How a new label is reviving the timber industry in the French Alps
With its spruce, larch and cedar, the Alps region is one of the most wooded in France. In a forest in Arith, they’re following a sustainable exploitation model (the FSC and PEFC labels). It’s the first condition for obtaining _Bois des Alpes_ certification. The label, supported by Europe, guarantees the traceability and quality of wood from the French Alps, from sawmill to final construction.
“So here, we do a gardening cut,” explains Stéphane Guiguet, a forestry technician with Coforet. “That’s removing large trees to make room for younger ones, which enables the forest to develop and renew itself naturally. The “Bois des Alpes” certification helps us supply local industry, using local sawyers, with wood coming from a short supply chain”.
Facing up to the competition
Fourteen years ago, the local timber sector decided to pull together and face up to more competitive offers from forests in Germany and Austria, the Nordics and Eastern Europe. The label was established in 2011.
Over 40 per cent of the project is funded by the European Union's cohesion policy, that’s close to €326,000. Today, there are 94 sites where consumers can buy Bois des Alpes certified wood and 67 companies associated with the label.
Among them, the Darvey carpentry workshop in Lescheraines. Its director is proud to be able to guarantee the origin of the beams and frames used for each order. But what’s the difference between wood that’s labelled Bois des Alpes and others?
“Bois des Alpes is a system of certification,” says managing director Peter Whelan. “It's local wood, but with a whole set of technical specifications. It has to be dry, it has to be of good quality and it has to be prepared and worked in the region. So it's not just that the tree that has grown in the Alps, it's the whole cycle, the traceability that is managed in the Alps.”
Nearly 160 public or private buildings in the region have obtained certification, including the L'adeline residence in Saint Martin d'Heres near Grenoble and the _Maison de la Vigne et du Vin_ in Apremont, which uses local pine, Scots pine, spruce and oak. For its architect Christian Patey, the label not only reduces CO2 emissions, it guarantees supply.
“We’re very impacted by conflicts that are relatively far away and… if we break our dependence on them we have the absolute certainty of being supplied,” he says. “In relation to the question of CO2, choosing wood is already a powerful act: and we have very, very little transport of our wood”.