Building Upon a History of Sustainability | WWF
Building Upon a History of Sustainability

Posted on 01 April 2010

Bunnings—Australia and New Zealand's leading retailer of home improvement, outdoor living products and building materials and a GFTN-Australia Participant—has made an ongoing commitment to sustainability. A commitment concentrated on materially reducing its environmental footprint through energy efficiency measures, water conservation, responsible sourcing, reducing packaging waste and active education and awareness programmes. It has also included a consistent focus on timber procurement which has led to substantial advancements in ensuring that all timber and wood products come from legal and well-managed sources.
Bunnings—Australia and New Zealand's leading retailer of home improvement, outdoor living products and building materials and a GFTN-Australia Participant—has made an ongoing commitment to sustainability. A commitment concentrated on materially reducing its environmental footprint through energy efficiency measures, water conservation, responsible sourcing, reducing packaging waste and active education and awareness programmes. It has also included a consistent focus on timber procurement which has led to substantial advancements in ensuring that all timber and wood products come from legal and well-managed sources.

In 2002, the company commenced collaborative discussions with Greenpeace on establishing a process for the elimination of illegally logged rainforest timber and in 2003, adopted a responsible timber and timber product purchasing policy. This provided a framework for action and set an aspirational goal to achieve sourcing of the entire timber supply from credibly certified forests by 2007. The company worked toward this goal with their supply chain, conducting risk assessments and annual surveys to assist suppliers to phase out unwanted or high-risk sources of timber. Bunnings encouraged suppliers to replace these with alternatives that could be traced back to well-managed forests certified to credible standards.
 
In 2006, Bunnings was forced to revise this target when it became apparent that demand for certified timber far exceeded producers’ ability to actually supply product. Recognizing that an industry wide shift of this nature was bound to take time, the company refocused their efforts with the help of GFTN helping their suppliers’ progress through a stepwise approach to certification, focusing on the first step of legally verifying their timber.
 
“With a renewed commitment to a stepwise approach to responsible sourcing, we started focusing all of our efforts in the short term on tracing higher risk tropical timber back to the forest of origins and having suppliers provide third party certificates of verified legal origin (VLO), rather than relying on less independent sources which could easily be manipulated or counterfeited,” said Mark Gomm, Bunnings Business Sustainability Manager.
 
With this refined, “risk-based” focus, the company set out to certify all timber products as verified legal by the start of 2009. Working with suppliers that needed additional assistance or capacity to comply, Bunnings helped them develop a time-bound action plan to achieve VLO certification. In extreme circumstances where a supplier was found to be unwilling or unable to move forward, buying staff would discontinue purchasing and look for an alternate VLO or certified source.
 
“We felt very strongly that it was important to stay engaged with our suppliers and work with them through this process of ensuring the legality of our timber supply and protecting threatened forests,” said Gomm. “If we were to cease trading with all suppliers that had difficulty in meeting our policy benchmarks, we would lose the opportunity to keep influencing them to move forward to certification and it would be most likely they would return to their old ways and continue trading in timber from unknown and potentially illegal sources.”
 
An example of this was most apparent in the sourcing of merbau products, a tropical hardwood with a deep red-brown colour has become a popular choice for flooring and furniture, resulting in over-exploitation and illegal logging practices in regions throughout Southeast Asia.
 
“With a strong market in Australia for merbau decking, it was crucial that we were able to find a legally verified source to ensure that neither Bunnings nor our customers were unwittingly contributing to the illegal logging of this species,” stated Gomm.
 
In early discussions with suppliers it became apparent that many had a very low level of understanding when it came to beginning the process of having their product base legally verified. In response, Bunnings played a key role in educating the suppliers on the issues of illegal logging, and what documentation can be relied upon to independently prove legality or certification. The company also established a relationship with a credible certification body on the ground in South East Asia, brokering and partly funding the initial gap analysis process that was needed to help these suppliers achieve VLO certification.
 
“By taking our suppliers by the hand, educating and helping them through this process, we have not only ensured the continuity of a legally sourced product for our stores and customers but have also helped suppliers achieve a more sustainable business model for the longer term,” he added.
 
By engaging actively in this process, Bunnings is able to ensure that their producers can actually move towards certification step by step without dropping off. While not all of Bunnings’ suppliers continued down this path to sustainability, the company was able to use this model to direct other suppliers through the VLO process and was also able to help build capacity on the ground for certification bodies to verify the legality of timber in high-risk regions of the world.
 
“Since 2003 when the policy was introduced, we’ve had to slog a really hard road on our own without broader industry or government support. We have quite a bit of pressure in the market through competitors who undercut our price with products that are coming from unknown and potentially illegal sources. Unfortunately, all but a few discerning customers are still price driven. We have followed our strong convictions to engage with suppliers throughout our supply chain to ensure our customers that 100 per cent of tropical timber purchased in our stores has been legally harvested,” said Gomm.
 
Bunnings has now laid the foundation of a legally verified timber supply and is now advancing to the next step in their commitment to responsible sourcing by engaging with their suppliers to achieve credible certification. A key milestone in this process is the FSC-certification and labelling of its entire line of outdoor timber furniture in 2007, which marks a tangible step in an ongoing commitment to source all timber products from legal and sustainable forest operations.
 
Gomm concluded, “A key component of our success has been the unwavering commitment from both our Managing Director and our buying team to source legal and sustainable timber products, which has combined with the invaluable assistance and expertise offered by WWF’s GFTN and other NGOS such as Greenpeace on how to achieve our sustainability objectives. We make no claim to be perfect, but we genuinely believe that this is the right thing to do and that our customers and team members have a right to expect this of us.”
Australia and New Zealand’s leading retailer of home improvement, outdoor living products and building materials and a GFTN-Australia Participant—is committed to ensuring that all timber and wood products come from legal and well-managed sources.
© Bunnings