The aim of the Charcoal Transparency initiative is to bring more transparency to the entire European charcoal market to actively and efficiently fight against the degradation of our forests and the exploitation of human beings.
As a consumer, you must be informed of what you are buying. Just like when you read the ingredients on food packaging, you can do the same with charcoal. This allows you to learn more about the product's history, ensuring a more responsible choice.
For several years, our Foundation has been innovating, informing and alerting the key players in this opaque sector about the need to be more transparent in the face of these issues. We have made a lot of progress and brought positive impacts, but there is still much to be done...
By innovating, Earthworm has demonstrated the link between lack of information and environmental and social risks. By asking for more transparency from retailers, you will concretely act for the accountability of the sector. Your consumer action counts.
At the same time, we are working with many actors in the charcoal industry to help them bring responsible products to the market. In four years, our teams have conducted more than 150 field visits in nearly 15 countries to evaluate forest practices, manufacturing methods, working conditions and transparency across the supply chain. The purpose of these visits is to accompany the sites that produce charcoal towards more virtuous practices, to communicate, through an evaluation, the improvements to be made and to tell the stories of the products.
Our approach goes beyond certification and is applied specifically to charcoal. We do not use a logo, which does not always show enough transparency, but we adopt an interactive continuous improvement approach to update the stories of your products in real time.
What we evaluate
Charcoal production starts with the forest, which provides wood that is used to make charcoal.
The forest is home to important biodiversity, regulates carbon levels in the atmosphere, helps build soils, regulates the water cycle, feeds many people and provides wood... Forest management is the basis of wood production. Our goal is to ensure that the wood comes from well-managed areas, from legal sources and that factories use a raw material suitable for charcoal production.
Our forests are under threat around the world. It is essential to protect them.
Today, forests are under pressure. The type of forest management varies significantly depending on the area and poor forest management practices can have negative impacts; for example, charcoal production can be linked to forest degradation and sometimes deforestation, particularly in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, affecting forest ecosystems and their services and the populations that depend on them.
By visiting the field, meeting the wood industry in different countries and assessing forest management practices
In the field, we make sure that:
- The raw material (wood) does not come from High Conservation Value (HCV) forests, Intact Forest Landscapes (IFL), deforested or degraded areas.
- The species of wood used do not appear on the IUCN Red List among species at risk, nor on CITES nor are they protected by local laws.
- the wood used is mainly lower quality wood or thinning, sawmill residues, invasive species ...
- the distance between the cutting zones and the production areas are not too important
- forest management documents are present: cutting licenses, management plan, land ownership ...
- cutting techniques limit impacts on water, air, soil, fauna, flora and workersâÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ?ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ? safety
Charcoal is produced around the world in conditions that can be very different from one-another.
Various technologies and manufacturing processes exist with different efficiencies. It takes between 4 to 12 tonnes of wood to produce one tonne of charcoal depending on the technology used, thus varying the impact on the forest and the climate. Clear production and segregation processes help to better understand the journey from the forest to the charcoal bag. Our goal is to help companies improve production techniques to limit pollution and implement robust quality and traceability processes.
Poor production conditions can affect the environment and the quality of the product.
Charcoal production contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions. Inefficient production methods, which do not recycle gases released during carbonization, can have negative environmental impacts, and are often associated with a lack of traceability and a lower quality of the product.
By going to the factories, meeting the producers and evaluating their production techniques.
In the field, we control the internal quality and traceability processes. We make sure that:
- the reception and registration of the wood and the management of the wood stock are optimised.
- the production method recycles as much as possible the pyrolysis gases and tars limiting at best its impacts on air, water and soils
- The wood to charcoal yields are calculated and recorded precisely
- Oven loading, temperature monitoring, carbonization time, cooling and the stabilization of the charcoal are done in a homogeneous and systematic way
- Sieving and packaging methods ensure a homogeneous finished product (bags and pallets)
- Shipments are strictly documented and recorded
- the link between each step is clear (internal traceability) and material flows are documented
Workers' rights and health and safety
Men and women with very different profiles work on making your charcoal bags
Charcoal is produced in several countries where working conditions vary enormously. Our goal is to ensure that workers are respected and protected from potential accidents.
The dignity, health and safety of these workers is not always assured.
