By Andrew D. Steer and Peter Bakker

Forests play a critical role for the global environment, population, and economy. The forest-based sector employs 13.7 million workers, with a commercial output of about 1 percent of the global GDP. An estimated 500 million people depend on forests for their livelihoods, while hundreds of thousands of businesses rely on them for fiber and raw materials.

But with deforestation causing ecosystem losses valued at about US$ 2-5 trillion annually, businesses and citizens must take action now in order to maintain forests for the future. One such action involves seeking out sustainably produced wood and paper-based goods.

Seeking out sustainably produced products can improve forest management by:

  • Shaping markets for wood and paper-based products, including increasing demand for legal and sustainable products;
  • Involving local communities in forest management decision and operations and ensuring that local populations receive benefits from the forests; and
  • Maintaining environmental and social values associated with local forests.

Developed in consultation with multiple stakeholders, this updated Guide and Resource Kit seeks to promote the demand of sustainably produced wood and paper-based products and support procurement managers in making informed choices by:

  • Providing an overview of the context of forests and their management;
  • Identifying the most critical issues around the procurement of wood and paper-based products;
  • Describing a selection of tools, initiatives, and programs that can help inform and support the development and implementation of sustainable procurement policies and practices; and
  • Explaining the maze of terms, which often stand in the way of effective action and communication between suppliers and buyers.

The third edition of this guide incorporates the most up-to-date developments on the legality of forest products, the latest advances in technological and data-management systems to trace and control forest product supply chains, an expanded overview of the social implications of forest products, and updates to the chapters on climate change and recycled fibers.

With this update, WRI and WBCSD continue our collaboration to broaden businesses’ understanding of the environmental and social dimensions of sourcing wood and paper-based products. Both large and small businesses need to be proactive in supporting sustainable forest management and reversing deforestation via their procurement practices. This guide will help do just that.

We welcome your comments, questions, and opinions.



Almost half of the Earth's original forest cover has been converted to other land uses (Bryant et al., 1997). Although estimated rates of net loss seem to indicate a slowdown, the total forest area continues to decrease; today forests extend over an estimated 30% of the total land area (FAO, 2006).

Interest in procurement of wood and paper-based goods produced in a sustainable manner is growing. Concerned consumers, retailers, investors, communities, governments, and other groups increasingly want to know that in buying and consuming these products they are making positive social and environmental contributions.

In what is often described as "sustainable procurement", organizations are looking beyond price, quality, availability and functionality to consider other factors in their procurement decisions including environmental (the effects that the products and/or services have on the environment) and social aspects (labor conditions, indigenous peoples' and workers' rights, etc.) (Environmentally and Socially Responsible Procurement Working Group, 2007).

Sustainable procurement can help maintain a company's social license to operate (Kemp, 2001). It can help reduce reputation risks and, ultimately, help secure sustainable supplies (Kennard, 2006). Sustainable procurement can also be used to align companies with their stakeholders' values and make organizations along the supply chain (from forest owners and producers to retailers) more resilient to changing business conditions.

The growing demand for sustainably produced wood and paper-based goods can lead to improved forest management. Sustainably managed forests are a renewable source of raw materials; these forests also provide services such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and sometimes recreation opportunities (Figure 1).

Sustainably produced wood and paper-based goods can be a wise choice compared to other materials, because:

  • They come from a renewable resource - trees, the product of sunlight, soil nutrients and water.
  • They capture carbon - through photosynthesis, most trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. In sustainably managed forests, the carbon released through harvesting is offset by that which is taken up through regeneration and re-growth, making these forests carbon neutral.
  • They store carbon over the long term - solid wood and paper-based products can effectively store carbon for decades or even centuries.
  • They are recyclable - they can be reused, or converted into other products, extending their useful life and adding to the available resource pool of wood fiber.

Purpose and Scope of this Guide:

The purpose of this Guide and resource kit is to assist sustainability officers and business procurement managers, especially major purchasers of wood and paper-based products that do not have 'in house' forest and forestry expertise. It identifies and reviews central issues, and highlights tools that can be used to assist sustainable procurement. It should be noted that not all aspects of potential concern and risk apply to all forested regions of the world. The guide is designed as:

  • A decision support tool – by providing simple and clear information on existing approaches to the procurement of wood and paper-based products from legal and sustainable sources, as well as providing additional references and resource materials;
  • An information tool – to help customers frame and formulate their own sustainable procurement policies for wood and paper-based products; defining specific requirements aligned with core company values and building and maintaining stakeholder confidence.

The past few years have seen a proliferation of tools, projects, initiatives, publications and labels to aid sustainable procurement of wood and paper-based products. To help those who are new to the subject, a selected number of these tools are highlighted and characterized (see Resource Directory).

Structure of the Guide:

The information in this publication is organized in five sections:

  • Ten key issues and their associated overview - the list can be used as a checklist and as a tool for structuring discussions with stakeholders, while each overview discusses what it is, why it matters, and typical terminology and provides a general sense of how the highlighted resources address each issue and factors for company consideration;
  • An overview of the selected resources highlighted in the guide.
  • Sources of additional information: commonly cited instruments, tools, processes, etc.
  • A key to the terminology, in the form of acronyms and a glossary of terms. The field has developed a rich terminology which may be a source of confusion and misunderstanding.
  • A references section that includes key sources of information on highlighted tools.

Factors to consider:

  • A natural first step in developing and implementing sustainable procurement of wood and paper-based forest products is to consider internal company policies or systems that may already exist for the procurement of other products. Another step is to establish dialogue with suppliers, technical experts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and owner associations, as these actors can be familiar with specific issues in local circumstances. Trade associations and national and regional government representatives may also have relevant information and advice to offer.
  • The leverage of a company to influence change depends on its position along the supply chain; large buying companies purchasing from a variety of sources often have more influence.
  • A commitment to sustainable procurement to protect forests may go beyond forest products. For instance, a company policy to avoid wood from land being converted to agriculture may also want to consider avoiding agricultural products or biofuels from similarly converted lands.
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