Timber Labelling

All the Eggs in One Basket?

by Ross O’Connel

In the past few issues, WRR has included articles about timber certification. Some of these articles have been in favour of certification; some have voiced concerns. In this article, Ross O'Connel calls for a system of timber labelling which could work in addition to and independently of FSC certification.

It isn’t necessary to put all the eggs in one basket. A system of informing consumers about the source of timber can coexist with the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification.

Regional or national timber labelling suystems which informa the purchaser of the details of where a timber product has come from could work in conjunction with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification system. The FSC, in its own principles and criteria, states that its intention is to “complement, not supplant, other initiatives that support responsible forest management”1. This is open to differing interpretations. However in essence it does not exclude other informative systems of timber labelling.

Origins of Timber

It is important to know where timber has come from. Australia imports a substantial volume of wood each year from Malaysia, Indonesia and other tropical exporting countries. This timber comes from l;ogging operations that are destroying large areas of tropical rainforest. Many organisations are working towards putting an end to this. Efforts by zoos like Taronga, for example, in captive breeding programs for orang-utangs are trying to keep thsi tropical animal species alive and healthy while much of its habitat is being destroyed.2 Identifying timber that has come from logging in tropical rainforests would help ease this situation.

FSC-approved certification

Under the proposed FSC certification system, wood products from FSC-certified sources wold be allowed to display the FSC logo. This will be an assurance, or an indication, that the timber has come from a source where the forestry practices are well monitored and comply with a set of principles set down by the FSC. These principles or conditions include, among others, monitoring the condition of the forest, respecting the legal and customary rights of indigenous peoples and supporting social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities.

The FSC label is only going to be displayed on timber from operations that have been certified. There are still going to be a lot of timber products on the market that will have no marking and consumers will be in the dark as to the source of the timber, unless there is a supplementary system that informs consumers about the source of the timber. If the timber product does bear the FSC logo, then an extra “information label” would still be useful as it would provide the information to know that the timber had come from a certain country or region as well as providing certain other details.

Information Label

There is a distinction to be made between an information label and a stamp or logo. The latter is intended to enable people to come to recognise that the timber has come from certified forestry operations. An information label, on the other hand, would provide such details as country or region of source, type of forest/plantation, climatic zone, tree species and commercial name. The FSC label does not provide this level of detail.

Informative labelling of timber could take a number of forms, from the use of coloured dye, coded to indicate different regions or categories of timber (a certain colour for different categories of source) to marking the timber with a required minimum of information be stencilling or attaching a stickon. A combination of these, or other methods, depending upon the type of timber product and the inmformation contained could apply.

An informative system of labelling timber would benefit local sources as it would encourage consumers to choose timber from the local region in preference to timber from areas known to have operations that are damaging rainforests.It would also favour timber coming from Australian-grown plantation-grown timber, overseas plantation timber and salvaged timber. Generally, it would favour timber coming from sources other than rainforest operations known to be destructive to the forest and disruptive to forest-dwelling communities.

There has been concern expressed over whether the FSC will be successful in stemming the flow of timber from the current destructive logging practices being used in many of the world’s rainforests. These rainforests are richly diverse in species and contain much natural beauty. Many species are dependent upon a relatively small area of forest for their survival. For example, the many bird of papradise species of West Papua and PNG, as shown on David Attenborough’s documentary, “Attenborough in Paradise”, are each confined to a relatively small area of forest. The forest provides these birds with the necessary territory to perform their rituals of courtship, mating and the rearting of their young in a peaceful environment.3

With the misgivings that have been expressed over the FSC process, it could be worthwhile not to disregard developing other informative systems of identifying the timber source. Such systems could work alongside the FSC logo, be applied on a regional or national basis and be seen regardless of whether the source has been certified by the FSC process. As the old saying goes, let’s not put all our eggs in one basket.


1. Forest Stewardship Council - “Principles and Criteria for Natural Forest Management, approved by founding membership, 1994.

2. "Orang-utang’s future a long way from home", Sydney Morning Herald, May 20 1989.

3. Attenborough in Paradise, BBC production.

Ross O’Connel, Grad. Dip. Res. & Env. Man he has worked for the Sydney Rainforest Action Group and the Australian Imported Tropical Timber Group.

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