Timber School 101

Timber School 101

Introduction to timber: Natural, Renewable, Sustainable

Wood is naturally beautiful and versatile and is one of the best ways to address climate change. Choosing timber in design and construction can help tackle climate change in several ways. One of the most important is that wood stores carbon. Growing trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, emit oxygen and store carbon. Carbon remains locked in the wood for the life of the piece of timber until it rots, decays or is burnt. It is renewable and abundant and as we transition to a low carbon economy, the advantages of wood are increasingly making it the material of choice for the environmentally conscious.

Wood residue used in energy production provides two-fold environmental benefits. Firstly, its use reduces industry reliance on environmentally damaging fossil fuels, in turn preventing the release of long-term carbon store from sources that cannot be replenished. Secondly, the energy itself omits far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than typical alternatives. The National Timber Product Stewardship Group states that the energy produced from the combustion of renewable timber is considered to emit over 50 times less greenhouse emissions than combustion of black coal and over 30 times less than natural gas, when used in industrial facilities.

Wood has been increasingly recognised as a global solution to climate change, by storing carbon and through reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. While trees are renewable, forests are not. So it is important that we source timber responsibly. The FSC forest management standards ensure business and consumers can be guaranteed they are supporting responsible management of our world's forests through choosing FSC certified timber.

Sustainable forest management makes the forestry industry one of the most greenhouse friendly sectors of the Australian economy. A sustainably managed forest has three values at its core, maintaining ecological processes within the forest, maintaining biodiversity and optimising environmental, economic and social benefits for current and future generations.


  • Unlike other building materials wood can be harvested, re-grown and re-harvested in an average person’s lifetime.
  • Timber absorbs and stores carbon for many decades.
  • Nearly half of the dry weight of timber is carbon, making it a carbon positive building product.


Chain of Custody: for companies in the supply chain this is a verified mechanism for tracking certified materials from the sustainably managed forest to the final product. The chain of custody refers to all the steps involved in taking the forest product from the forest itself, through manufacture, transport and distribution to the point of purchase. For an end product to be labelled certified there must be an unbroken chain of certified organisations covering change of legal ownership. Each step of the supply chain is closely monitored through annual independent auditing to ensure that certified, sustainable material reaches the consumer while unsustainable sources are excluded.

Certification: provides recognition of an organisation's compliance with a set of documented standards required at each stage within the chain of custody. The planning, procedures, systems and performance of forestry operations are audited by a qualified and independent third party organisation according to performance criteria for sustainable wood production. Forest operations found to conform to the standard are certified, giving consumers confidence and assurance when purchasing timber. Australian Forestry Standard (AFS), Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are the three certifications in Australia.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): is a global, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of responsible forest management worldwide. In the early 1990s, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) a non-government organisation based in Germany, originated the first recognised forest certification scheme. Since then a range of schemes have originated, working at both domestic and international level.

Australian Forest Standard (AFS): In Australia, forestry organisations have sought certification under the FSC or through the Australian Forest Standard (AFS), whose forest certification scheme is recognised under AS4708. A world-class forestry standard, the AFS is endorsed by the world's biggest assessor of sustainable forest management, the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Through the help of forest certification schemes Australia's forest management is among the best in the world in terms of conservation reserves and codes of practice for commercial forests. Only 6% of Australia's native forests are public forests and of these, the actual timber area harvested amounts to approximately 1% of the 6% available. And while no one would argue that forest certification provides a perfect environmental solution, it is clear that forest certification goes a long way in generating a better environmental outcome for all.

Heartwood: the dense inner part of a tree trunk, yielding the hardest timber.

Chain of Custody certification

Chain of Custody for companies in the supply chain is a verified mechanism for tracking certified materials from the sustainably managed forest to the final product. Each step of the supply chain is closely monitored through annual independent auditing to ensure that certified, sustainable material reaches the consumer while unsustainable sources are excluded.

Step 1 … Forest Certification

Forest certification assures that forests are conserved and managed responsibly to ensure they deliver social, environmental and economic benefits now and in the future. Balancing people, planet and profit. Certification includes requirements to:

  • Safeguard ecologically important forest areas
  • Protect and enhance biological diversity
  • Prohibit deforestation
  • Prohibit forest conversions
  • Prohibit the most dangerous chemicals
  • Prohibit genetically modified trees
  • Respect rights of workers and indigenous peoples’
  • Encourage local employment
  • Provide consultation with local people and stakeholders
  • Respect traditional land rights and local customs
  • Provide a voice for those who depend on forests for their livelihood

Step 2 … Responsible Sourcing

It is essential for companies in the supply chain to implement and demonstrate responsible sourcing. This includes recording:

  • Supplier identification
  • Forest materials supplied
  • Quantity of delivery
  • Date of delivery
  • Proof of certification

Companies are also required to keep a list of all suppliers and check the validity of their certification claims via the Responsible Wood database.

Step 3 … Traceability

Companies must clearly identify certified material and keep it separate from non-certified material. Inventory control systems and records must clearly track the certified forest materials at every stage of the supply chain.

Step 4 … Controlled Sources

When certified material is mixed with non-certified material to make wood products, the percentage of certified Australian raw material must be 70% or more, and the non-certified material must originate from a controlled source. Controlled sources are not certified forests, but meet the following requirements:

  • Legally harvested
  • Legally exported
  • No GMO materials
  • No native forest conversions

Step 5 … Workers Rights

Chain of Custody certification also includes requirements protecting workers’ fundamental social, health, and safety rights.

Step 6 … Labelling

Labelling must comply with Responsible Wood requirements and clearly communicate the origin of the wood used to make the final product. This can include:

  • 70-100% certified wood
  • Up to 30% wood from a controlled source - And recycled wood

Step 7 … Final Products

You’ll find the Responsible Wood Shield logo on a wide range of wood and forest products including:

  • Timber to build our homes and infrastructure
  • Furniture
  • Copier paper and envelopes
  • Printed materials
  • Packaging
  • Fuel

and in many other places as more and more businesses recognise the benefits of Responsible Wood certification.

Step 8 … Responsible Purchasing

Buying products that carry the Responsible Wood label is an assurance that the product comes from an Australian forest that has been responsibly managed for environmental, social cultural and economic values. By choosing Responsible Wood, you demonstrate your support for the sustainable management of Australia’s forests.

What is Sustainable Forest Management?

Video from responsiblewood.org.au

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