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Brand new backing for tropical timber

Jul 17, 2018 | FLEGT Market News

The new Fair&Precious promotion programme effectively encapsulates the work of the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT), supporting the tropical sector’s technical, environmental and economic performance, into a producer- and market-facing branding campaign. 

One goal of the initiative, the ATIBT team told the IMM Nantes Trade Consultation, is to incentivise uptake of sustainable, responsible forest management in tropical countries – and while it currently focuses on the ATIBT’s heartland of Central and West Africa, there are hopes for it ultimately to encompass Asia and South America too.The other aim is to raise market awareness of tropical timber’s qualities and capabilities across the range of species and its availability from sustainable, socially responsible sources.

Initially Fair&Precious cites just FSC or PEFC certification as evidence of sustainable sourcing, as its rules only recognise third party forest management certification. But that situation may evolve too as ATIBT engages with a range of other environmental and sustainability initiatives. As it highlighted to the IMM event, the question of evaluating the possibility of incorporating FLEGT VPAs and FLEGT-licensing system into the brand’s criteria ‘will have to be asked soon’. It also works closely and supports private sector involvement with REDD for instance.

Reaching a broad audience 

Funded by the French Development Agency and Central African Commission (COMIFAC), Fair & Precious unveiled its manifesto, logo and website to a public and private sector audience in Paris last November. 

The website is strongly consumer-style in design. ATIBT General Manager, Benoît Jobbé-Duval, says the campaign’s high impact aesthetic is key to making a mark in today’s demanding market. “Our goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible, from producers, through importers to specifiers, end-users and beyond,” he said. 

The Fair&Precious motto is ‘Tropical timber – Much more than timber’, reinforcing the value of a sustainable wood sector in maintaining the forest, and inviting the audience to look more deeply into the material’s end-use potential and possibilities. 

But at the heart of Fair&Precious is the brand itself. Companies across the supply chain, from forest to end-use, are encouraged to adopt it for their own marketing, communications.  The goal is a stamp that simultaneously gives the user and their sustainable tropical timber products an edge in the market, and also conveys their environmental credentials and the special value of the material. 

Growing tropical timber market access 

“It’s simultaneously about increasing market access for the timber, promoting the industry and responsible forest management,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval.

To use the brand, he added, companies carrying the F&P mark have to adopt a clear set of commitments and provide proof they operate to highest environmental and ethical standards. “They must also submit to regular, strict third-party audits to ensure they are maintaining those standards and the ethos of the brand, and we will withdraw the right to use it if they fall below them,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. 

The Fair&Precious commitments are demanding and detailed, said ATIBT’s communications manager Christine Le Paire.It’s a list of 10, but underlining the core focus of the initiative, the first five are concerned with forest and environmental maintenance. They pledge brand users to manage the forest to combat climate change and maintain its carbon sink capacity; to operate minimally invasive sustainable forestry methods; to protect habitats; and to build up knowledge on biodiversity to ensure renewal of animal and plant species. 

Selling by specification, not species 

The campaign shares another focus with ATIBT’s wider activities in ‘providing technical knowledge on the broad diversity of species and their uses’, effectively encouraging use of lesser known timber species (LKTS).

“There are an estimated 10,000 timber species in tropical forests, far more than in boreal forest, but only around 15 are of any significance in the market, and just five account for 75% of sales,” said Mr Jobbé-Duval. “Using a wider range of species helps make more sustainable use of the forest. But we have to persuade the supply chain to accept them, which is why ATIBT also supports research  evaluating LKTS’ performance.”

“The aim is market selection of timber based on whether it corresponds to actual technical need, rather than on specific species,” said ATIBT wood engineer Élise Héral who leads its 2020 LKTS research and testing project. “We can also select on the grounds of which varieties are most ecologically resilient.” 

Currently, she added, ATIBT is involved in a major LKTS research collaboration with the French national railways, SNCF, on substituting creosoted treated sleepers with technically equivalent or superior tropical varieties. It’s a potntially huge opportunity, with the rail operator using 46 million sleepers in total and its sawmill for making them processing 45,000 tonnes of timber annually – currently 85% oak, 15% tropical.  

FLEGT VPA support 

Turning to its perspective on FLEGT and its potential status in the Fair&Precious campaign, FLEGT-REDD projects deputy coordinator Caroline Duhesme highlighted the degree to which ATIBT already works with the wider initiative. 

“We support forest private sector participation and alignment with FLEGT VPAs and their regulatory requirements in five African countries (which are either VPA negotiating or implementing); Cameroon, the Congo, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast” she said. “We also help them better engage with and understand the EUTR process and the due diligence demands of customers, which includes us in liaison with EU Competent Authorities.”

She added that ATIBT study trips to producer countries are also planned so European operations can see forest management on the ground and understand local legal requirements.“At the same time we aim to improve their understanding of the potential role of private certification in due diligence,” she said.

For the time being, she continued, the F&P programme will remain focused on certification systems with third-party verification. “But the possibility of integrating the FLEGT licensing system will need to be further discussed,” she said. “There is also an urgent need to set up a campaign of promotion and visibility for the VPA-FLEGT process and, somehow or other, we need to establish complementarity of communication for private certification on the one hand, and FLEGT-licensing on the other.”