UK furniture retailers may be putting forests at risk

25 November 2016

Nearly two thirds of UK furniture retailers may be putting forests at risk through their sourcing policies, a new study by The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has found.

The WWF report, Are you sitting comfortably? Sustainable timber sourcing and the UK furniture industry, analysed 74 of the most prominent UK furniture retailers and found the majority failed to communicate any sustainable sourcing policies – 68% have either no published policy or any other credible sourcing statement, the WWF said. 

This suggests these retailers don’t see the need for sustainable timber sourcing and don’t wish to support customers who do, argues the report.

Retailers featuring in the study include prominent brand names such as Laura Ashley and Oak Furnitureland.

Twenty-two per cent of the retailers are making either “good progress” or show “industry-leading performance” in the study.

Ten brands achieved “performance” rating – Sainsbury’s, M&S, Co-Op, Waitrose, B&Q, Wickes, Magnet, Warren Evans, Alexander Rose and Office Depot.

A further six – Argos, Homebase, Ikea, John Lewis, Morrisons and Tesco – achieved a rating of “progress”, indicating they are indeed making good progress against strong policy commitments.

A “policy” rating was given to eight firms, which meant that they had clear policy commitments but failed to demonstrate credible progress against them publicly. These included Furniture Village, Harveys, Dunelm, Debenhams and House of Fraser.

Laura Ashley, and Oak Furnitureland and eight more firms were given an “awareness” rating, having made only incidental references to sustainable sourcing.

No reference was given by 39 retailers to responsible timber sourcing and so couldn’t be rated. These included brands such as DFS, Sofa Workshop, SCS, Sofology, Sharps, The Range, Habitat, Leekes, Dreams, Multi York, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Bensons Beds and Brighthouse.

One of the biggest challenges in measuring sustainability in furniture timber sourcing comes from the import of finished furniture from outside of the EU, where products fall outside the scope of the EU Timber Regulation.

Out of a total of €4.1bn of UK furniture imports 59% came from outside the EU, 42% were from China, followed by Italy (15%), Poland (10%), Vietnam (8%) and Germany (7%).

Furniture retailers need to build up sustainable practices to reduce business risk and enhance their reputation, the report recommends. This would include publishing a responsible timber sourcing policy and providing supplier guidance notes or training for supply chain participants. They should also get third-party verification and communicate policies to all stakeholders.

Julia Young, global forest and trade network manager for WWF-UK said: “Some of the retailers who featured in our 2015 Timber Scorecard have taken little or no action to get to grips with the sustainable forest trade agenda.

“This was despite having significant reliance on such actions to maintain supply of timber to their own businesses in the long term,” she added.

“Furniture retailers need to understand the nature of their trade better, and appreciate the role they can play in making sure it is a sustainable one for forests,” she said. “Without good sourcing procedures, forest loss and degradation will only get worse.”

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