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Consumer interest in sustainable and ethical products has expanded beyond the food & beverage and fashion industries. Today, more and more shoppers are taking a closer look at the origins behind all the products in their households, including wood and paper-based products. These goods form a considerable part of our daily lives and can found all over our homes, from the furniture we buy to the packaging of many household products. Consumers looking to deepen their commitment to sustainability are seeking wood and paper-based goods that comply with their values.

In this article, we will look at how responsible sourcing and sustainability apply to the wood and paper industry.

What is “sustainable” wood?

For wood and paper-based products, the terms “sustainable” or “responsible” imply that the wood has been harvested in a way that ensures healthy, continued, and sustainable growth. Sustainably sourced wood minimizes the impact of logging on forests and the surrounding wildlife and communities. Sustainable wood also means that the timber is not a product of illegal logging that violates national and/or regional regulations protecting forests and the environment.

Top wood sourcing countries today include the United States, Canada, Finland, Russia, China, Brazil, Sweden, and Germany—but businesses must look beyond country of origin to determine if wood has been responsibly sourced.

Ensuring responsibly sourced and sustainable wood

Businesses can take several steps to ensure their goods are made with timber that has been sourced in a sustainable and responsible way.

Compliance with national regulations to eliminate illegal logging

Several regulations exist globally to eliminate illegal logging. For example, the 2013 EU Timber Regulation prohibits illegally harvested timber or timber products (including solid wood products, flooring, plywood, and pulp and paper) from being sold in the EU, and also requires those placing timber products on the market to exercise “due diligence.”

The US Lacey Act, which initially targeted illegally trafficked wildlife but was expanded in 2008 to include plant life, bans the trade of illegally sourced wood products and requires entities to submit declarations on certain wood products, including information on country of origin, species, volume, and value.

Similarly, the Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 bans the import of illegally logged timber and timber products into Australia, prohibits the processing of illegally harvest Australian logs, and specifies required due diligence measures for businesses.

At a minimum, businesses impacted by such regulations must ensure compliance to avoid use of illegally harvested wood.

Compliance with certification schemes to ensure wood comes from responsibly managed forests

Certifications are commonly used by businesses to ensure sustainable sourcing of raw materials. Certifications can be easily shared with and understood by consumers as an indicator of a businesses’ supply chains practices. For wood, the most popular and widely accepted certification scheme is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which “ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.” Other certifications include the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). By ensuring their suppliers comply with the standards set by these schemes, businesses can provide consumers with guarantees that their wood products are made using responsibly sourced and sustainable wood.

Implementation of recycling measures to help reduce the quantity of trees logged

For paper-based products such as cardboard packaging, this means using recycled wood fibers, which can typically be recycled five to seven times before becoming unusable. According to the World Resources Institute, recycling has increased significantly in many countries since 1990, but is still limited in some regions due to insufficient availability of recycled fibers. For wood products, reclaimed wood can be re-used for items such as furniture, flooring, wall panels, and wooden décor, without requiring new wood to be harvested. While recycling and reuse will not completely eliminate the need for new wood, it can help reduce overall demand.

Intelligent product design and production to use wood more efficiently

Some companies such as IKEA use a combination of wood and particleboard in certain products to reduce the overall amount of wood used. Particleboard is made from byproducts such as wood scraps, chips, sawdust pressed together with glue, meaning no additional logging is required. Using both wood and particleboard in a single product can help reduce the environmental impact on forests. It is worth noting that some particleboard is made using formaldehyde, which can be dangerous; this is also an area of focus for many businesses.

Sustainable and intelligent product design also involves the use of more “common” wood—in other words, wood that has been harvested from more abundant tree species—such as white ash, oak, and maple. This can also include sourcing materials from fast-growing wood alternatives such as bamboo. Finally, cutting wood pieces in a way that minimizes scraps and waste also contributes to more sustainable practices.

Increased visibility into the wood supply chain to better understand a product’s origins

Supply chain transparency is critical to ensure sustainable and responsible practices. It is only by knowing all the stakeholders involved in the production of a wood or paper-based product that businesses can truly understand where their raw materials are coming from and how they are sourced and processed. Supply chain transparency not only helps ensure compliance with regulations and certification schemes, but also provides businesses with the information and insights they need to proactively manage potential risks. For example, businesses can identify which of their wood suppliers are located in areas at greater risk of deforestation and take action to ensure they are not contributing to environmentally harmful practices. As consumers become more interested in the origins of their wood furniture and cardboard packaging, supply chain transparency is more and more critical for businesses to capture market share and thrive in the future.

Responsible sourcing commitments: businesses are branching out

Major CPG corporations have recognized the need for more sustainable wood supply chains and have made commitments to ensure responsible sourcing:

  • IKEA: Commitment to 100% sustainably sourced wood by 2020 (as of 2019, they have reached 97%)
  • Unilever: Commitment to 100% sustainably sourced paper and board, including all packaging
  • Walmart: Private brand products made of pulp and paper to be sourced with zero net deforestation by 2020
  • Target: Forest Product Policy ensures wood-based products are sourced from well-managed forests and increases the use of recycled materials in products and packaging
  • VF Corporation: Forest Derived Materials Policy sets formal guidelines for the purchase and use of sustainable forest materials and products for all VF brands. This covers not just retail-oriented items such as store fixtures/furniture, shoeboxes, and hangtags, but also manmade cellulosic
    fibers derived from wood pulp such as viscose and rayon.

Such commitments make it clear that sustainable and responsible sourcing of wood is a growing business priority.

Although demands for sustainability and corporate social responsibility have traditionally impacted the food & beverage and apparel industries, consumer interest in a product’s origins has expanded to include a broader scope of goods. To succeed in the long run, companies must take steps to ensure that all their supply chains—whether food, apparel, household goods, or the packaging they come in—align with new consumer values. Transparency-One can help businesses in all industries discover, analyze and monitor their supply chains to meet their commitments for responsible sourcing.

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