Don't separate the wood from the trees

2 March 2018

Iain McIlwee, British Woodworking Federation CEO

This week the BWF responded to the consultation from the Natural Capital Coalition on the protocol.  The summary would be great stuff, but remember the benefits of wood is about more than trees! 

Natural capital is a way of defining the wide range of benefits that we derive from nature.  It maps a process for environmentalism to meet business and is underpinned by the premise that we must not leave the next generation worse off - change must be accounted for.  The UK Government established a Natural Capital Committee (led by renowned economist Professor Dieter Helm) in 2012 to explore this and advise Government on natural assets including forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans.  The committee’s broad remit also covers the benefits we derive from natural assets, such as food, recreation, clean water, hazard protection and clean air.

The advice of this committee and the principles defined in the protocol are very much embraced by the thinking in "A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment" launched by Michael Gove at the start of the year.  This report sees Michael Gove recognising:

"We must tread more lightly on our planet, using resources more wisely and radically reducing the waste we generate... Planting more trees provides not just new habitats for wildlife – it also helps reduce carbon dioxide levels and can reduce flood risk."

...and our Prime Minister pitching in that "The UK is an international champion for the protection of our planet and we will build on our record in the years ahead." 

It has to be said for an industry so rooted in sustainability as timber, this is more encouraging than the "cut the green crap" approach of her predecessor, but actions do tend to speak louder than words and at the same time as scripting this Mrs May was busy opposing the new EU recycling targets for plastics (worth a pause here to note that the strict EU target for plastics recycling is 50% by 2040, probably in my lifetime, but not exactly soon!).  Cynicism to one side, there is a green and healthy rhetoric starting to creep into the Industrial Strategy and combined with the growing concern about plastics pollution is moving with a general societal reawakening about health and sustainability. 

This Natural Capital Forest Products Protocol supports the integration of Natural Capital in business decision making, and is, like Mr Gove's strategy and the Clean Growth elements of the Industrial Strategy a refreshing approach.  But, my criticism of all three is that whilst they emphasise the positive contribution of forests, they don't go on to emphasise that the benefit of wood is so much more than simply growing trees and biodiversity, the it is the use of timber in manufacture and construction offers spectacular carbon savings, limits reliance on highe energy processess and can negate a miriad of other forms of pollution. 

In short, we are as a manufacturing sector right under the nose of a Government seeking green wins offering renewable products in a low energy production sector.  Now is the time to recognise both the wood and the trees. 

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