122. Roderick Aitken: Sourcing Sustainable Timber

Man in hi-vis jacket in front of logs In episode 122, host Sue Stockdale explores the delicate balance between commerce and conservation in the world of forestry with guest Roderick Aitken. As a fifth-generation family business in Scotland importing tropical wood, Roddy shares insights on sustainable practices and the collective responsibility we have towards the planet, discusses the importance of protecting precious ecosystems while meeting the demand for exotic woods.

Roderick has a degree in forest management from The University of Aberdeen. He has spent one year working in Malaysia’s forest and sawmilling sectors, then two years with BSW timber in Scotland.   He joined Gilmour & Aitken in 2005 and is now Operations Director.  Roderick is the principal buyer of tropical timbers for Gilmour & Aitken. He has carried out responsible purchasing audit work within West Africa, Far East and Guyana, traveling to these areas regularly. Roderick is a sailor and kayaker in summer, climber and skier in winter and enjoys being outdoors.  The more remote and wilder the terrain the better.

Find out more about Roderick Aitken at the website, and watch the video about Sustainable Forestry 

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Time Stamps

[01:53] Sustainability in tropical timber industry.
[09:35] Long-term sustainability and traceability.
[14:14] Sustainable tropical logging practices.
[16:03] Hardwood for marine industry.
[22:05] Positive impacts of sustainable forestry.
[27:39] Maintaining supplier relationships.
[34:43] Materials for sustainable construction.

Key Quotes

  • “I’ve always been around the timber since I was probably about eight or nine.”
  • “Our industry has done wrong in the past and we need to make sure that we try and continue forward doing right.”
  • “It isn’t just always profit maximisation. It’s a long-term sustainability goal as well.”
  • “I get quite frustrated when people think that they’re two different things, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability.”
  • “In the size of a football field, you’re only taking two or three trees. So it’s very light touch logging.”
  • “For every cubic metre of Greenheart arrived in the UK and used on a job, 1.24 tonne of carbon is being stored in the Guyanese forests as it’s regrowing.”
  • “I think that relationship is really important. Supplier and buyer, you both have to be successful for it to work.” 
  • “Without trust, a lot of the tropical timber operation will fall apart.”

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31. Anne Pleun van Eijsden: Leading a revolution in the paper industry 

Roderick Aitken Transcription

Sue: Welcome to Access to Inspiration, where we delve into the stories of remarkable individuals who are shaping the world with their unique journeys and perspectives. I’m Sue Stockdale, and I’m thrilled to have you join us for today’s episode, where we’re diving deep into the fascinating world of forestry and sustainability. Picture this, lush rainforests teeming with life, with their canopies reaching for the heavens. But also, they could be thriving as a part of the forestry industry. So how do we balance the demand for exotic woods with the imperative to protect our planet’s precious ecosystems? Well, today’s guest for episode 122 is Roderick Aitken, and he can tell us all about that. He is the fifth generation of a family business in Scotland that has been at the forefront of importing tropical wood to the UK for many years, navigating the delicate balance between commerce and conservation. Rod’s insights are not just about business. They’re about our collective responsibility to the planet. So grab your headphones, settle in, and be prepared to be inspired. Welcome to the podcast, Roddy. It’s lovely to speak to you today.

Roddy: Thank you. Nice to be here.

Sue: Now, as it happens, I’m just back from some travels to the Amazon rainforest. It was the first time I’d been there. And I was thinking about this idea of rainforest and timber. I think it’s important to tell our listener that your business is in the business of timber, am I right?

Sustainability in tropical timber industry

Roddy: Yeah, we are a small family business. I’m fifth generation based out of Scotland, and our area of expertise is buying in timbers from the tropical regions. But the way that we buy our timber from the tropical regions is in a very sustainable fashion. And I think over the last 20 years, the forest industries have had a lot of negative media which we have responded to as an industry and what we can show now in terms of sustainability and traceability on the tropical timbers are astounding because a well-managed tropical forest is a huge positive resource whether it’s logged or unlogged it’s still a positive resource. These forests have a value in both biodiversity and environmental services, but also for the local community, they have a monetary value. And so it’s very important that we don’t just, in our arrogant Western way, push down and say, we want you to do this with the forest. We’re very good at that in the West, at telling people what we think they should be doing, but it is their resource to work with and if we, as tropical timber buyers, we should be trying to steer in countries to work their forests in the most sustainable fashion and if we can steer them down the road of a certified product keeping their forest on the grounds. That commercial value gives the community a value and the forest is more likely to be kept as a forest as opposed to a land change use happening.

