Importing illegal timber

Greenpeace timber01Following a long-running investigation by Greenpeace into the laundering of illegally harvested logs in Brazil, on Friday 14th November Belgian authorities impounded a further two shipping containers of timber, bringing the total held to six. Under the EU’s Timber Regulations 2013, if the timber is eventually proved to have been illegally harvested, it is illegal to use this in the EU and the shipments will be permanently confiscated and presumably destroyed.

(Click on the image to go to the Greepeace article)

However, as the Timber Regs place a responsibility on importers to put into place a due diligence system to check the authenticity of the timber and to prevent the import and use of illegally-harvested timber into the EU, Greenpeace are now urging the authorities to take action against the companies that purchased the timber from the Brazillian supplier in the first place. Given the weight of evidence that Greenpeace have amassed and made public about the logging company’s activities over the past six months, it’s difficult to see how the importers can justify their actions under the legislation, and we may be about to have the first very-public showing of the Timber Regs’ sharp new teeth.


EU Timber Regulations

On 3rd March 2013, The Timber and Timber Products (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/0233) came into effect, implementing EU 995/2010, commonly known as the ” EU Timber Regulations” (EUTR). Under these regulations, anyone placing a wide range of wood-based products on the market for the first time anywhere in the European Union is required to ensure that they are from legal sources and do not contain materials from illegal harvesting activities. Some of the offences under the legislation are:

  • Reg.4(a) to place illegally harvested timber and timber products derived from such timber for sale within the EU
  • Reg.4(b) to fail to exercise a “due diligence system” to prevent the use of illegally harvested timber in the EU
  • Reg.4(c) to fail to maintain and evaluate the due diligence system used
  • Reg.4(d) to fail to be able to identify suppliers and purchasers throughout the supply chain
  • Reg.4(e) to fail to maintain records for at least 5 years, or to supply them to a competent authority on request.

The first hurdle to overcome is when is timber “illegal”? The European legislation clarifies this in preamble clause (14) as:

In the absence of an internationally agreed definition, the legislation of the country where the timber was harvested, including regulations as well as the implementation in that country of relevant international conventions to which that country is party, should be the basis for defining what constitutes illegal logging.”

So, who has to do “due diligence” to prevent the use of illegal timber? At first glance the obvious target of this legislation are the producers & merchants of EU and imported timber & products, but the Regulations apply to a wide range of products, not only solid timber, but processed wood such as furniture, wood pellets (for fuel), and pulp products such as notebooks, serviettes and paper cups. (A comprehensive guide to the products that the Regulations apply to can be found on the NEPCon website.) Preamble clause (15) clarifies due diligence obligations as:

Many timber products undergo numerous processes before and after they are placed on the internal market for the first time. In order to avoid imposing any unnecessary administrative burden, only operators that place timber and timber products on the internal market for the first time should be subject to the due diligence system, while a trader in the supply chain should be required to provide basic information on its supplier and its buyer to enable the traceability of timber and timber products.”

So, if you are an EU manufacturer sourcing your materials from EU vendors (ie products that have already been placed on the market in the EU), other than maintaining proper records of purchases and sales to comply with 4(d)&(e) above, it’s unlikely to have much impact on your business. If however, you source wood-based products from outside the EU, either as raw materials for products you manufacture or import wood-based goods for sale, you have an obligation to exercise due diligence. The Regulations permit you to establish your own DD system, or to make the use of one established by a monitoring organisation such as the one available to Timber Trade Federation members. Preamble clause (17) defines a due diligence system as follows:

The due diligence system includes three elements inherent to risk management: access to information, risk assessment and mitigation of the risk identified. The due diligence system should provide access to information about the sources and suppliers of the timber and timber products being placed on the internal market for the first time, including relevant information such as compliance with the applicable legislation, the country of harvest, species, quantity, and where applicable sub-national region and concession of harvest. On the basis of this information, operators should carry out a risk assessment. Where a risk is identified, operators should mitigate such risk in a manner proportionate to the risk identified, with a view to preventing illegally harvested timber and timber products derived from such timber from being placed on the internal market.”

