Sustainability Q&A with David Hopkins



David Hopkins, CEO of the Timber Trade Federation and enthusiastic supporter of the EU FLEGT Action Plan: Q&A with Merlin Fulcher – Architecture Journal.

David Hopkins, CEO of the Timber Trade Federation, highlights the benefits of using imported, legally sourced timber. He explains why he is an enthusiastic supporter of the EU FLEGT Action Plan and the countries working towards licensing.

The TTF and Building Centre, London, are collaborating on the Conversations about Climate Change competition. This project aims to communicate the importance of FLEGT, how timber use can increase forestry, benefit communities and help create a sustainable global future. Seven renown industry professionals will judge the competition which closes on the 24 August.  Results will be announced in early September.

Merlin: Why are you holding an international competition for innovative design harnessing sustainable timber?

David: The competition was designed to coincide with COP26, the UN climate change talks which were to be hosted by the UK Government in November and have had to be postponed due to COVID. This year, one of the main areas of focus was “nature-based solutions” along with how to decarbonise our material world. Using sustainable timber is key to both goals.

Hosting a design-based competition allows us to raise awareness, provide a platform for discussion of debates around these themes, and of course demonstrate what designs can be achieved through the use of timber – it’s a very versatile material.

We have focused on tropical timber as this is the main area that needs attention internationally, and we are trying to encourage better and more responsible sourcing of product, along with promotion of the EU FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) Action Plan. FLEGT is designed to improve governance and management of forests in the tropics, encouraging investment and trade as a result. We’re very much in favour.

We are showing that timber harvesting from sustainable forest management sources will actually keep the forests standing – provided governance and legal reforms are in place. We can support this by keeping trade alive and money flowing back to those making the positive changes.

Merlin: What would you like to see in response to the Brief?

David: The competition is called “Conversations about Climate Change” so we want people to come up with design ideas that stimulate conversations and encourage thought about the provenance of materials used in design, origins, and the impacts they might have.

We’ve intentionally left the brief fairly broad for submissions to foster greater inspiration and creativity. Our only requirement is that the conversation pieces stimulate discussion around the role of forestry and timber in the climate emergency. These pieces could be furniture, sculpture, installation, or functional design object – the world is your oyster! TTF Members will provide the materials – responsibly sourced and verified from countries working towards FLEGT-licencing – and designs can be up to 2m x 3m high.

Merlin: What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

David: We’re hoping for a whole array of designers, architects, and craftspeople to present a full assortment of ideas. Particularly this is likely to appeal to interior, product, and furniture designers as this is the main market for the tropical timbers we are showcasing. The nature of tropical hardwood lends itself well to luxury high-end design rather than huge buildings schemes or similar.

We also want stakeholders to know more about what products are available, origins, how they grow and applications for use. We have factsheets and technical information for the designers to work from as well as e-learning packages about the FLEGT Action Plan.

We are marketing the competition to stakeholders and partners across Europe, and in the fifteen Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) countries (VPA’s are the trade agreements between countries undergoing legal and governance reforms over forest management and culminate in FLEGT licencing) so that designers in the producing countries can also enter.

Merlin: Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/ designers be procured?

David: Conversations about Climate Change is part of the Timber Trade Federation’s wider FLEGT communications program funded by the UK Dept for International Development (DfID), but we do hope to continue our work in this field and create wider design opportunities across the globe.


First published in Architecture Journal here.