Sue: So there’s loads of things that we can dig into in the conversation, Roddy, about that whole sense of the value of a forest to the country it’s in and seeing the commercial benefit for both the local community and those that are buying the timber, such as your company. I want to take us right back to this comment about being a fifth generation family business. To be able to have any business sustain over five generations requires quite a bit of effort because most businesses don’t often survive after the third generation. So as a young boy, I’m wondering what seeped into you from the family business as you were growing up?

Roddy: The timber industry can be a funny place. A lot of people, once they start in the timber industry, they don’t necessarily leave it. They’d say that the sawdust gets in your blood and it’s very hard to shift. I mean for me I guess I’ve always been around the timber since I was probably about eight or nine. I had an upbringing running around the yard at the weekends which probably you couldn’t do these days in terms of the health and safety element that commercial businesses all live with now. My nine-year-old isn’t running around jumping from log to log on the pack of timber here but I certainly did,  and you just absorb, don’t you, at that age? You’re just absorbing stuff. My father was away travelling a lot in the tropics and he would come back and tell stories. And I always remember Guyana, where we still buy a lot and I travel a lot, I’d heard that Guyana had a lot of sugarcane fields. And I said to Dad, I really want a sugarcane. Because I just had it in my head you would chew it and it would taste really sweet and it’d be amazing. Anyway, I don’t know how he did it, but he got a bit of sugarcane home eventually and I started to chew it and it wasn’t what I’d imagined. But it was just these things that sort of seep into you as a youngster if your family are engaged in these things.

Sue: Did you want to grow into the business? Did you want to become part of the business or did you have ambitions to do something else and you were then pulled into it?

Roddy: I think as a 10, 12 year old boy, who doesn’t want to go to the tropical rainforest? I mean, it’s pretty cool. And I know I was never pushed into the business, which I think is key. If you’re, as a teenager, you’re sort of railroaded, then you’re just going to rebel to that. So it was never really talked about at home, but I saw the sort of opportunities. And yeah, I always wanted a career in the forest sector, actually, because I’m an outdoor person. I was never drawn to an office job or anything like that. You know, don’t get me wrong, I had an insight into what happened in the forest industries. And as a teenager, it looked pretty good. At one stage I had considered joining the Forestry Commission here, or Forestry Scotland as they’re now called, but then I guess the lure of the tropics got hold of me, and I had a placement lined up to go and do a year working with the Forestry Commission at Lochgilphead, which would have been great, but I also had something lined up to go work with a research station in Sabah on the north end of Borneo, and Borneo won.

Sue: So when you got there and you were working on your placement, what did you learn from that experience of being in the tropics and around the rainforest?

Roddy: The key thing I learned is most of the wildlife is more scared of you than you are of it. That was probably the first thing. That was really good actually, out there as a 20 year old, my understanding of history of forests in terms of exploitation. As humans, we haven’t always exploited the natural resources in the most sustainable way, and the project I was involved with in Sabah, in a conservation area called Danum Valley, just on the edge of that were there was areas that had been massively overlogged in the 80s, and it was all about trying to bring that forest back into what would be considered a natural forest. The big thing that that taught me is that our industry has done wrong in the past and we need to make sure that we try and continue forward doing right. And what happened in that situation in Sabah is that in the 80s, it was overlogged. And so the canopy had been lost. And once you lose the canopy of the climax species you want, it takes a long, long time to come back. And you have to actively manage that land to try and get primary forest back, which is exactly what we were doing out there, or the experiment was. And now that really instilled to me when we’re buying out here, we need to be making sure that we’re buying from sources that are doing the right forestry and maintaining the canopy. I mean, it’s key. I’ll preach all day long at the gap size and maintaining the canopy. And that really comes from seeing the impact as a 20 year old. It makes me understand the issues of where it has gone wrong previously.

Sue: So from a business perspective, have there been any sort of guiding principles that have been handed down from generation to generation? in order then to maintain the company in the way that you want it to run?

