Sustainability by Association

Trade Associations and other industry groups have a significant role to play in ensuring sustainability in the wooden furniture value chain.

Furniture is one of those products – so ubiquitous that it can almost become invisible. It is at once everywhere, and just out of our notice. 

Most of us would be surprised to know that this industry alone is responsible for 12% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions (Sustainable Furnishings Council, 2021). Or that is the third-highest user of forest wood in the world.

A challenge at this global scale will take all of us to solve. From consumers choosing to purchase certified furniture to foresters committing to the necessary steps to harvest timber sustainably, we all have a role to play. That includes trade associations, who have some of the most important roles to play in ensuring a sustainable furniture value chain.

Unsustainable means bad for business

Unsustainable supply chains are not just bad for the environment, they are bad for business.

Today, corporate supply chains are bigger and more complex than ever before. When done right, a supply chain can deliver significant benefits to companies in the form of reduced costs, enhanced profitability, brand equity and shareholder value. It can also contribute to much-needed economic and social development, resulting in higher standards of living for billions of people.

When supply chains are done wrong – by not taking into consideration the environmental, social and governance performance of suppliers – companies leave themselves exposed to significant operational and reputational risks. Impacts on people and the environment can be substantial and severe.

Unsustainable, extractive supply chains also come with additional costs great and small. These include a scarcity of raw materials driving up production costs, and changes in consumer behavior if and when wooden furniture comes to be seen as a fundamentally unsustainable product. The value of the world furniture trade grew to $150 billion in 2018, and trends indicate that it will continue to do so. This trade employs millions of people from foresters to designers to sales-people in showrooms all across the world. No one in this value chain can afford the risk of operating unsustainably.

Unsustainable means ignoring consumers

Consumers worldwide are demanding sustainable products across a variety of fields, and industries that do not adapt to satisfy those demands are imperiled. Furniture customers are no different. Already in Europe, 87% of consumers report that they demand deforestation-free products, and a majority of 66% indicate that they would be willing to pay more for these products. To not source sustainably is to ignore consumer preferences – never a great business move.

To respond to consumers’ requests, together with international laws and sustainability regulations, a rising number of multinational corporations have pledged to work only with suppliers that adhere to social and environmental standards.

The role of trade associations

Trade associations like the ASEAN Furniture Industries Council (AFIC), given the nature of their membership and goals, have a unique role to play. Furniture trade associations are made up of businesses that operate all along the furniture value chain, which is why AFIC seek to encourage the long-term wellbeing of those businesses. This includes advocating for best practices, fostering productive collaboration and partnerships along the value chain, educating association members and the general public, and spreading positive industry awareness through public relations and advertising campaigns.

Another primary purpose of trade associations is to connect industry voices to the public policy discussion, to ensure both understanding and a seat at the table for their members. While some associations may lobby for specific policies, other like the AFIC, help ensure that members are educated, and understand what policy and regulatory frameworks mean for them.

Speaking out, one for all

Trade associations are also heavily involved in publishing activities. This includes publishing information on association websites, as well as in member newsletters, blogs and magazines. In many cases, this information is there as a resource to members, so that they can have the most up-to-date information to serve their individual business needs. Other times, the publications are about promoting individual member businesses to one another. But often, this publishing is also done with the general public in mind. That’s because trade associations are also concerned with public perceptions of their industry.

As well they should be. The wellbeing of industries depends on more than just the availability of raw materials, and accessibility of markets. Public perception is also paramount, which is why trade associations in the world over engage in messaging and awareness campaigns aimed at the general public. Unlike communications from a specific company, which would promote a specific brand of home furnishing (for instance), these are messages on behalf of an entire industry.

Furniture has a prominent place in the homes and offices of the general public. It is up to furniture associations to ensure that it also has a prominent place in their hearts and minds, and that the general public can be made to understand the good that the industry is doing by committing to sustainability. Occasionally, this includes helping to shape opinion on a specific issue, or to advocate in the interests of the furniture industry.

Champions of sustainable forest management

Given their role, trade associations like AFIC are well positioned to champion sustainable forest management. The question remains: why? Why is sustainable forest management important?

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines sustainable forest management as “the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.”

Sustainable forest management is essential to ensure that the demands of society and industry do not damage or destroy forests, compromising them both as a resource for humanity and as a haven of biological diversity. It is impossible to overstate the importance of forests in terms of climate change mitigation and carbon sequestration. They are the ecological engine that drives our rainfall, and a reservoir of the organic compounds that drive discovery and innovation in our medical industry.

