During the period from 2005-2009 more than 50,000 tons of African lumber were imported to Denmark. The public sector is responsible for some of the consumption of tropical wood, which among other things is used for harbours and benches in the public urban space.
DanWatch's report reveals that nine out of the 15 largest municipalities purchased tropical wood during the period from 2005-2010, and that several of these municipalities had not ensured that the purchased wood was certified.
- Today the Danish public has a far greater focus on purchasing policies and ethics. We cannot accept that suspicious wood and other materials find their way to our institutions and playgrounds, or become parts of benches, tables and other urban furniture, says sustainability coordinator Steffen Levard Thomsen of Aalborg Municipality in an article on the website of the Ministry of the Environment. Here it is stated that specific environmental requirements for the purchasing of wood products in the municipality's purchasing policy of 2007 have been made more detailed.
Despite this, project manager for the transformation of Aalborg's central harbour front, Anne Juel Andersen, responded in a mail to DanWatch that the municipality in 2007 purchased OLB-certified wood from Cameroon, for the first stage of the construction of the harbour promenade, instead of FSC-certified wood.
Whereas the FSC-certificate ensures that the wood is legal, and that consideration of nature and local societies is weighed equally with financial interests, the OLB-certificate in theory only guarantees that the wood is legally harvested, but in practice the OLB-certificate is not even a guarantee that the wood is legally harvested.
According to Samuel Nguiffo from Centre pour l'Environement et le Développement (CED), a local development organisation in Cameroon, several of the existing certificates which were supposed to guarantee legality – e.g. OLB – are not independent of the businesses. Therefore he does not think that they can be considered a guarantee for legality.
- One should not give the consumers the impression that they are guaranteed a legal product when the system that the guarantee is based on does not work, he says, and mentions that FSC itself does not immediately accept any of the alternative certificates as a guarantee for legality, but always uses its own inspectors to examine it, before they can be considered for FCS-certification.
A question of priorities
Why the municipality has not purchased 100 percent sustainable wood appears to be impossible to find an answer to at the City Hall. When DanWatch contacted Jørgen Ib Rasmussen from the Technical and Environmental Department, who had been the project manager of finances and contracts in connection with the harbour construction, he said that he is unaware that Aalborg Municipality has purchased OLB-certified wood.
- You are the only one who has informed me that we have purchased wood that is not FSC-certified. There has been tenders in connection with the construction on the harbour promenade and I am not familiar with the content of all of them, he says.
It was first when DanWatch got in contact with the firm Cowi, who advises the municipality in connection with tenders, that an explanation emerges.
- The decision to purchase OLB-certified wood in the beginning of the harbour construction was made because the supplier was unable to provide sustainable FSC-certified wood before the deadline, which would mean that the harbour could not be completed on time. But, subsequently only FSC-certified wood has been purchased for the construction, explains Peter Fenger, who is an employee of Cowi today, but was a builder representative for Aalborg municipality when the OLB-certified wood was purchased.
The environmental organisation Nepenthes does not consider a tight time schedule a valid excuse for choosing unsustainable wood.
- It is a question of priorities. We think that it is always necessary to choose environment over a deadline, says Jakob Ryding and tells that Nepenthes and WWF made a survey earlier in the year which showed the municipalities' general lack of knowledge that the FSC-certificate guarantees sustainability.
However, it is not only the citizens of Aalborg who might get unethical splinters in their feet. The municipalities of Randers, Aarhus and Copenhagen, too, inform DanWatch that they have purchased tropical wood from Africa without ensuring the sustainability of the wood by means of a FSC-certificate.