Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)


  The evidence particularly focuses on answering question a) as set out in the press notice. [8]Namely, Government timber procurement, the Sustainable Timber Initiative, and the development of guidance on timber procurement for local authorities.


  The Minister of State for the Environment, the Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, made an announcement on 28 July 2000 that ". . . current voluntary guidance on environmental issues in timber procurement will become a binding commitment on all central government departments and agencies actively to seek to buy timber and timber products from sustainable and legal sources, for example, those identified under independent certification schemes such as that operated by the Forestry Stewardship Council."

  Almost two years have passed since that announcement, and the Government is still unable to confirm that all timber "is purchased from legal and sustainable sources", despite numerous offers of help from WWF.

  WWF believe that only by specifying FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) endorsed timber products can you be sure that the timber purchased has come from an independently certified, well managed forest and a legal source. Currently, WWF only support the FSC scheme.

  The WWF 95+ Group is a partnership between WWF and companies in the UK (such as Railtrack, B&Q, Sainsburys, The Body Shop and Oxfam). Members are committed to purchasing ever increasing volumes of their wood from well managed forests. Members have often expressed to WWF their disappointment at the lack of take up of their products from Government.

  Working closely with WWF 95+ Group members, we have often been given direct examples of responses from civil servants when members of the group offering FSC endorsed products have approached them.

  For example, one Civil Servant in replying to Blue Line Office Furniture said:

    "Don't [expletive deleted] us off or you won't get to supply us at all" and "Michael Meacher doesn't buy furniture. I do and I buy what the hell I like".

  Blue Line have been actively contacting Government departments for 18 months trying to get its FSC endorsed products into Government offices. It has had no success even though it is the only company in the UK dealing in FSC endorsed furniture.

  The Government has frequently said that the EU public procurement directives (COM 2000) have not allowed them to specify FSC timber, since the announcement by Michael Meacher in 2001. Through WWF's work with Local Authorities we are fully aware of the legal restrictions placed upon procurement activities by these Directives. However, WWF believe that Government is using this more as an excuse and a reason for inaction than because those restrictions are a real barrier. WWF have informed DEFRA that as long as the criteria of a certification scheme is specified rather than simply naming a scheme, they are not breaching the EU directives. WWF is working with several Local Authorities, all of whom have been much more active in procuring timber from independently certified well managed sources than central government. WWF has had a number of meetings with the Procurement Officer at DEFRA and exchanged several letters and emails on this issue.

  The Parliamentary Under-secretary, Elliot Morley MP announced in an answer to a parliamentary question on 17 December 2001, that ". . . this Department has accepted, on behalf of the Government, an offer made by the World Wide Fund for Nature to assist the Government in their efforts to source timber from sustainable and legal sources when a suitable project can be identified. The Department has written to Heads of Procurement in the major central Government Departments to advise them of the offer made by WWF. To date no Department has come forward".

  This PQ was the first time WWF became aware that our offer of help was being accepted. WWF assumes this announcement was in response to a meeting we attended at DEFRA on the 27 July 2000. At this meeting WWF made an "across the board" offer to work with Government departments, provide help and assistance on sourcing independently certified timber, technical advice on alternative species or policy implementation. This offer was "warmly welcomed". However, no one from central government contacted WWF until 19 April (following the press coverage resulting from the Greenpeace action) to ask for such help on timber procurement issues.

  WWF has suggested to Government several times that a simple way forward was to identify a "pilot project" as a quick win, ensuring progress started immediately and was confident that good publicity and awareness raising would follow. Despite letters to all heads of procurement within Government to this effect no suitable project has been identified by government. (Even though Government is meant to be buying all their timber from sustainable and legal sources, not just applying it to one project.)

  On 19 April 2002, WWF received an email from a civil servant who said, "we may have found a project where we can take advantage of your offer of assistance, free of charge, to help Government source timber from legal and sustainably managed sources".

  In response to this, Rachel Shotton (WWF 95+ Group Government Partnerships Coordinator) attended the meeting at DEFRA on 2 May[9] to discuss the possibility of timber from "legal and sustainable" sources being used. The project is a PFI and the contractors (Kajima) were selected in 1997. The building is a DEFRA GO (Government Office) in Cambridge. Approximately 200 cubic metres of iroko (a tropical timber unavailable with independent certification) has been selected as the most suitable timber for the windows. The use of this timber and the fact that there is no way to be sure that it is indeed legal or from a sustainable source is something which WWF will not support.

