Risky business: WWF’s new tool takes on unsustainable timber

Posted on December, 14 2023

WWF’s Wood Risk Tool helps companies tackle unsustainable logging and unacceptable trade, as well as supporting responsible forestry.
Public launch webinar recording and slides available below. 

By Jason Grant, Corporate Engagement Manager, Forests, WWF-US

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 around the globe that harms nature, people, and climate. WWF’s new Wood Risk Tool is one step towards 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 total 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, such as 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 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 of all, it threatens the livelihoods of more than a billion 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 EU through the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) and now the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), South Korea’s Act on Sustainable Use of Timber, 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 all require companies to exercise due diligence to address risks of illegal wood entering their supply chains. The recently introduced EUDR even goes beyond previous legislation by prohibiting the placement of wood products on the EU market that are 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 non-forest 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 (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 difficult 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 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. For the most part, however, the tree species on those lists have been extremely 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 of them are no longer widely traded. And even where their trade is still permitted, they are frequently rare and expensive and thus primarily used in niche markets.

There are, however, numerous species not listed by CITES or IUCN that are still relatively abundant within their ranges and yet remain a concern because they are widely traded, they grow in countries where the risk of illegal logging is elevated, and they 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 both ‘low’ and relatively ‘high risk’ countries. There is thus 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 –  ranging from forest managers to manufacturers, retailers and end users – to promote responsible forest management and trade. For example, responsible sourcing is a key pillar of WWF’s Forests Forward programme, which engages companies – at both 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 their 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 that are committed to avoiding environmental and social risks associated with forestry, and keeping forests thriving for nature, climate, people, and their future business needs.

"We were really excited when the Wood Risk Tool came out and have used it to update our wood sourcing policy and due diligence processes.
It’s seamless, simple, easy to use, and it’s actually saving us time because we have the information we need in one place. We can share the tool with supplier partners and their suppliers throughout our supply chain. It also enables us to spend more time engaging with those vendor partners and talking about forestry practices – and not doing research online, which is huge."

Chris Cassell, Vice President, Corporate Sustainability, Lowe's Companies, Inc.

*Sources: UN Environmental Program, INTERPOL

Launch Webinar 14 Dec 2023 - Webinar Recording

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About Forests Forward

Forests Forward is a signature WWF programme for ambitious corporate action in support of nature, climate, and people. WWF’s local and global experts advise companies on everything from sourcing responsibly to supporting landscape efforts such as restoration and improved management. In doing so, Forests Forward helps its partners unlock the power of forests to achieve complex goals with meaningful results.
Chainsaw operator writes down location, measurements and other data of a Shihuahuaco tree in FSC-certified concession Maderacre in Iñapari, Peru.
© WWF / Dado Galdieri

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