Between 4 and 12 tons of wood are required to produce just one ton of wood-based charcoal, with around 60 percent of all wood taken from forests believed to be burnt as fuel. An estimated 400 million cubic metres of wood are turned into charcoal every year. Charcoal is also a way to transform illegal wood into money. On one hand the importation of charcoal is massive in Europe for BBQs, partly coming from areas known for their illegal trade of natural resources and where deforestation is persistent. On the other, Africa and Asia are the biggest markets for domestic use of charcoal, which is often the only energy source for people. A large amount of charcoal is also used in the industry sector as raw material for a lot of applications: steel, solar panels, active charcoal to filter water…
The charcoal market is estimated to be 50 million tons per year. To improve the transparency of this market, we believe it’s important to think about where the charcoal we use comes from and how it is produced.
In 2017 we released a short film about our work in charcoal which you can watch below.
TFT started working on charcoal for the first time in 2012 when we first raised awareness among retailers in France that their forest footprint (on their non-food department) might not be in their garden furniture but more on the charcoal they sell.
At this time, we were deeply involved in the wood supply chain and we were puzzled by the fact charcoal has never been in the spotlight despite the fact that half of the wood cut is used for energy (including charcoal).
After the first visit to suppliers, it quickly became apparent to us that a huge proportion of the charcoal sold on the French market was coming from supply chains with a high level of opacity and a potential high risk of deforestation… not to mention potential social issues.
So back in 2012, after finding out the actual situation of the sector, our first move has been to raise awareness among the actors that can change the story of charcoal… we started engaging French retailers into a discussion around their values.
By the year 2013, we began to discuss with suppliers and producers who were willing to change the market and we engaged with people like Weber and La Forestière in order to implement an action plan to get responsible charcoal. In 2013, we also worked actively on some of the retailers’ supply chains to bring change.
We use the VTTV (Values, Transparency, Transformation, Verification) model in all our work.
A solution to the charcoal market: TFT charcoal method for suppliers.
By the year 2014, TFT set up the TFT charcoal method to bring a solution to deliver responsible charcoal, which corresponds to these following criteria:
- Transparency in the supply chain: All raw wood materials necessary to produce charcoal should be identified and quantified.
- Wood coming from no deforestation risk forests: No wood coming from controversial areas.
- Traceability verification: Concerning wood supplies, charcoal production and market delivering.
- Appropriate working conditions: Health and safety conditions should be appropriate for the workers.
The TFT charcoal method dedicated to the charcoal suppliers is taking into consideration the specificity of the charcoal commodity, which relies on tracing back the end charcoal to the log source. This consist in several main steps:
- After mapping the supplier supply chain (from forest to the end product), TFT evaluates deforestation risks in terms of geographical areas of charcoal factories.
- Then TFT is asking the factory to send declared data wood origin and raw materials volume, the volumes of wood going in the production of charcoal, andv the volumes of charcoal shipped.
- TFT then carries out the on-site diagnostic. On the field, TFT double-checks declared information with data available on site, in order to verify the consistency and compliance of the work. Likewise, working conditions (health and safety) and forest management, are also checked during this field assessment.
This method tested in France and in the East European countries was a real breakthrough for the market. We called our diagnostic tool Charcoal Control System (CCS) and we are beyond certification. For a factory, working with TFT it is not an easy task. We ask them for full transparency to build trust, and we ask more than 100 questions on every assessment.
We evaluate the factory on traceability, on health and safety and forest management, then we suggest corrective actions to help factories move towards responsible charcoal. And this gives real results on the ground. For example, only in the Baltics state, we deployed this tool on several charcoal manufacturing factories and it created a real positive move to improve. These factories now compete to get the better Control Performance index (the traceability indicator of the CCS).
This continuous improvement tool enables suppliers to prove to their buyer they deliver responsible charcoal. Up to date, TFT has been assessing more than 20 factories in implementing this CCS in a lot of countries in Europe: Baltics states, Russia, Ukraine, Poland… but also in Africa and Latin America, and a lot of other assessments are forecasted.
Now retailers trust TFT to make real changes on the ground.
On June 2015, TFT presented its survey on 30 charcoal bags picked up in supermarkets and reveals to the whole French charcoal industry what they really got in the charcoal bags. In 50% of the cases, the origin of the charcoal was not declared and when the charcoal was declared ¼ bags were not compliant with what was written on the bags. Retailers rely on the TFT technical approach to link the charcoal piece to the origin of the wood.
TFT will pursue its market changer role on charcoal. TFT will expand not only the VT-TV deployment to all the European BBQ market in Germany, UK…but also to most of the European charcoal suppliers.
TFT will also deploy its VT-TV approach in Brazil, the biggest charcoal producer in the world ( 7millions tons of a total market of 50 millions tons). In Brazil, charcoal is used as a raw material to produce steel which accounts for 85% of the market. Charcoal comes from 50% of native forests and 50% on planted forests. Even if the Brazilian steel industry took a commitment to avoid charcoal coming from non- traceable native forests, there are still some possibilities to find some illegal charcoal coming from deforestation areas in their supply chains. The steel used to make your car could be tainted with deforestation! As charcoal accounts for 15% of the deforestation in Amazonia, urgent actions are needed.
The TFT Charcoal project has to engage new key players in the market . It’s clear we are just at the beginning.