Opinion & Analysis

Why the future success of the timber trade depends on your customers’ confidence

Tropical timber production rose again last year – a good sign for the industry – but how do we capitalise on this post-recession growth period, and how do we overcome the negative public image of the tropical timber trade? Jose Canchaya, Business Manager at Maderacre SAC, explains why trust – from supplier to consumer – is key to the long-term success of the tropical timber industry.

zoom© FSC IC / Christian Irrgang© FSC IC / Christian IrrgangThe timber trade as a whole is still recovering from the 2008 economic crash, but there are clear signs that the demand for wood products is rising. In Q1 of 2015, for example, the EU imported 21% more tropical wood products compared to the same period in 2014.

However, particularly in the tropical forest sector, there are still serious concerns about illegal wood trading that could threaten this growth.

Eradicating bad practices

Many organisations involved in the timber trade are working alongside FSC to eradicate mismanagement of forests and to force contaminated wood out of the supply chain, but occasionally, perhaps inevitably, instances of illegal logging and uncertified materials do occur.

Unfortunately negative press of these practices often overshadows the many positive stories of regulation and conservation work. This means trust and consumer confidence is still an issue, and the forest industry needs to work together to build – and sell – confidence.

To do this, we must tell the stories of social, environmental and economic success, despite many decades of negative associations to overcome. Marketing is one part of the solution, but another is simply doing what we have promised our customers, suppliers and consumers: delivering great products on time and using only certified and trusted materials originating from productive forests.

The social impact of certified tropical forests

 © FSC IC / Christian Irrgang

Responsible forest management allows productive conservation and enhanced rural development to take place. Maderacre is one such story: we have 220,000 hectares of FSC-certified forest concessions in the Peruvian Amazon Forest, but we treat the forest with respect and manage the forest responsibly. We extract only one tree per hectare every 20 years, and we employ half of the district's labour force, enhancing local economic development while maintaining important natural habitats.

It is stories like these that need to be told – as without this kind of positive exposure, consumers will not understand the way we work. There is still a lingering perception that cutting down trees is ‘always bad’ no matter how the forest is managed. But with FSC’s help the forestry industry can overcome this and show that the timber trade has the potential to be ‘clean’, helping to sustain local communities through job creation and a responsible industry, all created by responsible forest management.

The confidence to trade business-to-business

The problem of low confidence extends to within the forestry industry itself. With responsible producers often struggling against the price fixing and lower prices of illegal logging outfits, it is important for responsible timber companies to differentiate their products from the illegal suppliers. It is critical to explain why responsible timber is adding value.

The timber industry must continue to build consumer confidence, but trust must also be fostered between suppliers, distributors and manufacturers – the job of selling the idea of why responsibly sourced tropical timber adds value is both business-to-business and business-to-consumer.

Business principles vs. environmental needs

© FSC IC / Christian Irrgang © FSC IC / Christian Irrgang

It is not only important to sell legal and sustainable timber, it is also important that we do it by continuing to craft high-quality products, ship on-time, and offer competitive prices, just like producers in other sectors who strive to satisfy their customers.

Simultaneously, it is worth stressing that business principles needn’t conflict with environmental and social imperatives. Due to our responsible forest management, tropical forest habitats can be preserved and the local populations whose livelihoods depend on the forest for jobs and sustenance will thrive.

We all understand the importance of trust – without it you wouldn’t do business with a supplier, and nor would you buy a packet of cornflakes at your local supermarket if you didn’t trust that the contents were hygienically produced and contained the ingredients stated on the side of the box.

So I will leave you with this thought: ‘selling’ confidence should be a priority within the timber trade as a whole, as well as to the end user – not just this week, this month or this year, but for the long term.