Kompass Nachhaltigkeit

Öffentliche Beschaffung


Social and ecologiscal risks in the supply chain of wood and wood products

Short overview (German only)

What you should take into consideration when purchasing wood and wood products

Municipalities need wood products, especially furniture, for the offices of their administrations, but also procure them for public facilities of various kinds. Various materials are needed to produce furniture, including wood, but also aluminium, steel, lacquers and plastics. This entails various environmental and social risks.

The less furniture you purchase new and the longer it is used, the better. Furthermore, public procurement can provide important incentives for more sustainable production.

    Further Information

    For general information on integrating sustainability into the procurement process, see here.

    An online tool to assess the local human rights situation by "Helpdesk Business & Human Rights" is available here.

    Municipal best practice examples of sustainable procurements of wood products, see here (German only).

    Further information on wood products (German only):

    Supply chain risks of wood and wood products in detail

    Supply chain in detail

    (according to UBA)

    Click on the individual stages in the information graphic on the left to learn more about the ecological and social risks when procuring wood and wood products.

    01 Extraction

    Various materials are needed to produce furniture, chief among which is wood. Although it is a renewable raw material, the high demand is anything but environmentally friendly. Every year, 13 to 15 million hectares of forest are lost worldwide – equivalent to about 35 football fields per minute. And not all forests are the same: Virgin or semi-natural forests are cleared, often illegally, for non-native tropical species such as acacia, eucalyptus and teak. This also applies to logging in northern boreal forests. Furthermore, tropical timber is often grown on plantations, as monocultures. This means that using wood which does not come from sustainable forestry leads to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of habitats.

    Environmental risks

    • Forest degradation and deforestation, especially due to illegal logging
    • Loss of carbon and water sinks
    • High pesticide and fertiliser use in monocultures, which at the same time depletes soils through one-sided nutrient requirements
    • Monocultures cause loss of land for alternative use (e.g. agriculture)
    • Negative impacts on biodiversity (loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity)

    Social risks

    • Loss of homes and livelihoods, especially for indigenous communities
    • Precarious and dangerous working conditions in the logging industry
    • Violation of workers' right to assembly and the right to collective bargaining
    • Low wages

    Further reading (in German)

    02 Processing

    Metals, lacquers, plastics, leather and textiles, but above all plenty of wood: This is the material mix of most furniture. Depending on the quality grade, the wood is treated intensively, for example to protect it against pests and fungi. For chipboard, the chips are glued, often with formaldehyde – a harmful substance that furniture can release from unprotected areas which come unstuck. The final production of furniture and wood products is organised in global value chains. This goes hand-in-hand with the much-described 'race to the bottom' – production is often cheapest where environmental and social standards are lowest. As a result, the majority of furniture imported into Germany is from the bottom price segment.

    Environmental risks

    • High wood consumption
    • Consumption of other materials
    • Use of chemicals

    Social risks

    • Precarious and unhealthy working conditions
    • Violation of workers' right to assembly and the right to collective bargaining
    • Low wages

    Further reading

    03 Consumption

    As a basic rule, the less furniture and fewer wood products that you purchase new, and the longer they are used, the better. Furthermore, when purchasing furniture and wood products you should pay attention to harmful substances, including solvents from waxes, plasticisers from lacquers, and terpenes and aldehydes from woods. Regardless of whether they are of natural or synthetic origin, in large amounts these so-called 'volatile organic compounds' can cause adverse health effects. When purchasing, focus on certified, low-pollutant furniture from sustainable forestry.

    Health risks

    • Tiredness, fatigue and headaches or eye irritation due to poor indoor air quality
    • Irritation of the eyes and mucous membranes due to formaldehyde
    • Allergic reactions caused by pollutants released from furniture and wood products

    Further reading (German only)

    04 Recycling & disposal

    If furniture and wood products are no longer needed, they can be donated or sold on. If the items of furniture are no longer usable they can be disposed of at a recycling centre. Depending on the item of furniture in question, a distinction must be made between old wood and bulky waste. The fewer pollutants, the easier the recycling process. If the wood can no longer be recycled, it can still be used for energy by incinerating it.

    To work towards strengthening the circular economy, municipalities can also promote companies and initiatives involved in the upcycling or eco-design of furniture.

    Environmental risks

    • Generation of large quantities of waste
    • Contamination through waste incineration

    05 Transport

    Logging in Russia, the USA and Indonesia; production in China, Poland and Viet Nam; then transport to Germany: supply chains of furniture and wood products can look more or less like this. Transport from the point of extraction to the finished product usually involves covering long stretches by sea, HGV and rail. Fuel consumption and exhaust fumes cause harm to the environment and the climate, which also damages human health. The Euro VI emission standard applies to transport by heavy vehicles such as lorries, and purchasers should require it for transport. From an environmental perspective it makes sense to regionalise production in order to avoid transportation of the various product parts over long distances.