they have been identified

Because all systems work in the same way, they can be set up generically and to satisfy the certification systems or the timber regulations, including the US Lacey Act and Australia’s Timber Regulations. Finally, such systems can be used by wholesalers and retailers at the end of the supply chain to prevent sourcing timber, paper and other forest products from controversial and illegal sources.

Without global coverage for forestry management schemes, Timber Due Diligence of Origin systems are an important and practical step towards assuring end-users that the wood in their products does not come from illegal or controversial sources.

For information about the SGS Forestry Accreditations, visit: Forest, Timber and Paper Certification Contacts and Accreditations.

For information about SGS’s approval as a monitoring organisation by the EC, visit: Forest Information - Environment - European Commission.

For further information, please contact:

Christian Kobel
Business Manager, Forestry
t: +41 78 621 75 52