Roddy: I wouldn’t say key guiding principles. I think as a family-run business, I think prudence is a big part of that. We don’t need to be greedy. Our long-term objectives are slightly different to a business that is maybe first generation, 10 years old, where it’s maximising profit. I’m fifth generation, right? I don’t want to be the guy holding the baby if it all goes wrong. So part of our ethos is sustainability, economic sustainability, as opposed to maximizing profit and walking out the door with a shed load of cash and the business falls down around you. Don’t get me wrong, every business has to be profitable, right? Otherwise we all die. But right up there in our objectives is longevity as well. And not being greedy. We don’t need to cream money out of the business. We don’t need to be millionaires. We don’t need to be cutting around the south of France in a luxury yacht. It’s far better that the money is put back into the business.

Sue: That’s such an important principle, Roddy. For any business to be thinking about isn’t just always profit maximisation. It’s a long-term sustainability goal as well. What will exist over time, not just in the short term. So one of the things that intrigued me when I spoke to you initially was this idea that if I came into your timber yard today and looked at a piece of wood, I could trace back to the stump in the forest where it came from. Is that what happens?

Long-term sustainability and traceability

Roddy: Yeah. In the well-managed tropical forests, it’s very different. People in the UK, they think of forestry and they see plantation forests that are all chopped down and then all replanted. in two actions, all chopped down and then over planted six, 12 months later. In the tropics, you cannot do that. You have to take small amounts, take a log here, a log there to maintain the canopy. And in any working forest in the tropics done well, the first thing they do is there’s a management plan drawn up for that area. And part of that management plan is inventory maps. So the forest is divided into depends which country you’re operating in, but either kilometre squared plots, or a quarter of that, quarter kilometre squared, depending on the country. And then every tree of commercial value in that block is mapped. And then you produce what’s called an inventory map. So even before you think about felling, you’ve got a map of where all the potential trees are. And that is the beginning of your traceability, because those potential trees that you might come and fell are all given numbers.

And so when they’re planning the construction of roads to access and skid trails to pull logs out, then they use these maps to minimize excess road building in the forest and to where to build the roads that does the least damage to the forest. You wouldn’t try and build a road through a swamp, but you would keep to the higher ground. And that is done on an economic basis as much as an environmental basis. The two come hand-in-hand. I get quite frustrated when people think that they’re two different things, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability. Within a forest, the two of them, they go hand-in-hand more often than not. So that inventory map becomes the first part of your traceability. So each of the trees are then given an inventory number, roads are planned, put in, and then they come in to fell the trees. Again, that part of reduced impact logging, they fell the trees in a certain direction to minimise the gaps created in the canopy. And then once that tree is felled, you have a logging tag. One is put on the stump and one is put on the log. And then the log is skidded out to the road, put on a logging truck and taken to the sawmill. Once it comes into the sawmill, that is cut up to timbers. For the timbers we’re using predominantly for the marine sector, they have large square sections, 300mm square, that come from the centre of the log. Then the logging tag stays with that 300mm by 300mm square and it comes on notes as it comes through the mill, then the same logging tags appear as it’s trucked from the mill to the port and from port to us. So when we do it once a year, at least for our supply chain, our producers will go to the producers with a a list of log tags to say, right, let’s go and check these.

And that way you’re tracing back through the system. You find it in the sawmill, you find it in the log yard, and then you go back to the inventory. You see it on the inventory map, and then you walk into the forest and you find the stump in the forest. So we do that as part of the UK timber regulations, which we’ll have to meet to bring timber into the UK. That’s government legislation. So that is quite unique. In the softwood industry, you would do it in batches. So you would have a batch of log numbers, and it would be harder to trace the exact stumps in the forest, just because of the practicalities of that. You have so much timber coming through, but the hard part is is a slightly different beast. It’s a more valuable log. And because we’re taking the heart of the timber for these squares, it all becomes part of the traceability. And so we literally can and do regularly trace back to the stump in the forest, which has become a lot easier with over the last 10 years with the forest sector incorporating a lot more GPS technology. But yeah, we’ve been able to do that for 15 years plus.

Sue: And there’s a great video on your website that I watched of the process in action and even seeing how little impact there is in the forest when a tree is felled. I found that was quite fascinating.

