In July's issue, Furniture News looked at how manufacturers are working with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the best-recognised mark of sustainable forestry among consumers seeking more responsibly-made furniture. Here, Siren Furniture's quality and technical director, Alan Spencer, shares his experiences …
Please outline your FSC journey to date …
We gained FSC certification in 2017, though had been making conscious efforts to achieve certification since 2012. We supply and exclusively develop product for some of the UK’s largest retailers, including John Lewis, who were appointed as a furniture supplier for the London Olympic Games Athlete Village in 2012. We were required to supply product that was crafted from FSC-certified timber, so in order to meet customer demands, we worked closely with the manufacturer to identify new sources of timber from verified sources.
This was the key driving force to shift focus towards FSC certification, and since then we have been working with suppliers towards achieving FSC accreditation. For every new range or product we develop, we stipulate that timber has to be FSC certified, and work with individual factories to go through certification. Through increasing and developing our product collections, this enabled Siren to successfully undergo the audit, placing us in a position to ensure confidence in claims on products for our retail customers.
Ultimately we have invested time and resource to trace, risk assess, and mitigate risks in our timber supply chains. FSC helps support this, as it helps with tracing the timber we use, where it comes from, and how ethically it has been sourced. It gives us some assurance that if we can trace timber, via full chain of custody, back to the forests, we can be reasonably assured that forests are being managed appropriately, and issues, such as reducing deforestation, are being supported.
We’ve worked closely with our customers to re-source materials and identify traceable and certified timber sources. We review these sources continually to ensure FSC traceability is maintained. We have been doing this work from the perspective of ethical sourcing, but the next stage is making this work visible to our customers. We are therefore excited to be moving towards adding FSC product claims so that customers can be assured of, and our partners can signal, the ethical credentials of our timber sourcing.
On top of that, in our commitment to adhere to FSC certification, we consciously source from suppliers that undergo SMETA audits to ensure safe and responsible working conditions.
Where does your relationship with the FSC stand today? Have your supplies been affected by the Russia/Ukraine conflict?
We remain committed to FSC and maintain our certification with an annual audit. Timber supply chains have faced a number of difficulties over recent years. Fortunately, all of the solid wood in our products (such as beech, pine and oak) are sourced from local, FSC-certified, and well-managed forests.
We are closely watching our supply chains in Europe though, as some national forestry management services have been suspending FSC, in favour of PEFC [the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification]. This is reportedly due to rising costs and bureaucracy. There is push-back from local businesses, but we don’t yet know if or how this might affect us. We will continue to monitor the situation, and work with our suppliers so that we are prepared and can re-source materials, should the need arise.
Manufactured board products (such as plywood and chipboard) are more complex. Before the conflict in Ukraine, a large amount of board products on the EU market would come from or contain timber sourced from Russia and Belarus, but sanctions have stopped this.
Along with the industry as a whole, the increased costs for energy and wage pressures have resulted in significant price rises. We have been exploring other opportunities, including UK-produced board that we can export by sea container to help minimise the increase in carbon footprint. We remain dedicated to sourcing materials as close to the manufacturers as possible, provided it is from certified and well-managed forests. This benefits the local economies around where our factories are based, and keeps shipping and potential delays to a minimum.
For Siren, a concern when re-sourcing any materials, is the increased carbon footprint. We have seen the number of offers for board materials from Asia increase in recent months. However, when you look closely, quite often the log used has been shipped in from Europe or South America which, in turn, increases the complexity of the timber supply chain – particularly for product that is within the scope of EUTR [European Union Timber Regulation] and UKTR (UK Timber Regulation) – and is also likely to have a much higher carbon footprint. As a result, we are currently exploring other sources closer to home, to help alleviate some of these pressures.
Which of your ranges are certified, and how are they performing?
A large number of our ranges are FSC certified, which is increasingly becoming a minimum requirement by most retailers and so has proven beneficial in maintaining and building new customer relationships.
How straightforward is working with the FSC and selling on the benefits?
We work with The Soil Association for our certification. FSC is, understandably, very protective of its brand and, where possible, we have helped support some of our suppliers to gain and/or retain FSC-certification (particularly smaller, independent suppliers, rather than simply moving to a bigger supplier).
Where do you see demand for FSC-certified furniture going in the future?
From our experience, FSC is a requirement of many of the larger retail groups, but we remain dedicated to increasing awareness not just of the FSC logo, but what it is trying to achieve, to all of our customers.
Customers are also now under a cost of living crisis, and the welfare of products isn’t always a top concern, but we maintain our dedication to FSC certification. There is increasing awareness around global warming and the environment, and as part of Siren’s mission, we are committed to sourcing responsibly, and that involves taking our quality, compliance and ethics seriously. We are taking conscious steps in all areas of the supply chain, and our ambition is to take a stronger lead in pushing forward a more ethically minded and sustainable furniture in the marketplace.
Read more about working with the FSC in July's Furniture News.