The “three pillars” of Sustainable Forest Management

Sustainable forest management creates outcomes that are (1) socially just, (2) ecologically sound and (3) economically viable. It is impossible to segment or compartmentalize these pillars, and attmempt to address them individually. If one pillar is missing, we cannot protect our forests, forest-dependent communities and rural economies cannot thrive, illegal logging will not be abated and development opportunities will not be captured.  To use a metaphor that is more fitting for the furniture industry, we can think of them as the legs of a stool.

In practice, this means that sustainable forest management must focus on all three outcomes at once. But that doesn’t mean that there is only one way to achieve these outcomes! Forests are diverse, from evergreen eucalyptus forests in Tasmania to tropical rainforests in South America and the Congo Basin and boreal forests in Canada. These forests face different natural challenges, grow at different rates, and emerge from terroirs that have significantly different nutrient distribution. So naturally, the sustainable management of these forests will be diverse as well. It also needs to take into account local traditions, cultural and spiritual expectations, average property sizes and support structures such as forest owner associations.

About AFIC

The ASEAN Furniture Industries Council (AFIC) was established as a regional trade organization to promote the interests of the ASEAN furniture industries. It is comprised of constituent members that represent the furniture industries of each ASEAN country and are certified by their respective ASEAN Chamber of Commerce and Industries, or its equivalent. As such, the AFIC benefits from both a regional and an industry-specific perspective. Their home in ASEAN member countries means that the AFIC has a front-row seat to the growing global demand for wooden furniture, and the pressure that it can put on some of the world’s most important forests. That’s why AFIC strongly supports forest certification, and the adoption of chain of custody certificates for other companies in the furniture value chain.

As a trade association, the AFIC believes that forest certification is important in ensuring sustainable wood supply management. They understand that their members need the wood for their continued profitability, and that everybody needs forests for our lives.

AFIC and PEFC – Stronger in Partnership

The AFIC is fully supportive of PEFC’s localized, pragmatic, collaborative and rigorous approach to certification. With members across ASEAN economies, AFIC understands how important it is to match goals and strategies to the local context.

PEFC works to tailor certification requirements and systems to the needs of the specific forest ecosystems, the legal and administrative framework of the sovereign nation they are found in, and the socio-cultural context of local communities in and around forests.

Important work, done together

FIC has joined forces with PEFC to create a Roadmap for a Sustainable Furniture Supply Chain. This will be key to ensuring that our members in the furniture industry can secure legal and sustainable wood products, which is essential to meeting both legal and production requirements around the world, not to mention allowing our members to meet the expectations of the modern consumer.

With this roadmap, AFIC and PEFC are taking the first steps on a four-year journey to improve sustainability outcomes throughout the furniture supply chain in the ASEAN region. From 2021 to 2025, our sustainability roadmap will seek to raise awareness of the importance of sustainably sourced forest and tree-based materials.

This will, in turn, boost consumer demand for certified materials. AFIC will also work to build capacity in the wood-based supply chain to facilitate members and companies to reach sustainability goals. Together, AFIC and PEFC will support companies who want to demonstrate legal and sustainable sourcing with PEFC certification. The first stage of our work together will deliver capacity building and build awareness and visibility for both AFIC and PEFC through various activities such as digital marketing, webinars, trainings, educational promotional materials events and business matching. This supports companies who want to demonstrate their legal and sustainable sourcing with PEFC certification.

The second stage calls for the creation of an ASEAN Furniture Sustainability Award to recognize companies that demonstrate a commitment to sustainable practices, including sourcing. With this collaboration, AFIC members will have a better understanding on the benefits of working with certified wood sources, and gain access to the many PEFC suppliers that will help us attain our goal of integrating sustainability in our manufacturing processes.

Learn more about our collaboration with PEFC here.

All eyes on Furniture

Right now, the AFIC is proud to partner with PEFC to launch an innovative global awareness campaign for sustainable furniture. This officially began on 15 September, when AFIC joined PEFC as we unveiled our campaign.

This official launch was done via webinar, and included a lively panel discussion with representatives from the media, youth voices, furniture producers, furniture retailers, as well as architects and designers. Mr. Nicolaas K. de Lange, Secretary-General of the ASEAN Furniture Industries Council, also participated in the panel to share a furniture industry perspective.

It was an outstanding discussion. If you missed the panel, you can still watch a full recording of it here.

For furniture associations, or companies hoping to join one

PEFC is proud of our successful webinar, but the official launch of our campaign is only the start of our collaboration with trade associations. If you are a furniture trade association, or if you are interested in joining one, please write to [email protected]  directly. We are committed both to your long term success, and to the long term health of our forests. The one, after all, can not be achieved without the other.