Skills for Sustainable Business

Skills for Sustainable Business


Taking a look at the interrelationship between skills, sustainability and the softwood business.


Peter Drucker, American businessman sometimes called the ‘father of modern management’, once made the pithy remark that: “Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.” Having the information on which to make those good decisions, whether that be on timber purchasing or marketing your wood offering, is essential to the skilled operation of a profitable merchant business. Our UK Softwood Conference last month brought together all the information – on supplies, markets and customer demographics – that merchants will need this year.

Softwood supplies to the UK are set to remain tight for a number of reasons. Canada is facing possibly permanent shut-downs of some sawmills due to pine bark beetle damage, yet the USA market for softwood is still growing. This is tempting European softwood suppliers to fill the gap, especially as the Americans are paying favourable prices. European markets are still resilient, and China’s demand is starting to resurge. However some European countries are being badly affected by Spruce bark beetle, moving northward with climate change, causing an influx of lower grade Spruce into the supply chain. Additional factors such as the recent Finnish sawmill strike, now happily over, have also affected supplies.

Professor Noble Francis, Economics Director at the Construction Products Association, highlighted factors both short- and longer-term that may impact sales. One current factor in particular, the shortage of skilled wood trades, is driving housing providers to look at offsite-manufactured housing solutions. The government already sees offsite as the panacea for delivering its housing targets, yet this bypasses normal merchant routes of timber supply.

Over the next decade, some 500,000 UK construction workers are due to retire, Professor Francis told the audience. With ‘Gen Z’, which includes the next generation of woodworkers, already studying carpentry & joinery at college, merchants with an eye to the future of wood sales need to begin engaging with this new customerbase. The TTF is already lending its support to the Institute of Carpenters, which is setting up City Hubs to connect student carpenters & joiners with mentors, suppliers and potential employers.

Businessman Peter Drucker is also quoted as saying: “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.” The characteristics of Gen Z young people include a sincere desire to protect the environment. Getting across the timber sustainability and renewability message, as well as timber’s carbons storage potential, will enable them to make a positive choice in favour of wood materials. We need to work more closely together as an industry to make this happen. We applaud the British Woodworking Federation’s re-launch of its schools programme ‘Wow I Made That’, and also the Finishes & Interiors Sector for its ‘IBuiltThis’ campaigns. Also promoting demand, the Wood Awards, in their 50th year, have just opened their call for entries. Each of us, in our own area, are enacting Peter Drucker’s mantra: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”


Originally published in the Builders Merchant Journal April edition, available online.