Sustainable tropical logging practices

Roddy: Yeah, I personally forget because it’s second nature to me, right? Going into the forests and seeing a logging operation, I’ve totally become a bit blasé, I guess, that so few people actually realise what is involved in a tropical logging operation. And in the size of a football field, you’re only taking two or three trees. So it’s very light touch logging. And you’re going in, depending on which country and what felling cycle they’re working on, you’re going in every 30 or every 60 years. So you’re taking small amounts and creating small gaps in the canopy to let the next generation grow into that gap. So it’s not this section of bulldozers going through the forest, very far from it. Anything you see like that in the tropics is land use change. It’s not forestry because as foresters, if the canopy is lost, it’s very hard to get that forest back. And as a tropical forestry industry, we suffer greatly from this perception of bulldozers going through the forest and smoking ruin and that’s forestry. But the actual reality on the ground is totally different to that perception.

Sue: And yes, I would definitely say worth watching that video on the website to get a sense of what the reality is. The Access to Inspiration podcast is free to listen to, but not free to produce. So if you’re enjoying this episode, then why not buy me a coffee? Just click on the link you’ll find on the website and then I can enjoy that coffee when I’m working on future episodes. Now back to our guest. I’m also then struck that as a timber merchant, you’re supplying to an industry. You mentioned the marine industry there. What’s so special about the hardwood for the industry that you’re supplying to.

Hardwood for marine industry

Roddy: So one of our specialties is these very hard civil engineering timbers, predominantly for the marine sectors. And we sell a lot of that to coastal defence on the south coast of England and the east coast, where you’ve got groynes in the beaches. And so what timber’s great at in these marine environments, especially a beach environment, naturally it’s very durable. So in a beach groyne, you’ll get 45 to 60 years out of it. even with the abrasion from the sand on the seas coming in and out. So it will outperform concrete or steel in these environments. And plastics, I mean plastics are no good in the marine environment, in that abrasive environment, because when the shingle abrades timber, it’s just organic material that is then put back into the sea. It is not microbeading and the metals just don’t last as long. So It is, in the marine environment, these timbers, Greenheart, Azobe or Eke, they’re phenomenal. For piers, for building wharfs or piles for piers, we were involved in a job last month. A contractor pulled out old timber piles from a Plymouth dockyard that were 80 years old. They came up here, we sawed them down, so cut off about maybe 25 mil off each face. and then put them back down to the south of England for another pier job. So they’ll go on to do another 60, 80 years.

So these timber products, the right timber with the right durability and strength capabilities are phenomenally in the marine environment. And there’s no chemicals involved. There’s no anode protection that you might have with steel. And the real sort of The real positive at the end of that is also the carbon element of these timbers. So these timbers, when they’re growing in the forest, they absorb a huge amount of carbon. We then use them in the marine environment and that carbon is locked up for the lifespan of that job. So this particular job we talked about there, you’ve got 160 years carbon locked up for. And in the meantime, the forest is regrowing out in West Africa or Guyana, South America, and absorbing carbons. Greenheart products that we’re selling into the UK, for every cubic metre of Greenheart arrived in the UK and used on a job, 1.24 tonne of carbon is being stored in the Guyanese forests as it’s regrowing. And so there’s no other building material in the marine environment that can get anywhere near that kind of carbon footprint. Again, the timber industry is a victim of its own success to a certain extent because it’s been around such a long time. It’s not the new in trendy material, but it doesn’t need to be because it’s very good at what it does. And also now with the climate problems that we are having, if managed well and bought from the right sources, it can have a real positive impact on trying to do what we can to reduce the climate issues we are having.

Sue: So that’s very impressive, Roddy. I’m wondering then, given again that you’re the middle person here, what has the greatest pull? Is it supply or demand? How are you balancing both?

