Public sector procurement policy

PBM magazine, June

Published: 20/07/2009 00:00

Recent changes to the UK government’s Timber Procurement Policy mean that timber for all public sector projects must be legal and sustainable, so it is more important than ever for merchants to know where the products they are supplying the industry actually come from. Simon Messam, Sales Manager for Finnforest comments on how sourcing certified timber products can commercially benefit the merchant in these tough times.

Recent changes to the UK government’s Timber Procurement Policy mean that timber for all public sector projects must be legal and sustainable. With the majority of investment in UK construction coming from the public sector – driven by programmes like Building Schools for the Future and the Code for Sustainable Homes – it is more important than ever for merchants to ensure they supply legal and sustainable timber, in order to gain success in this market. Those without the right documentation could be missing out on valuable business.

A 2001 Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) report found that that 86% of all local authorities have an environmental policy and 84% made reference to procurement issues. Further to this the report found that 78% took environmental considerations into account when looking at tenders, 67% when considering the best procurement option and 64% when awarding contracts. With the statistics weighted in favour of substantiated environmental products there is a real market for merchants to profit from through the sale of legally sourced and verified sustainable timber.

The government’s Timber Procurement Policy oversees the procurement and sale of timber products in the UK. It aims to promote the pro-active purchasing of legal and sustainable timber for public projects and was last updated on 1st April 2009.

Since April the policy now demands that all timber and wood-derived products must be from independently verifiable legal and sustainable sources or Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) licensed timber or equivalent only. FLEGT is the European Union’s response to the global problem of illegal logging and the international trade in illegally harvested timber. From 1 April 2015, legal and sustainable timber only will be demanded.

With this new demand on tradesmen and building contractors working on public sector projects there is more reason than ever for merchants to understand where their products are sourced and how they are handled. The ability to provide certified timber with the correct documentation gives the merchant the opportunity to make a sale. Those merchants without the correctly documented products and auditing stand to lose out on this key part of the market, which currently accounts for the majority of building activity in the UK.

It is fair to say that timber is one of the most sustainable construction materials available, if it is managed in the right way. This caveat applies not only to the management of the timber on the construction site, but stretches right back to its forest of origin, relating to the way the timber is processed, documented and stored at each stage of its journey to the merchant’s branch and beyond. It is this documentation that customers will be looking for and which, to ensure a sale, the merchant must make available.

A single piece of timber can pass through several stages on this journey. A papertrail known as the Chain of Custody is the series of documentation that traces its path. For a timber product to lay claim to Chain of Custody, each forest, mill, manufacturer and supplier must have its handling processes independently audited, often by BM TRADA, through all stages of harvesting, transportation, production, distribution and sale.

For the Chain of Custody to bear any relevance to the timber’s environmental claim it must begin at a certified forest. The papertrail then serves as proof that the product itself is manufactured from timber that was sourced from a well-managed and sustainable forest, while the way the timber was handled once it was harvested has done nothing to compromise this credential.

There are two forms of forest certification, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC/16-37-006) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC® C002779). Both are worldwide organisations promoting sustainably managed forests through certification.

For a forest to be certified it needs to fulfil certain stringent criteria. A well-managed forest will take into account its environmental, social and economic impacts. The rate of harvesting is likely to be exceeded by the rate of planting and regeneration, while harvesting only takes place in the correct conditions so as to protect the forest floor, an important part of the natural habitat for indigenous plants and animals. Local communities also need to be taken into account, with the effects of forestry on those communities carefully monitored to ensure they socially and economically benefit from the activities.

Technology plays an important part in ensuring that the timber a merchant buys and sells is legal and sustainable. From the global mapping and Geographic Information System (GIS) tracking used to locate harvesting areas, to the computer aided cutting and processing machinery at the mill, to the electronic documenting of all the timber products and their location in the merchant’s branch, a supplier that can trace the origin of every product it supplies will also be able to produce the relevant documentation for the merchant to pass onto the customer.

A supplier that handles the timber through every stage in the process has a very clear chain of custody. Working with a supplier that takes a robust stance on sustainability in this way can help a merchant establish its own processes for BM TRADA auditing, putting it in the field for supplying public sector projects in the future.

Timber is an integral part of the construction industry’s agenda. As a means of reducing embodied CO2 in new buildings it is being specified on public and private projects more and more frequently. Added to which, timber that is proven to be legally sourced further contributes to a sustainable future. With new demands placed on the public sector, the merchant with the support of a supplier that can provide certified, fully Chain of Custody audited timber products is in the ideal position from which to sell and profit from this trend.