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UK businesses risk ‘timber supply crunch’

A new report from WWF warns that timber-dependent businesses in the UK must invest in sustainable sourcing if they are to avoid a looming supply crunch from exporting countries.

A new report from WWF warns that timber-dependent businesses in the UK must invest in sustainable sourcing if they are to avoid a looming supply crunch from exporting countries.

The report, 100% sustainable timber markets: the economic and business case, suggests that leading countries that supply timber to the UK are either at the point of expiry or are running at a deficit as their forest resources continue to be used unsustainably.

Without action, UK businesses that rely on timber for their products – either directly in forestry or pulp production or indirectly through timber-derived products such as paper, furniture and construction – could be left exposed.

Supply crunch

Global timber demand is expected to triple by 2050. At the same time, some of the world’s biggest timber producers are facing dwindling reserves.

According to the report, Brazil has only 16 years of timber forests remaining, followed by Colombia (12 years), Nigeria (11 years), Pakistan (10 years), Mexico (9 years) and South Africa (7 years).

There are similar concerns about domestically-sourced timber in the UK, with the supply of domestic softwood a particular worry for foresters.

The report suggests that the current ratio of domestic to imported supply can at best be sustained until 2030, mainly due to new planting falling by a third since the 1970s.

Business case

Businesses therefore need to switch more rapidly towards sustainable timber sourcing, the added benefits of which include advantages in regulatory positioning, the easier raising of finance, added brand value and a more engaged workforce.

Sustainable sourcing also gives manufacturers maximum scope for product development, helping to increase the performance and ultimately aid their bottom line. 

Meanwhile, sustainably managed forests help to protect the natural environment and safeguard the ecosystem services that forests provide, such as flood prevention, erosion control and biodiversity.

‘Real danger’

Julia Young, global forest and trade network manager for WWF-UK, urged businesses to review how their timber is sourced, warning that there is a “real danger of not having enough timber to satisfy our growing population needs”.

“Committing to sustainable timber sourcing isn’t just an added bonus but is something that any timber-dependent business must be investing in if they want a healthy and resilient business that will survive”, she said.

“This report sets out important areas in business functions where benefits are likely to accrue, but are not accounted for when making decisions about the overall cost benefit of sustainable sourcing.”