  This project is a good example of the lack of communication within central government. The DEFRA project manager (Trevor Linton) was unaware of Government timber procurement policy. Therefore, he did not pass any information on to Kajima about the sourcing of the timber and the importance of responsible sourcing. The spec from Government said that timber must come from "sustainable sources" and the use of "tropical hardwoods is explicitly not allowed" unless certain documents can be provided detailing the source, the shipper, the buyer etc.

  WWF have investigated such certificates and found them to be unreliable, misleading and often fake. Kajima would not necessarily be aware of the credibility of the documents and from their point of view, had done everything requested of them from DEFRA. The meeting on 2 May was to discuss the project, whether WWF could help in this instance and to establish how Kajima could confirm that the timber comes from "sustainable sources".

  Kajima have looked at the costs for substituting the iroko for European oak, which is available with independent certification. If the timber is changed at this time in the project, it would cost an extra £1.6 million. WWF understands that the total project cost is approximately £20 million.

  WWF believe that DEFRA will probably go ahead and use iroko. This project will be used as a case study with WWF highlighting problems with recommendations to ensure this does not continue to happen. WWF believe that there must be more Government building projects like this, using unsustainable timber. Time will tell.

  WWF has attempted to get the information on the DEFRA website corrected as some of it is factually inaccurate and we believe unhelpful to buyers. For example, several "certification schemes" are listed in DETR Greening Government operations. [10]We have told DEFRA that many of the "schemes" listed in the guide, are not actually certification schemes—the World Bank and ISO 14000 are included. This will lead to more confusion. Our request has, thus far, not been carried out.

  The Government continues to say that there is not enough certified timber around and that "rejecting suppliers because they do not have specific green credentials such as an FSC certificate would be an inappropriate barrier".[11]

  Government often argues that if everyone suddenly started demanding FSC endorsed timber, it would create a demand that could not be sourced. WWF completely disagrees with this view. The UK Government, by communicating its policy widely and clearly, can have a critical role in creating demand and encouraging supply. Several timber traders have said to WWF that they are waiting for "a clear signal" from Government that they really are supporting and backing FSC.

  Government has not been able to provide adequate, accurate information for their buyers to know what kind of credible information to look for when purchasing timber. In the second "Greening Government Report" issued in November 2001, time and time again, feedback from Government departments requests "clear guidance on credible certification schemes".

  WWF welcomed the consultation paper: "Procurement of timber products `from legal and sustainable sources' by government and its executive agencies and have provided written input into this process.

  The consultants ERM have undertaken a consultation, on behalf of Government, with interested parties on their research into current procurement practices and have considered ways of assessing claims of sustainable forest management. The report issued prior to this consultation was very positive and the criteria in the paper for assessing what a credible scheme is, are well thought through and detailed. We support them and have suggested a couple of additions.

  It is frustrating however, that WWF and a number of other Environmental NGOs have been advising DEFRA on what we believe a credible forest certification scheme is for nearly two years. DFID have also completed research on this topic which seems to us to be an unnecessary extra piece of work.

  WWF are hoping that once the ERM study is complete and a guidance note issued to buyers it will be clear what kind of timber can be purchased by Government. We understand that this is due out "in the summer" and ERM are aiming for the final draft report to be finalised by the end of May 2002.

  WWF has been consistent in calling on the UK Government to:

    1.  Fully implement the timber procurement policy announced in July 2000;

    2.  Provide urgent clarification and clear guidance and advice to its departments; agencies and to local authorities on responsible timber procurement and what a credible certification scheme is; and

    3.  Identify a pilot project where independently certified timber is specified and used.

  With regard to the development of guidance on timber procurement for local authorities and advise given by Central Government WWF is only aware of a letter from Mr Bob Andrew at DEFRA, dated 15 April 2002. This letter states, "As far as promoting the purchase of sustainable and legal timber beyond Central Government is concerned, DEFRA, DTLR and OGC are currently engaged with the Improvement and Development Agency in discussions on how to encourage local authorities to adopt such policies". Beyond this WWF knows of no further progress.

May 2002

8   Committee Press release No 26, 18 April 2002. See Back

9   DEFRA News Release 516: 28 July 2000. Back

10   DETR Greening Government Operations-Green Guide for Buyers: Part 2 Green Buyers checklist. Back

11   Michael Meacher speech to WWF 95 plus Group 23 November 2001. Back

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