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    Retailers Favour Certified Products


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2001

    The world's major retailers of wood products are increasingly adopting policies which favour certified wood products, and are communicating their policies more explicitly.

    A British company, which is the world's third-largest retailer of wood and building products, declared recently that it was on course to reach an ambitious target: 80% of all its wood products on offer in its outlets in the United Kingdom will be certified. Similar goals will be set for subsidiaries at a later stage.

    The firm obtains most of its certified wood products from FSC-certified suppliers. These are largely made of solid wood. However, the majority of the approximately 14,700 items the company sells are made of chipboard or MDF (medium-density fibreboard). Other products include wallpaper, which is mostly composed of recycled wood.

    FSC certification does not work as easily with recycled products as for virgin fibre products. Percentage rules on the recycled-fibre content have been developed by FSC and PEFC to overcome this shortcoming. At the same time FSC has been criticised for setting artificial limits bearing no relation to the product or manufacturing process. As a result, the company has decided to replace FSC certificates on controversial products with percentage statements on the recycled content. The firm has also declared that it accepts products certified under credible national systems, such as the Finnish Forestry Certification Scheme.

    In the United States, the largest home-improvement chain announced a similar move. In August 1999, the firm said it would phase out all wood products from environmentally sensitive areas within three years unless they are certified. It has already replaced several vendor partners for hardwood plywood. These must supply an FSC-certified product or show a firm commitment to pursue certification in the near future. At this time, the company is working only with FSC-certified products, but it has not ruled out alternative certification schemes.

    In a third example, a worldwide furniture and home-accessory retailing chain announced a purchasing policy statement at the end of 1999 in which it promised: "By January 1st 2000, all high-value tropical tree species sold in [our] stores worldwide must come from forests certified under FSC system or equivalent system. This plan includes tropical tree species such as teak, meranti, rosewood and mahogany."

    This was a significant declaration, as the company buys wood products from 56 countries, and distributes them in 28 others. However, equally importantly, lower-valued plantation woods or lesser-used species from tropical regions were not mentioned, nor were products originating from boreal/temperate regions, which constitute 70% of the company's imports.