W H A T     I S     S U S T A I N A B L E     T I M B E R ?

Whilst it sounds like a simple question, the answer is surprisingly complex.  It seems the answer varies greatly depending on who you ask.  We at Timspec have put together this guide to try and clear up a few common misconceptions about the idea of Timber Sustainability.

The ISO (International Standards Organisation) make a good point when they say: "The concepts involved in sustainability are highly complex and still under study. At this time there are no definitive methods for measuring sustainability or confirming its accomplishment. Therefore, no claim of achieving sustainability shall be made” (ISO 14021 (1999) paragraph 5.5).  So until a clear and precise, scientifically determined, standard can be set to explain and measure sustainability, no claim about sustainability should be made, because there is no way to prove it.

The issue of Sustainability of Timber is complicated because it is not just whether the trees are replanted after harvesting but also encompasses multiple intricate topics such as:
• Other plants and animals that rely on the trees
• Social spiritual and economic wellbeing of people who rely on the forest
• Environmental impacts

And although not specifically part of sustainability, but also very important are issues such as:
• Legality of the supply
• Workers rights
• Genetic Modification
• Carbon credits/carbon sinks
• Social impacts
• Pesticides and fertilizers
• Miles travelled by the timber

Certification Schemes requiring Chain-of-Custody

As far as the timber purchaser is concerned there are some timber supplies that are better than others; certification schemes such as these can give good reassurance to the buyer that the timber they are buying is from responsibly managed forests.  It is very important to ensure that all suppliers in the supply chain do have chain-of-custody accreditation to ensure the customer that the timber’s certification is exactly as it says it is.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) -
This is probably the most well-known Certification Scheme, and is the only one supported by environmental organisations (Greenpeace etc).  It is a very large international organisation established to promote responsible management of the world's forests.  They have a high level of environmental, legal and traceability requirements and certificate holders are subject to annual audits.  They also have strict Chain-of-Custody requirements.
It is interesting to note that FSC adopts the ISO position on the usage of the term “sustainability” and instead requires certificate holders to describe FSC certified products as sourced from “responsibly managed forests” and not “sustainable” forests.

Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) -
This is an umbrella scheme, in that it endorses other Forestry Certification Schemes that meet its standards and criteria.  Currently all of the following are all endorsed by PEFC and have strict Forest Management and Chain-of-Custody requirements:

• Australian Forestry Standard (AFS) -
The Australian Forest Certification Scheme is based on two Australian standards: AS4708 for forestry organisations and timber harvesters, which has a focus on Sustainable Forest Management and looks at Ecological, Social and Economic Sustainability; and AS4707 for Chain-of-Custody to track forest and wood products through the supply chain.

The AFS embodies forest management performance criteria and requirements that support continual improvement towards sustainable wood production in Australia's native forests and plantations. There are nine criteria which are: management system; public participation; protect and maintain biological diversity; forest productive capacity; forest ecosystem health and vitality; protect soil and water resources; contribution to carbon cycles; natural, cultural, social, religious and spiritual values; and social and economic benefits.

• Canadian Standards Association (CSA) -
CSA worked with a diverse range of stakeholders (consumers, environmental groups, government, industry, Aboriginal, academia and other stakeholders) interested in sustainable forest management to develop Canada's National Standard for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) CAN/CSA-Z809.

• Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) -
The Malaysian Timber Certification Council is an independent organisation established to develop and operate the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) in order to provide independent assessments of forest management practices in Malaysia as well as to meet the demand for certified timber products.  Their standard is based on the Principles and Criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and they aim to promote and encourage sustainable forest management as well as to provide an assurance to buyers that the timber products they buy come from sustainably managed forests.

Other responsible Timber Supplies

There are also other supplies of timber that deserve credit.  Although they do not provide any Chain-of-Custody accreditation they promote responsible forestry and go a long way to provide reassurances to customers.

Eco Timber -
This is a lesser known scheme endorsed by Greenpeace, currently operating in the Solomon Islands.  It requirements are similar to, but not as strict, as FSC with the intention to slowly become closer and closer to FSC.  It has been done like this to allow villages who previously had no certification to slowly progress to FSC over a period of many years.  Some of the main benefits of this scheme is more profit is returned to the local community, and a lot less damage is done to forests.

New Zealand Indigenous Timbers -
Most New Zealand indigenous timbers now come from sustainably managed forests, as procurred in accordance with Part 3A of the Forests Act 1949 and are legal under New Zealand law.  The Forests Act 1949 was amended in 1993 (Part 3A was inserted) to bring an end to unsustainable harvesting and clear felling of indigenous forest.

Under the Act, indigenous timber can only be produced from forests that are managed in a way that maintains continuous forest cover and ecological balance. Management systems ensure that the forests continuously provide a full range of products and amenities, in perpetuity, while retaining their natural values. Only single trees and small groups of trees can be felled for timber production and harvesters are now confined to private lands

Verification of Legal Origin (VLO) and Verified Legal Compliance (VLC) -
Rainforest Alliance (the world's leading FSC forest management certifier) offers, under its Smartwood Program, an independent third-party verification of legal origin and legal compliance.

