Furnishings Industry Third-Highest User of Wood in the World

Consumers now demand sustainable products and are willing to rethink their buying habits to incorporate environmental and social product benefits into their buying decisions. This places added pressure on furniture supply chains, including those in authority who set the standards and police the rules and laws.

There are at least two Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations (UN) that should be on the minds of all furniture manufacturers, suppliers and retailers over the world.

The first is SDG12: Responsible consumption and production. Achieving economic growth and sustainable development requires that we urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources. The second is SDG 15:Life on land. Forests cover 30 percent of the Earth’s surface, provide vital habitats for millions of species, and important sources for clean air and water, as well as being crucial for combating climate change.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that the furniture or furnishings industry is the third-highest user of wood in the world, behind the construction and paper industries.  This means that demand for certified forest-based materials such as paper and timber is increasing.

This is where sustainable forest management (SFM) comes and why this is important for everyone in the furniture supply chain.

Sustainable Forest Management

So exactly what do we mean by SFM?

Forest Europe came up with this definition which has been adopted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

“The stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.”

  • Maintenance, conservation and enhancement of ecosystem biodiversity
  • Protection of ecologically important forest areas
  • Prohibition of forest conversions
  • Recognition of free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples
  • Promotion of gender equality and commitment to equal treatment of workers
  • Promotion of the health and well-being of forest communities
  • Respect for human rights in forest operations
  • Respect for the multiple functions of forests to society
  • Provisions for consultation with local people, communities and other stakeholders
  • Respect for property and land tenure rights as well as customary and traditional rights
  • Compliance with all fundamental ILO conventions for worker rights
  • Working from minimum wage towards living wage levels
  • Prohibition of genetically modified trees and most hazardous chemicals
  • Exclusion of certification of plantations established by conversions, including conversions of ecologically important non-forest lands (e.g. peatlands)
  • Climate positive practices such as reduction of GHG emissions in forest operations

We can see that SFM creates outcomes that are socially just, ecologically sound and economically viable – the three pillars of sustainability.

It is also clear that consumers now demand sustainable products and are willing to rethink their buying habits to incorporate environmental and social product benefits into their buying decisions. This places added pressure on furniture supply chains, including those in authority who set the standards and police the rules and laws.

Many companies large and small are finding that forest certification is one very effective tool that can ensure global market access for timber and, at the same time, improve the livelihoods for the people that depend on the forest.

Wikkie Netten, South East Asia private sector regional manager for PEFC Asia-Pacific, who is responsible for driving awareness and working with forestry supply chain stakeholders in the region,  poses this big question:

While the demand for certified products is growing and timber trade rules are tightening, should we wait for consumer demand to kick in, or do we all take a lead in protecting our forests and our future?

“By  working together, we can continue to expand the areas under sustainable forest management, and at the same time, keep the timber trade alive,” insisted Wikkie, reminding us that globally only 13% of forests are currently certified, leaving 87% vulnerable for land grabbing, deforestation and land conversion.

She believes furniture manufacturers, suppliers and retailers can all play a critical role to improve their own  trade and be the voice for all people that depend on the forest for their livelihood.

Consistent with the SDGs, PEFC reinforces that given the importance of forests to the planet, sustainable management is essential to ensure society’s demands don’t compromise the resource. SFM offers a holistic approach to ensure forest activities deliver social, environmental and economic benefits, balance competing needs and maintain and enhance forest functions now and in the future.  Forest certification is the tool to prove this and to connect the consumer with the sustainable origins of their products.

We have an example from Southeast Asia, where a company in the forestry business takes SFM very seriously to meet or even go beyond the requirements of certification.

Fire management

For APP Sinar Mas Group, a supplier of timber, pulp and paper in the region and an advocate of PEFC certification, it takes its role in fire management very seriously and highlighted in its statement: “Fires harm the economy, the environment and most importantly people’s lives. This is never acceptable. Forest fire poses a serious threat for APP. As a company reliant on supplies of pulpwood, it makes no commercial sense for APP suppliers to start fires in order to clear land.  Forest fires destroy plantation wood, and we have already suffered major losses through damage to plantation wood. Together with our suppliers, we have been working to implement forest fire prevention measures across our suppliers’ concession areas prior to the dry season.”

Sustainability Roadmap for Furniture

Besides this example of a plantation company meeting UN, FAO as well as PEFC standards for SFM,  there are also significant moves to get furniture companies in Singapore and South East Asia to adopt sustainable practices and processes.

The ASEAN Furniture Industry Council (AFIC) has embarked on a four year roadmap with PEFC to improve sustainability outcomes throughout the furniture supply chain in the region.

As was said at the time of the announced partnership in July 2021, consumers worldwide demand sustainable products across a variety of fields, every industry must adapt to satisfy their requests. Furniture customers are no different, and sustainable furniture is a highly sought-after product.  Furniture supply chain sustainability and responsible procurement are critical to make sure that we all benefit from the many products that forests provide now, while ensuring these forests will be around for generations to come.

As the Singapore Furniture Industry Council takes over the chairmanship of AFIC, we are already seeing progress towards the key goals of the partnership, which are to raise awareness on the importance of sustainably sourced forest and tree-based materials which subsequently boost demand for certified materials; build capacity in the wood-based supply chain to facilitate members and companies to reach sustainability goals; support companies who want to demonstrate legal and sustainable sourcing with PEFC certification; improve knowledge sharing between PEFC and AIFC members; and build visibility for AFIC and PEFC.

It all goes to show that the furniture industry in Asia is getting ready to adopt practices that are good for business as they also meet the triple bottom line – People, Planet and Profit.  Not surprisingly, these are consistent with the principles of SFM, which is to  create outcomes that are socially just, ecologically sound and economically viable: the three pillars of sustainability.

By Ken Hickson

Courtesy Panels and Furniture Asia Magazine

Note: PEFC Australia Trades as Responsible Wood