Environmental campaign threatens Australian woodworking industry
August 16, 2011 | 9:12 am CDT

A furnishings association claims the fate of the Australian woodworking industry is being jeopardized by the environmental group Markets for Change, which is campaigning for consumers to stop purchasing products made from native Australian forest timbers.

Founded in 2010, Markets for Change, according to its website, “investigates and exposes the companies and products driving environmental destruction, creating the impetus for retailers to adopt environmentally and socially responsible procurement policies to help create an environmentally responsible market.” Its current focus is on Australian retailers selling furniture, flooring and related products made from lumber harvested from Australian native forests.

However, the Furnishings Industry Association of Australia (Furniture Australia) warns the wood products industry will face a loss of jobs, and greater threat from imports, if access to the native timber supply is cut off and wood products manufacturers are forced to solely use plantation timber. Although small compared to the United States, the furnishings industry throughout Australia is considered a major supplier of jobs; more than 100,000 jobs are in this segment, according to a May 6 report by Furniture Australia.

In a letter to the Legislative Council Sessional Committee, Parliament of Tasmania, Furniture Australia General Manager Rohan Wright states, “We believe that FIAT (Forest Industries Association of Tasmania) has demonstrated the inability of plantation timber to replace native timber for higher grade applications in less than a 25-year time frame. We would go further and argue that there is no certainty that even globulus could replace the current native species harvested as a source of quality raw material for our industry. We think the concept of plantation eucalypt as a replacement for the current supply of appearance grade timber is a gamble — and it is the business and workers in our industry that are the chips being thrown on the table by the ENGOs (Environmental Non-Government Organizations). We maintain that only native timber of 60-80 years rotation can provide the kind of certainty of long-term supply that our members require.”

In addition, Wright states any reductions to the timber supply will result in cost increases that will drive the group’s members out of business or force them to use imported lumber. “If imported timber is substituted, then our members lose a very important marketing edge that will still result in less business. Either way, Australia loses jobs locally, and needlessly.”

According to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the country has slightly more than 147 million hectares of native forests, and approximately 1.82 million hectares of plantations — making it the world’s sixth largest forest area. Native species families include: eucalypts, acacia, casuarina (she-oaks), mangroves, and melaleuca.

In opposition to Furniture Australia’s claims, Markets for Change said in a statement that there are enough plantation resources to “replace the need for native forest-based products entirely….Some market adjustment and investment in processing capacity is required, but the solution to our native forest crisis is imminently achievable.”

 Environmental campaign threatens Australian woodworking industry
 Australian eucalypt forest.
 Markets for Change video

The environmental group issued a report in April which, it says, details the destruction of the Australian forestland. “Retailing the Forests: Confronting the Australian Retail Sector’s Involvement in Native Forest Destruction” links “the destruction of Australia’s native forests and the everyday consumer products on the shelves and showroom floors of many of Australia’s top retailers,” including: Harvey Norman, Forty Winks, Snooze, Focus on Furniture, Everyday Living, Sleep City, Domayne, Freedom Furniture, Furniture Court, Furniture One, Bedshed and OzDesign.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.