The collaborative bus to sustainable tropical timber



“The key is to get people on board the bus towards sustainability, then we can improve the bus as we go along.”


The Timber Trade Federations’ CEO, David Hopkins, at the European Sustainable Tropical Timber Coalition (STTC) on the 20th November 2019, highlighted the possible collaboration and benefits from certification and FLEGT.

Progress to implement third party certification in the tropics has been slow and the EU’s direct buyer influence of tropical timber is waning, “EU policy makers need to try every trick in the book to extend land under management”.

David Hopkins aligns that “If we’re to have any influence, with only low uptake of certification to date, we have to encourage development of [verification] systems that reflect what producers can do in reality”. Certification in the tropical forests is currently around 6.5% coverage.

Certification as it currently works are “islands of utopia, the pinnacles of sustainability” Mr. Hopkins states that the absences of a effective national sustainable forest management framework results in certified areas “suffer in much bigger landscapes where the [uncertified] forest lands become degraded”.

A key issue for certification, where FLEGT can better address is scale and permanence, David Hopkins suggests. “Because certification is linked to an individual company, if that company goes bankrupt, or sells up, what happens to that concession? The certification may well be allowed to lapse. There needs to be a permanent baseline which can only be established through regulation, which can be delivered through FLEGT”.

Scale is the second benefit as FLEGT operates on a country level, across all forest types and ownership. Certification delivers sustainable practices for the concessional areas it works with but “I suspect that forest land area that Indonesia has under management recognised through FLEGT exceeds the entire area of certified forest in the tropics”, he said.

Mr. Hopkins identifies other benefits of FLEGT including the VPA process. The Voluntary Partnership Agreement incorporates detailed requirements for transparency, national level oversight and the multi-stakeholder participation in the forest law reform. As a result the FLEGT process is “something that producers own, something they themselves have a connection to”.

Research and independent studies suggest FLEGT and the VPA process meet around 60-75% of the requirement for FSC.

Mr Hopkins, was invited to Indonesia prior to the STTC to discuss FLEGT in Indonesia, collaboration with the EU and opportunities with the TTF’s FLEGT project. He says that “when speaking to companies in Indonesia, they say there is little awareness, even in the EU, of the considerable advances towards sustainable forest management through the FLEGT VPA process. This means that they are having to pay twice, once for the SVLK (the national system on which FLEGT license are based) and separately for FSC or PEFC. This makes no sense”.

Mr. Hopkins suggests that “we should be trying to lower the unit costs to producers to get more area under management. Once producers are engaged in the process, there’s leverage to move them up the curve. If they are not in the process, we have no influence”.

He concluded: “FLEGT is bringing companies to the door of certification. There are strong complementary benefits and we importers must get over our hang ups, recognise that Europe is a less significant market for tropical wood products, but also that there are mechanisms other than certification that we can use to influence practice and shorten the gap between legal and sustainable”.

The TTF are funded by the UK Department for International Development, aiming to improve two-way communication between users and producers to promote FLEGT-licensed timber products and the VPA process. If you would like to learn more, you can visit our website, twitter, or email our FLEGT Communications Executive Lucy Bedry: