fireplace.co.uk Woodsure industry profile

Fireplace.co.uk's editor Phil Cleaver interviews Helen-Bentley Fox, Director of Woodsure Industry Profile 1Woodsure to find out more about the role that Woodsure play in the wood fuel industry of today.

1. Tell us about the company: size, sector, location
Woodsure is the UK’s only quality assurance scheme. Its core aim is to improve the standards of woodfuel through the certification of sustainable, high-quality products. The Woodsure stamp of approval means that a supplier of woodfuel has been through rigorous checks and testing to ensure their fuel meets the correct standards. Woodsure has a network of over 800 suppliers which is still growing. The not-for-profit organisation is based in Bristol. (Find out more about Woodsure Click here)

2. What is your role?
I am a director of Woodsure. I joined in 2009 to develop the woodchip industry in the southwest.  The quality of fuel available in the UK was a key issue and so the Woodsure woodfuel certification scheme was developed. 

Woodsure industry profile 23. How has it changed over the last year?
The biggest change for Woodsure this year has been our partnership with HETAS. Since April we’ve been working together to communicate the importance of choosing the right woodfuel in biomass and solid fuel appliances. Together, our certification schemes will help to maintain high industry standards and raise awareness amongst consumers.

4. What is the most important skill you use at work?
Dealing with complex sustainability criteria and woodfuel standards, communication is a key skill for my role. I manage the relationship between governmental organisations and woodfuel suppliers.  I also audit woodfuel suppliers against both the ENplus and the Woodsure standards to ensure these are maintained.

5. What does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t have a typical day which is one of the things that keeps the job interesting! One day I will be out auditing one of our 800 suppliers, the next I could be giving a talk at an industry event and delivering workshops for woodfuel suppliers. I try to be in the office at least one day a week to attend meetings and catch up on emails, but it’s important for me to be on the road and spreading the word about quality woodfuel.

6. What projects are you involved in at the moment, how do they/it contribute to the overall objectives of the organisation?
We are currently working on two main projects; the first is the Biomass Suppliers List (BSL) which is funded by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). We are developing a list of woodfuels that demonstrate local, national and international sustainability, as defined by the government. One of the major challenges of this project is the common misconception of woodfuel customers that a fuel listed on the BSL demonstrates quality and sustainability – we are helping ensure that this becomes the case.

The second project is with Grown in Britain, a brand which identifies wood that has been grown in Britain and assured Woodsure industry profile 3through its licensing scheme. We are working with them to develop accreditation systems, which will highlight when timber on the market is grown in the UK. This has been a longstanding partnership as their core aim of getting UK woodlands back into management is closely linked to increasing our supply of firewood.  We have developed GiB timber standards, GiB woodfuel standards and are in the process of developing GiB nursery standards with the Woodland Trust.

7. What is the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you tackle it?
Developing the Woodsure standard from the bottom up was a significant challenge.  This was done by understanding the international standards requirements for woodfuel and working out how this was going to work for woodfuel suppliers in UK.  This was complex and sometimes challenging since there was no regulation of the industry but the UK suppliers who worked with us rose to each challenge I put to them and the Woodsure standard was born.

8. How have you got to where you are today in your career?
My CV is really quite varied! I’ve done a lot studying to help me get to where I am today. After gaining a BSc in Statistics from the University of London, I then went on to complete an MSc in Environmental Management from the University of Surrey and an MA in Sustainable Development Advocacy from the University of Worcester.

Woodsure industry profile 4After leaving university, I went on to provide consultancy work for a variety of sustainability projects surrounding greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energies. From [1998 to 2001] I held a permanent position at Northern Shropshire Countryside Project providing environmental advice, fundraising and generally raising awareness of environmental issues

I also spent some time in working in the tourism industry co-ordinating horseback safaris and river rafting in Africa and I was a VSO volunteer in Malawi for 3 years.

9. What one key piece of advice do you have for anyone thinking about getting into your industry?
For someone getting into this industry, first and foremost you need to have a passion for nature and sustainability. That has certainly been the driving force behind my career. For anyone wanting to work in woodfuel quality assurance, I would recommend that you have a comprehensive understanding of international standards. You’ll need to be able to listen to issues raised by suppliers who are trying to meet those standards and work with them to demonstrate how they can meet the requirement.

(Find out more about using wood as a fuel source)

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