AS a resource-rich country, Malaysia’s primary industries such as forestry are a significant part of the economy, but at the same time, it is vital to sustain its tropical rainforests for the future.
Ensuring a balance between the development of the timber industry and the conservation of forests - numbered among the world’s oldest forests - is the role of certification, said Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) chairman Kamaruzaman Mohamad.
He added, “Ensuring proper balance between development and nature preservation is not a walk in the park, especially when Malaysia depends on timber resources as one of its income earners.
“The only way to achieve this balance is by managing the resources sustainably and when it comes to timber, certification is the key.”
The country, a major producer and exporter of tropical timber products, achieved total export of timber and timber products of RM17.81bil from January to October 2020, according to data by the Department of Statistics Malaysia and the Malaysian Timber Industry Board.
Wooden furniture remained the top contributor at RM8.38bil, followed by plywood at RM2.38bil, sawn timber at RM1.97bil and builders joinery and carpentry at RM800.7mil.
This is significant in the age of Covid-19, as it remains in line with the export of such products over the past decade, which average around RM20bil annually, thus reflecting the industry’s importance to Malaysia’s economy.
In 2019, total export of timber and timber products was valued at approximately RM22.5bil.
While the industry has maintained steady performance, it has not been at the expense of Malaysia’s forests. What has changed through the years is an increasing focus on sustainability.
Eye on green products
The focus coincides with not only the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) changing consumer behaviour and awareness when it comes to sustainable forests and green products, evidenced by data from the first Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) Global Consumer Survey that was undertaken by Germany-based GfK in 2014.
Its results show that of the 13,000 respondents across 13 countries, more than 80% of consumers globally want companies that source certified material from sustainably managed forests to use certification labels.
Some 60% agreed that their shopping choice for a labelled product can make a positive difference to the world’s forests, while over half (54%) consider certification labels as the most reassuring proof that environmental and sustainable development considerations have been taken into account.
Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali noted, “With the growing concern on climate change, deforestation and forest degradation - and in line with the SDG - it is without a doubt this trend of demanding for ethical and sustainable products is growing, including in Malaysia.
“In the past, the process was market-driven with the environmentally and socially-sensitive markets notably in Europe demanding for certified timber products.
“Today, with the public becoming increasingly aware of the importance of protecting forests and their environment, we see an increasing call and demand for forests to be sustainably managed within the country.”
Wood is good
Furthermore, for the environmentally-aware consumer, wood is a good option as it is more sustainable by virtue of it being a renewable resource, especially when properly managed, Kamaruzaman pointed out.
With sustainable forest management (SFM) - crucial to ensure a sustainable timber industry in Malaysia - trees can be harvested in a way that ensures that the pillars of sustainability covering social, economic and environmental aspects are respected.
In Malaysia, such sustainable products are available locally via companies that have been certified under the MTCC-operated Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS), a voluntary timber certification scheme.
Aside from promoting SFM through forest management certification, it enables the timber industry to produce and export certified timber products to meet international demand through chain of custody (CoC) certification.
Be it a small and medium enterprise or a global brand, he observed that more companies along the timber value chain are looking to demonstrate that the forest-based materials they use come from legal and sustainable sources.
“Some are doing so in response to legislation and regulatory requirements, others realise the benefits of delivery sustainability assurances on products to address environmental, social and ethical concerns, ” he explained.
For Royal Selangor, the purpose of obtaining CoC certification is simple: to champion sustainability.
Its managing director Yong Yoon Li said, “The whole idea is to champion sustainability by being more conscious of the environment, from where we source our materials to the way we ship our products and the way we use energy.”
Royal Selangor started looking into embarking on certification five to six years ago, when it wanted to ensure that the timber it used in its products were sustainable.
“In our product development, we look for any kind of media that we can work with. The most harmonious media that complements pewter is wood, so we were looking at timber that we can trace back to the source. Hence the [MTCS-]PEFC [CoC certification] was a good programme to embark on, ” he shared.
He added that ensuring sustainable sources for raw materials was only the tip of the iceberg for the 135-year-old company, as it also generates electricity for solar power via solar panels on its roofs at the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre among other sustainable initiatives.
Trentim Wood founder Sii Tung Hu, on the other hand, presented a different perspective.
Aside from helming his company, which has been in business for more than two decades, the timber industry veteran posits that without sustainability, there is no business survival.
He opined, “The most important part about certification is that it preserves forests for the generations to come.”
Other benefits of certification that he highlighted is that it opens up the door to new opportunities such as access to markets, notably Europe and ensures that the company remains relevant to its customers.
“Not only is there market pressure to source from sustainable sources from the buyers, timber and timber product-related companies also feel the heat from financial institutions that will only extend loans for certified companies, so certification also helps ease access to financing, ” he added.
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