Charcoal remains an informal market in many areas where workers' rights and dignities are not respected and their health and safety are not ensured: forced labour, absence of contracts, unpaid overtime, absence of protective equipment or training ... Respect for human beings is essential to make sure the product can be considered responsible.
By going to the production site, meeting and discussing with the charcoal workers.
We perform safety inspections, interviews with employees and document verification to ensure that:
- a contract in an appropriate language is provided to each worker
- the working time of workers is regulated and respects local laws
- a salary respecting at least the legal minimums is issued to workers
- appropriate protective equipment (glasses, masks, helmets ...) are provided to employees (free of charge)
- employees are regularly trained in their trade, first aid, firefighting
- effective fire protection systems are in place
- decent infrastructures (break room, kitchen, cloakroom, showers, toilets ...) are provided to employees
The product must be able to be traced back to the source, that is to say from the store to the forest.
This aspect reveals the level of transparency of the supply chain, from the forest to the stores: each stage of the chain is identified and all material flows quantified. Our goal is to ensure transparency at all stages.
The charcoal market remains very opaque, bad practices can hide behind a bag of charcoal.
The charcoal market remains informal and opaque. Not all producers and importers mark on their bags the origin and / or species used for their charcoal. Wood purchases are not always clear and documented and the legality of the latter is not always assured. Some producers package charcoal made by other factories (local or abroad) and claim it as their own production.
Linking all the links in the chain: brands, importers and producers, and working together with all these actors.
We introduce a number of qualitative and quantitative control points to ensure that:
- Each link in the supply chain is identified before our visit
- All timber suppliers are identified (loggers, sawyers, etc.) with a sufficient degree of information (type and location of timber cuts).
- The wood transport is legal and documented.
- Within the factory, traceability tools are in place.
- The quantity of charcoal produced and shipped by the factory is consistent with its production capacity
- Quantities of charcoal shipped to importers and end customers are documented and consistent /p>
- Forests cover about 30% of all land surface area: 3% of the terrestrial forest cover was lost between 1990 and 2005, mainly in the tropics, and there has been no significant decrease in the rate of deforestation since the last 20 years.
- 1.6 billion people are directly dependent on forests - more than 25% of the world's population - rely on forest resources for livelihoods and most of them (1.2 billion) use agroforestry to produce food and generate income
- 50% of the wood cut in the world is used as fuelwood: 3.7 billion m3 of wood are extracted from forests every year in the world (2015) 1.86 billion m3 of wood is used in fuelwood of which 17% is directly processed into charcoal
- Charcoal production is directly related to forest degradation & deforestation especially in the tropical and subtropical regions of the globe. Most charcoal production takes place in countries where degradation and deforestation are identified as threats to the forest ecosystems of these countries. Forest degradation refers to the reduction of the forest's ability to provide goods and services (FAO 2015) and deforestation means the conversion of forests for other land uses or the permanent or long-term reduction of the forest cover below the 10% threshold.
- It takes between 4 and 12 tonnes of wood to produce one tonne of charcoal, this figure varies depending on the technology used, wood species, moisture content and climatic conditions.
- Charcoal production accounts for 2 to 7% of greenhouse gas emissions emitted by human activities. This is due to unsustainable forest management practices and inefficient and polluting production technologies. The transition from traditional ovens to modern industrial kilns that recycle pyrolysis gases would reduce these GHG emissions.
- World production of charcoal has increased by 19% between 1995 and 2015. World demand for charcoal is likely to increase due to population growth, urbanization and affordable charcoal prices compared to other sources of energy
- In Europe, charcoal is used mainly for barbecuing. In 2017, European Union countries imported 650000 tonnes of charcoal, 60% of which came from tropical and subtropical areas
The market problem - opacity
In 2012, when The Forest Trust (now Earthworm Foundation) started working on the charcoal market in Europe, opacity was one of the hallmarks of this industry. Today it still exists in different forms and at different links in the value chain; from illegal timber trade to fraud in certification and mainly through lack of information on the bags
Our solution: Transparency
The Earthworm Foundation has actively engaged with many market players. The change towards greater transparency occurred first on the French market, followed by other European markets such as Belgium and Germany. Nowadays, thanks to our efforts and those of these actors, we are seeing a growing demand for responsible charcoal on the European market.