World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

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Risky Business: WWF’s New Tool Takes On Unsustainable Timber

  • Date: 15 December 2023
  • Author: Jason Grant, Corporate Engagement Manager, Forests

WWF’s Wood Risk Tool helps companies tackle unsustainable logging and unacceptable trade while supporting responsible forestry

Conserving forests requires a tremendous worldwide effort from all sectors of society — governments, companies, communities, conservation organizations and individuals. And while we can celebrate successes around protecting priority threatened forests, driving large-scale forest restoration, and improving management practices in working forests, these vital efforts continue to be undermined by illegal and unsustainable logging that harms nature, people and climate. WWF’s new Wood Risk Tool is one step toward addressing this pervasive problem by helping companies stem the flow of illegal and unsustainable timber into the market.

Illegal logging is a scourge of truly global proportions. It accounts for most of the timber harvest in many producer countries, particularly (but not exclusively) in the tropics. Indeed, 10%–30%* of the global timber harvest is estimated to come from illegal origins.

The international trade in illegal, primary wood products (i.e., the products of primary manufacturing, including lumber and veneer) is estimated at $50 to $150 billion,* making it the world’s third-largest transnational crime after counterfeiting and drugs — larger than illegal minerals, hazardous waste, wildlife trafficking, and the illegal fishing trade combined.

The damage caused by the illegal timber trade is economic and social — as well as environmental. It harms the forest products industry globally by depressing international timber prices (by up to 16%*), thereby undercutting the financial viability of legal, managed forestry. It deprives governments of billions of dollars in revenue through the loss of fees, taxes and duties, diverting monies that could be used for the common good into the pockets of criminals and corrupt officials. Most seriously, it threatens the livelihoods of billions of forest-dependent peoples by depleting and degrading the natural resources and ecosystem services on which they depend.

Increasing risk for companies

For all these reasons, it is timely and fitting that forest crime has been the subject of growing national and international concern and action. In several major consumer nations — including the United States through amendments to the Lacey Act; the countries of the European Union (EU) through the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and now the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR); South Korea’s Act on the Sustainable Use of Timbers; and Australia’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Act — laws have been adopted that prohibit and penalize the importation of illegally harvested or traded wood products.

These regulations now require companies to exercise due diligence to address risks of illegal wood entering their supply chains. The recently introduced EUDR goes even further than previous legislation by prohibiting the placement of wood products on the EU market linked to legal deforestation and forest degradation.

Illegality, therefore, is not the only lens through which companies need to consider or address wood risk. Examples of wood from legal — yet unacceptable — sources include forests being converted to plantations or nonforest use; forests in which high conservation values are threatened; forests harvested in violation of traditional and civil rights; and forests in which genetically modified trees are planted, as laid out in the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) Controlled wood system.

Preventing illegal and unacceptable wood from entering supply chains

While quite a few resources have been created to help companies, governments and others understand wood risk and avoid wood from illegal and unacceptable sources, those resources often have gaps or are not presented in a user-friendly way. So, it can be challenging and confusing to know where to turn. WWF’s Wood Risk Tool seeks to address both problems.

The WWF Wood Risk Tool provides a reliable and convenient source of information about significant risks associated with sourcing timber. It helps companies and other key audiences assess and understand wood risk by 1) consolidating information from several respected, independent, international expert sources on conservation, legal and responsible forest management, and anti-corruption; and 2) presenting it as a user-friendly, one-stop shop. It also helps users manage this risk by providing WWF’s recommended approach to responsible sourcing.

Additionally, it fills a critical gap in existing information. Two of the most widely referenced resources for assessing species risk are the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. For the most part, however, the tree species on those lists have been severely overharvested, and populations are dramatically reduced, some nearing the risk of extinction. While it’s extremely important to flag these species as high risk, many are no longer widely traded. Even where their trade is still permitted, they are frequently rare and expensive and thus primarily used in niche markets.

However, numerous species not listed by CITES or the IUCN are still relatively abundant within their ranges and yet remain a concern because they are widely traded, grow in countries where the risk of illegal logging is elevated, and are targeted because of their market value. These illegality risk species are included in the tool — a list that does not exist elsewhere. In addition, some of these species grow in low- and relatively high-risk countries. Therefore, there is a possibility that material from the latter could be “laundered” with material from the former with the true origin disguised through false documentation. This “laundering risk” is also highlighted for such species.

Role of the private sector

For many years, WWF has worked with businesses connected to the wood supply chain—including forest managers, manufacturers, retailers and end users — to promote responsible forest management and trade. For example, responsible sourcing is a central pillar of WWF’s Forests Forward program, which engages companies — at supply and demand ends — for ambitious action in support of nature, climate and people. The private sector plays a vital role in developing and promoting best practices, including publishing responsible sourcing policies, demonstrating transparency around sourcing, and relying on credible tools such as digital traceability systems, wood ID testing, and robust third-party certification.

By providing clear and convenient information on timber sourcing risk, the Wood Risk Tool is another tool in the toolbox for companies and others committed to avoiding environmental and social risks associated with forestry and keeping forests thriving for nature, climate, people and their future business needs.

*Sources: United Nations Environment Programme, Interpol


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