Securing ‘responsible’ wood supply for domestic needs

India is the second-largest importer of tropical species, but the regions supplying them are facing the consequences of drastic deforestation on account of unsustainable logging. What are our options?

Logs being rafted to a plywood processing plant in East Kalimantan on Borneo island, Indonesia. ©WWF/ Simon Rawles

By Philip Tapsall

The planet’s timber resources are facing unprecedented global demand. Wood-dependent industries are under increasing pressure to both secure supply and avoid adverse environmental and social impacts caused by unsustainable forestry practices.

Global demand for timber is soaring. The ‘Living Forests’ model of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) projects annual wood removals in the year 2050 will be three times the volume reported for 2010.

For Indian manufacturers, responsible timber sourcing will be crucial to securing long-term supply, while simultaneously ensuring continued access to markets where regulations underpin sustainable trade.

The journey of wood from the forest to end product is long and complex, and often one that is difficult to trace – new technology and increasing supply chain visibility is, however, making this challenging task a little simpler.

Due to the scarcity of domestic supply and growing domestic consumption, log imports in India have doubled since 2006, and the demand for softwood log imports is expected to triple by 2021, and more than double for teak log imports.

Industrial round wood used in construction, as well as veneer and plywood for furniture, fixtures and flooring are major drivers of this demand.

‘Illegal’ wood

A vast majority of India’s wood imports are from forest-rich tropical countries in the South-East Asian region. India is the second largest importer of tropical round wood. The impact of this activity is being increasingly felt on natural forests that are home to endangered species like elephants, tigers and rhinos, and also communities that depend on these forests for livelihoods.

Forests are also valuable in mitigating climate change: over the last few decades they have absorbed as much as 30% of annual global CO2 emissions. Sadly however, according to a WWF report, ‘Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong’, between 1973 and 2009, the five countries comprising the region – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – lost almost one-third of their forests for timber and to clear land for agriculture.

In 2014 Cambodia logged the world’s fastest rate of deforestation. These countries supply over 55% of India’s plywood imports.

With the growth projected for the Indian economy, it is critical for Indian companies to map, measure and manage their impact in such eco-sensitive regions. A strategic approach aimed at establishing a credibly certified supply chain will also ensure continued access to high value markets.

Global crackdown

India imports timber (industrial round wood, veneer and plywood) from some of the most ‘high conservation value’ landscapes in South-East Asia that are also predicted to be among the world’s major “deforestation fronts”, which will witness the highest forest loss and degradation over the next two decades without interventions to prevent losses.

In recognition of the need for collective effort on this front, a number of public and private initiatives have emerged in recent times. Regulatory frameworks such as the Lacey Act in the US and FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) and EUTR (EU Timber Regulation) in the European Union have been introduced, aimed at driving greater legality and transparency in global forestry supply chains.

At a global level, the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 recognised and acknowledged the key role that resilient forests and landscapes play in mitigating climate change. Nearly 80 countries identified the ‘land sector’, which covers agriculture and forestry, in their climate action plans as an area of focus for reducing emissions.

Forests thus, play a major role in the pledges made by countries towards meeting the targets set, as they have the potential to meet up to a quarter of green-house gas emissions reductions up to the year 2030.

The 2014 Climate Summit in New York saw 53 of the world’s largest companies – among them Cargill, PepsiCo, Unilever and General Mills – sign the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), through which they committed to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.

Hundreds of companies from the Consumer Goods Forum have made the same pledge in recognition of the need for collective effort to address deforestation and its related impacts.

Since the adoption of the NYDF in 2014, the movement to tackle deforestation linked to agricultural commodities like palm oil, timber, pulp and paper, soy and cattle, has developed rapidly, particularly with the private sector.

Ikea’s commitment

A living example of this approach is Ikea’s commitment to become “forest-positive” by 2020, in recognition of its responsibility as one of the largest users of wood in the world. Through this commitment, 100% of the wood sourced by Ikea will be from sustainable sources, defined as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified or recycled wood.

To ensure that this is met, suppliers to the company are obligated to provide information on the forest source, as well as the legality of the wood that they supply. Beyond the company’s own needs, Ikea has also committed to promote the adoption of sustainable forestry methods across the wider industry to contribute to global efforts to end deforestation.

Some Indian companies have started the journey towards greater understanding and management of sustainability risks in their supply chains. A step-wise strategy involves:

•   Understanding where timber supply is grown;

•   Identifying potential “unwanted” sources linked to deforestation risks;

•   Establishing measurable targets to achieve certified supply chains;

•   Establishing strategic relationships with producers to improve performance;

•   Continuous improvement to move towards a responsible supply chain.

Way forward

The WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) is an ideal platform for companies to get started on this journey. Its structured, step-wise approach provides assistance to companies in understanding the environmental performance of its raw material sourcing throughout its entire supply chain.

This further helps in overcoming the challenges to responsible forest management and wood purchasing by offering technical inputs and guidance on better management of forest resources, responsible procurement policies and risk management.

Through its global platform GFTN also means better resource mobilisation and innovative collaborations with a wider industry network, connecting responsible producers and buyers across the international forestry sector. GFTN hand-holds a company through these steps, with the ultimate goal being to attain credible certification across its entire supply chain.

A more responsible timber industry can support communities, protect and restore forests and improve yield and quality for farmers. Indian companies can benefit from improved supply chain resilience and meet the future requirements of an evolving customer base.

This approach will also be key to ensuring that rising global demand for wood can be met in a sustainable way.



The writer is Director (Sustainable Business) at WWF-India. For further information on sustainable supply chains, contact



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