E&C Charcoal and York Timbers are celebrating over 20 years of FSC CoC certification. Both companies were among the first in Africa, and the world, to obtain this certification.
What on Earth could a lump of charcoal and a smooth sheet of plywood have in common? The high standards of the people who produce them. They are quietly sustaining the world’s forests, and so attaining FSC Chain of Custody (CoC) certification.
FSC CoC certification offers consumers solid assurance that what they buy has not damaged forests at any stage of the chain. It fills the largely behind-the-scenes gap between FSC Forest Management certification and retailing and applies to a vast range of companies: from paper to furniture, from charcoal to plywood.
E&C Charcoal and York Timbers are both based in South Africa. This country is Africa’s leader in FSC certification by far. In March 2019, from the 205 FSC CoC certificates of the continent, 123 were in South Africa (second was Egypt with 24). Numbers may still be small (Africa still accounts for less than 1% of the world CoC certificates), but innovation is big. So is commitment: both companies are celebrating over 20 years of FSC CoC certification. They were among the first in Africa, and the world, to obtain this certification.
E&C Charcoal: Proud Vultures
“We’re happy to call ourselves the vultures of the forestry industry,” E&C Charcoal Managing Director Charles Holley says. He laughs, but it’s not a joke. Vultures are magnificent, often misunderstood birds that keep ecosystems healthy and clean. Ethical charcoal producers, like E&C Charcoal, do the same for forestry. Their raw material is “leftover” timber that does not meet pulp standards; removing it massively reduces fire risk and aids soil conservation for future generations of trees.
E&C Charcoal is South Africa’s biggest producer of charcoal (20,000 tons a year), briquettes (12,000 tons) and lumpwood (8,000 tons). Products are used in industry and leisure markets, such as restaurants and homes for barbequing.
The company was established 40 years ago, but its predecessors produced charcoal from waste timber way back in the 1930s. Today, it uses wattle and eucalyptus from FSC-certified plantations within a 75km radius of its factory in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
“We go in after a block is harvested for paper and pulp, and we collect the residue. This is taken to our kilns and converted to charcoal. It is then screened, graded and packaged before being sent off to the Durban port for export or to retailers in South Africa,” Mr Holley explains.
The company supplies retailers like Woolworths, Spar and Shoprite Checkers, and exports about half of its output to European and Middle Eastern countries. E&C Charcoal has twice won the State President’s Award for export achievement.
The company also prides itself on making sure that its 400 employees are happy. “Our annual FSC CoC audits are not just about where we get our raw material from; they are just as much about how we treat and care for our people,” Mr Holley says.
Mr Holley was at E&C Charcoal when it gained FSC CoC certification 20 years ago. “It was easy for us to go this route,” he recalls. “We were already getting most of our material from FSC-certified plantations.
“FSC certification, I believe, will in time become your route to the market; you may not be able to sell your products without it.”
He adds: “FSC is now able to analyse charcoal and work out what kinds of wood has been used, for example, endangered tropical woods.” This is piling on pressure for charcoal producers with CoC certification, and retailers are paying attention. In 2017, 21 companies, found to be using non-FSC-certified tropical species, had their FSC certificates suspended or terminated.
Charcoal, Mr Holley says, is a low-value, bulky product in a very competitive market: producers have to carve a niche to survive. For E&C Charcoal, that niche is a good quality product that carries the FSC logo.
York Timbers: A Leader in Keeping Track
JSE-listed York Timbers has a 100-year history in solid wood processing for lumber, plywood and biomass products. It has good reason to celebrate its 20-year anniversary of both Forestry Management and CoC FSC certification.
Of York’s 94,000ha in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, 60,470ha are FSC-certified plantations. It operates four sawmills and a plywood manufacturing plant. Its products are supplied to customers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the EU, the UK and North and South America.
York is a leader in chain of custody innovation. An exciting initiative is its LogTrace software, which it developed and introduced in 2011, allowing it to track every log. Individual barcoded logs are scanned when they are loaded, georeferenced to the compartment where they were harvested, and scanned when entering the mill.
York’s mills are supplied mainly from its own plantations. If more timber is needed, it is sourced from FSC-certified suppliers. Less than 1% of York’s timber volume intake is non-FSC certified and is assessed as Controlled Wood supplied through its CoC certificate. The LogTrace system allows for its traceability, which is fundamental to the FSC CoC process.
“We always know exactly where each log is in the supply chain and can trace back to where it came from,” York Compliance Manager John Crawford-Brunt says. “This is not an off-the-shelf system and we are sure that this technology does not exist elsewhere.”
York applies innovative technology throughout its operation, not just its timber chain. It researches plantation development for applications in the market and development of hybrids to mitigate impacts of climate change on tree health and growth.
“York is a vertically integrated company; everything works together, from research and development and the nursery to sustainable forest management practices to processing until the product reaches the end customer,” Mr Crawford-Brunt explains.
York employs around 5,000 people from local communities, with almost half working in its mills. A core part of its mission is to empower employees and uplift communities. Initiatives include running its own training department, clinics, an enterprise development drive for suppliers, and rural development programmes.
Tree length harvesting and transport is a vision for the future. Processing tree lengths at a centralized site can allow extracting maximum value, minimizing waste, and utilizing remaining biomass for generating renewable electricity. This goes hand in hand with FSC certification and sustainability.
It is known that the biggest demand for FSC-certified timber comes from outside SADC, but this is not why York has chosen to attain and maintain FSC certification. “York’s core values of responsibility to the environment and connectivity with all stakeholders drives who we are,” Mr Crawford-Brunt says. “Sustainability is important in everything that we do.”