The Regulations do however recognise that many organisations already have in place measures to prevent the use of illegal timber, and providing they meet the requirements of the Regulations, do not require the implementation of new due diligence systems. The Regulations also recognise the role of good practice in the forestry sector, certification, and other third party verification schemes that ensure compliance with legislation as part of a due diligence system. It is worth noting that widely-recognised sustainable timber certification schemes such as FSC, PEFC etc. have “legality” as a prerequisite for certification, and so company procedures that require that only sustainable timber certified under these schemes is used should automatically comply with due diligence requirements provided that such procedures are rigorously implemented.

There are a number of timber products that are exempt from legislation, but these tend to be very specific applications except for two; waste wood that has completed its life-cycle is exempt, and so are printed goods where the print medium is the essential product – so books, magazines, photographs etc. are exempt, but toilet paper – even if it contains print – is not.

Despite the very specific requirements set down in the legislation, the prospects for this to be become “light touch” legislation are very good as the legislation also recognises Voluntary Partnership Agreements between the EU and timber-producing countries. Where the timber from that country is produced in accordance with the VPA it is automatically considered to be legal, simplifying the due diligence process, and creating commercial pressure for more countries to enter into VPAs. And clearly, the more VPAs there are in place, the less the need for the legislation … But in the meantime, compliance with the Regulations is a legal requirement, and we all need to get to grips with it.

Why? Dip into these articles about illegal logging

Timber detailing

The importance of keeping trapped water away from timber!

Whilst visiting a venue for a sustainability event, I noticed dark staining around the bottom of each of the glulam columns – obviously due to water problems – surprising in a building less than a year old. Closer inspection revealed how the detailing of the support foot  has created water-traps leading to the staining, and worse – delamination of the ends of the columns in one case. (4)

The building is a gently curving linear structure, with externally exposed twinned columns supporting an overhanging green roof, forming a colonnade to the building. As the front is open over its length, lateral stability is provided by a couple of cross-braced bays using steel ties towards each end. (1) It’s also in a hilly countryside location, and so quite exposed to the weather.

The ends of the twin glulam columns sit hard against a horizontal galvanized steel plate which is presumably load-bearing, and there appear to be three routes that permit water to get into the junction between these two. The most significant is the connection between the twin glulam columns and the support foot which is made using a fabricated steel “H” section, through which the columns bolt. (2&3). The section is open at the top and forms a ready channel for driven rain to fall to the plate at the bottom. There are no obvious signs of drain holes in the plate (although some may be hidden), and so it is probable any water getting in can only get out by weeping across the end-grain timber at the support foot junction

Additionally, between the two columns at the base a small section of the base plate is exposed (2), again permitting standing water to collect and wick into the junction between timber and the plate. Finally, there are no drips at the base of the glulam, so any water running down the face of the columns can wick into the junction with the support foot.

So how could it have been improved?

The simplest solution would probably have been to effect full load transfer between the columns and support through the bolted connection, avoiding the need for the timber to bear on a base plate – no wet horizontal surface = no problem.

However, working within the current detail – cap and seal the H-section to avoid water ingess down the centre, cut away the small exposed section of base plate either side between the columns, and recess the base plate into the bottom of the columns to form a drip. Not an ideal solution, but one that would have discouraged water ingress. There’s also potentially bedding the detail on silicone seals and sealing around the sections, but relying on this to keep the end-grain dry is a long-term maintenance issue.

The staining above the connection to the bracing is also indicative of another potential long-term problem that could lead to deterioration of the glulam. (5) For this staining to occur, water must clearly stand on the horizontal top of the bracket and soak the timber, and probably wicks down between the bracket and timber too. Ideally, the top surface of the bracket would have sloped away from the timber, with the bracket bedded on a coat of wet stain or varnish as the bolts were tightened to seal the joint properly.