Kompass Nachhaltigkeit

Öffentliche Beschaffung

Social and environmental risks

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.

Click here for general advice on including sustainability criteria in the procurement process.

Click here for an online tool to assess human rights risks in the supply chain, provided by the Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights.

Click here for best practice examples of municipal procurement of wood products.


Read more:

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Supply chain in detail

Click on the individual stages in the information graphic on the left to learn more about the ecological and social challenges 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

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


EEB (2017): Circular Economy Opportunities in the Furniture Sector. https://eeb.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Report-on-the-Circular-Economy-in-the-Furniture-Sector.pdf


GTAI (2020): Chinesische Möbelindustrie wandert nach Vietnam ab. https://www.gtai.de/de/trade/china/branchen/chinesische-moebelindustrie-wandert-nach-vietnam-ab-550522


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

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.


Holz aus Frischfasern, recycelte Holzprodukte


Weiterverarbeitung durch die Sägeindustrie (d.h. Schneiden von Bauschichthölzern, Herstellen von Schnittholz für Verpackungen oder Möbel etc.) und durch die Holzwerkstoffindustrie, (d.h. Herstellen von Wärmedämmplatten, Holz-Kunststoff-Verbundwerkstoffen etc.)