If you are struggling with the concept of EUTR and where it fits in to your business, you are not alone! Understanding the differences between legal and sustainable timber is the first step to prioritising and then managing your timber supplies for the long term.
What is EUTR?
Placing timber from illegally logged forests, and products derived from such timber, will be prohibited in the European Union from 3 March 2013. The law which has enshrined this is EU995 or, more commonly, the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR).
Companies who place wood based products (in short: solid wood products, flooring, plywood, pulp and paper) for the first time in the EU market, as well as traders to which such products have been supplied within the EU, will need to understand and implement the required measures to comply with this legislation.
EUTR defines Operators as those companies which place timber products in the EU market for the first time. For example, operators are importers, retailers or manufacturers that directly import wood based products, and forest managers that supply timber from an EU based forest.
It is Operators that are responsible under EUTR to ensure that no illegal timber enters the supply chain.
Traders are those that buy and/or sell wood based products that were already placed in the EU market (by an Operator).
Obligations, Enforcement and Penalties
Operators must develop and implement a Due Diligence System including three key elements: Information on product name, species, country of origin and quantity, a Risk Assessment to determine the likelihood that the product comes from an illegal source and Risk Mitigation to ensure that illegally harvested material is removed from the supply chain, by exclusion or by working with the supplier more closely.
Traders only need to keep records of their direct suppliers and their direct customer for all wood based products traded. Individual final consumers are not covered by the legislation.
Each Member State has appointed one or more Competent Authorities to coordinate the enforcement of the EUTR. In the UK it is the National Measurements Office (NMO). Penalties associated with breaking EUTR rules are supposed to be ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive’ and will include fines, seizure of the timber and timber products concerned and ultimately suspension of authorisation to trade
Where do FSC® and PEFC fit in?
Both FSC and PEFC claim to provide much more than legality, and therefore more than EUTR requires. Both include wider-reaching definitions of what a good forest product is covering not only legality. Their missions are to bring forest products to market which ensure the long-term viability of the forest whilst at the same time protecting the livelihoods of people who live and work there, conserving the inherent biodiversity of plants and animals that are found there and maintaining other functions attributed to forests like watershed protection and fulfilling human needs for recreation.
However, both FSC and PEFC are having to make changes to their Chain of Custody standards in the light of EUTR and during 2013 will produce updated versions to keep them relevant to the EUTR.
On one level this seems odd; both schemes talk about much more than simply compliance with the law, whilst recognising that without this, there is no responsible or sustainable forest management.
EUTR on the other hand, only talks about Legality. So why then, are FSC and PEFC not ‘better’ than EUTR and why don’t they automatically confer EUTR compliance? There are a number of basic answers:
- EUTR is a legal instrument with statutory penalties; FSC and PEFC are voluntary
- Certain aspects of EUTR are not (yet) to be found in FSC and PEFC e.g. Due Diligence
- The EU cannot, in good conscience, take private schemes and make them the basis for legal compliance; it opens up a can of worms that might well result in legal challenges taking years to resolve
- EU definitions of legal are not (yet) the same as FSC and PEFC
Proving something is legal is the first step on the road to sustainability. The EU has recognised that defining and implementing forest sustainability is an extremely tough call and one which, without investing time and money into defining and promoting legality, is doomed to failure. As part of a series of policy objectives (known collectively as FLEGT – Forest Law, Enforcement, Governance and Trade) the EU is working with producer countries and the EU market, to promote sustainable procurement and encourage better forest governance. In some cases, this is about assisting producer countries to define and implement effective forest law. This is not the approach of FSC or PEFC.
What now for FSC and PEFC?
As stated above, FSC and PEFC are developing their standards in the quest to provide automatic qualification to EUTR compliance. For now though, they represent excellent due diligence. They provide almost all the assurance required under EUTR and, with some additional information collection, are about as good as it gets.
In addition, it seems unlikely that the NMO will focus on FSC and PEFC certified goods when there are plenty of other risky timber-based supplies coming into the country.
Finally, there is a clear distinction between legal and sustainable. A company with an official licence to harvest timber might be able to cut every last tree down, forever destroying the biodiversity of an area and completely preventing any opportunity for regrowth. The raw material originating from this practice will be compliant with EUTR. However, this would not be allowed under FSC and PEFC rules which insist that the forest is managed in such a way as its capacity for regeneration is not compromised and that the biodiversity within the forest is protected as far as possible.
Is EUTR ‘better’ than FSC or PEFC? No
Are FSC and PEFC useful for EUTR? Yes
Should we forget FSC and PEFC and only focus on EUTR? No.
We all need to comply with the law. However, if we do not set up and manage sustainable structures and supply chains, there is no future for forest resources and, in the longer term, no timber industry in the UK. For a country that imports the vast majority of its timber products, and a good amount from outside the EU, supporting and encouraging responsible, sustainable forest practice is vital. Legal compliance is just the first step