• Verification of Legal Origin (VLO) verifies that timber comes from a source that has a documented legal right to harvest, pursuant to the laws and regulations of the government of the jurisdiction. Suppliers of VLO timber must follow and maintain documented chain-of-custody systems.
• Verified Legal Compliance (VLC) expands upon the basic component of VLO and encompasses the totality of laws relating to environmental protection, wildlife, water and soil conservation, harvesting rules and practices, worker health and safety, and fairness to communities.

These are both seen as a step-wise progression to FSC certification.

W H Y     I S     S U S T A I N A B L E     T I M B E R     S O     I M P O R T A N T ?

Apart from the obvious moral and ethical boundaries that corporations should follow, consumers are becoming more aware of environmental and ecological ideas.  Perhaps just as pressing as these are the Government and Green Building Council requirements.

Consumer Demand

With recent media attention to such issues as “Food Miles” and “Carbon Credits” consumers are becoming more aware that their choices can make a difference.  Now it’s normal for customers to ask for timber that has not come from Rainforests and over time we see this progressing into consumers becoming much more aware of the “greenness” of timber they purchase.  In fact in Europe, timber accreditation schemes such as FSC and PEFC are widely recognises and under some circumstances carry a premium, which consumers are happy to pay, because they understand what it stands for.

Green Star Ratings from NZ Green Building Council

The New Zealand Green Building Council ( in partnership with the building industry developed Green Star.  A comprehensive, national, voluntary environmental rating scheme that evaluates the environmental attributes and performance of New Zealand’s buildings using a suite of rating tool kits developed to be applicable to each building type and function.

Currently there are four different rating tools which evaluate four different types of building project:
• Educational Tool – for whole new schools, school buildings, tertiary buildings and childcare centres.
• Industrial Tool – for a wide range of industrial buildings.
• Office Tool – for the designing and building of office buildings.
• Office Interiors Tool – for Office fit-outs.

In the Materials Category (Mat-6) there are two points that can be gained by using reused, recycled, and/or FSC Certified timber.  Two points if over 90% of the timber volume is acceptable, or one points if over 50% is acceptable.

It is important to note that in June 2009 a Technical Clarification was made that clearly stipulates that the last hands to handle timber or timber products before supplying to the project must have Chain-of-Custody certification.  If a Chain-of-Custody certified timber/timber product supplier sells product to a contractor to install on the project, then that is eligible for Green Star points, however if the product is supplied to a manufacturer/processor who does not have Chain-of-Custody certification before being supplied to the Green Star project then no points are allocated.

Government Policy

In 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry developed the New Zealand Timber and Wood Products Procurement Policy (TWPP) (available online at in order to address the practice of illegal logging and associated trade.  It is designed to ensure that the government is only buying legally-sourced timber and timber products.

It applies to Departments of the Public Service (full list available here plus the New Zealand Defence Force and the New Zealand Police) but other agencies are also encouraged to adopt its guidelines.  Anyone supplying timber or wood products to these government departments should be aware of the TWPP and its requirements.

The policy covers the purchasing of a wide range of ‘timber and wood products’ including not only solid timber, plywood and veneer products, but also joinery, furniture, and even paper. 

The TWPP requires that participants seek timber and wood products from legally harvested forests and they are strongly encouraged to give preference to timber and wood products from sustainably managed sources.  They must also maintain records to verify where the timber and wood products were derived from.


W H A T     S U S T A I N A B L E     T I M B E R S
D O E S     T I M S P E C     H A V E     A V A I L A B L E ?

We have both FSC and PEFC Chain-of-Custody certification and can offer a wide range of timbers from certified sources.  See the table below for a guide as to what timbers are available and how they rate.

Timber species according to type of source    
Certified sources with Chain-of-Custody certification (either FSC or PEFC) Non-certified, non-controversial sources which are beleived to be legal and well-managed and/or from plantations Source of unknown legality or sustainability
Ash, American
Maple, American Hard
Beech, European
Cherry Beech
Oak, European
Silver Beech
Radiata Pine
Tasmanian Oak
Western Red Cedar
Cherry, American
Oak, American
Tasmanian Blackwood
Yellow Cedar
Walnut, American Black
Kauri, Malaysian

  Got a building project coming up, we can supply you with a big range of timber products ...More
  See how cedar cladding, & other weatherboard profiles can improve your home ...More  
  Check out our great decking ideas ...More  
  How to lay a hardwood floor, and how to maintain it's good looks ...More  
  See whats possible with a range of local & imported timbers ...More  
  See a range of top quality windows & doors made by some of our customers ...More  
  Great ideas for your next landscaping job ...More  
  We stock a large range of marine grade timber and panel products ...More  

© Copyright Timspec. Private information collected for this website is governed by our Privacy Policy. Powered by streamSWEET CMS