Roddy: I’d say demand has the biggest pull. Certainly I’m talking from a Guyanese perspective, that’s where I spend the most time. The Guyanese forests, the are lucky if per year, if they cut about a third of their annual allowable cut. So it is not supply that is driving anything, it is demand that is driving it. And from a selfish perspective, I think that’s brilliant. I wouldn’t want the Guyanese to cut their full annual allowable cut. I mean, they could, and they would still have the same amount of sustainable forestry left. I think it’s a really good marketing point for us is that the government are allowed to cut, I think it’s 30,000 cubic meters a year of logs, and they’re lucky if they get 10. So when we’re pushed on sustainability, saying, well, I’ll tell you what, we’re taking a third of what they’re allowed to take. And so, yeah, it is not a supply that is driving how much we’ll buy. It is some demand. I mean, we could buy way more. but you can only sell so much. And we’re hoping that demand will continue to increase as people realise the carbon benefits, which is a big thing for public sector projects, and people start to get a better understanding on supporting tropical timber is a really good thing, as opposed to it’s a negative issue. Because those days are gone as long as you’re buying from the right certified forest.

Sue: That makes complete sense. And then you’re helping the local community in the country, such as Guyana, to have a thriving economy there too.

Roddy: Yeah, for sure. Whether it’s Guyana or West Africa, in terms of these tropical timbers, much like the UK, right, a lot of the jobs in these countries are orientated around the cities, and particularly the capitals. So if we can support industry in the more rural areas, in the forests, in some cases days drive from the capital, then you’re helping support a rural population. And you see it most tellingly in Africa where you have huge villages grow up around the big FSC concessions out there. They do a really good job of providing a lot of services to the local community that wouldn’t be there without a logging operation or a forestry operation. So things like schools, hospitals, all spring up as they’re part funded by the forest operations in areas of West Africa that wouldn’t exist without this commitment to be buying sustainably managed timber. UN have 17 sustainability goals and forest operations in the developing world, in the tropics, they assist and go part way to meeting 13 of those 17 sustainability goals. So the real positive story coming out of the tropical forest management is that we are taking a product out of the forest, yes, but we are leaving a very, very vibrant forest environmentally, but also socially and economically. So there’s huge additional knock-on effects to a rural economy than just economic benefit to the rural area.

Sue: So it’s really influencing a much bigger ecosystem. There’s more to this buying a piece of timber than one might think about.

Positive impacts of sustainable forestry

Roddy: Absolutely, 100%. The level of management that goes into these forests is way more complicated than people assume. And then the downstream knock-on benefits from a well-managed forest are are huge, that again, it’s a bit like an iceberg, right? You know, people just think there’s maybe a wee bit of economic benefit from it that probably they assume goes to some big corporate somewhere. But underneath that tiny little bit of iceberg, there’s a huge mass of the iceberg that is providing environmental benefits, water quality benefits, education benefits, health benefits. The list just goes on and on and on. And people find it difficult to take on, but a logged forest will have the same amount of environmental benefits as an unworked forest. And a logged forest will absorb more carbon than an unworked forest. So using timber from a worked forest is adding loads of benefits that people might not realise and probably would assume they don’t.

Sue: There’s a whole backstory that you’re sharing with us today that will help our listener get a different perspective on what is the reality when they’re buying some tropical timber, where it comes from and how it’s supporting that country.

Roddy: Yeah, I’d like to think so. I mean, a lot of people’s perception is that we shouldn’t buy or take anything from the tropical forest, from the rainforest. But that is outdated and it is not realistic. I said right at the beginning, I brought in the word commercial, right? We live in the real world. We have to be commercial about this. So if we are, as a Western society, if we are not engaged with dealing and working with these forests, then there will be other less scrupulous countries will come in and take as much of the assets as they can. So we can’t live in this little fairyland where, oh, just leave the forests alone, because the world doesn’t work like that and it will never work like that. Someone will come in. So we, as Western buyers, really need to be in there operating, saying, we need to be doing this sustainably. Realize that it’s actually pretty important to support these tropical forests, because the more you support them, the more there’s income going into these rural economies. the more they can develop in terms of infrastructure, then the more value you’re placing on that tropical forest, and the more value you place on it, the more likelihood there is that that tropical forest remains as a forest and isn’t lost to a mining operation or agriculture, because the local economies are trying to develop one way or another. And if they can develop by sustainably managing their forests, then that is great.

Sue: As you’re speaking, Roddy, I’m picturing, just as you might go into a restaurant these days and click on an app and see the cow from which you’re eating the steak in your dinner and the farm on which it was farmed, I’m seeing the same idea of a video that actually helps the buyer understand and see the forest from which their log came from.

Roddy: Yeah, we have been discussing exactly that with one of our Guyanese suppliers in terms of giving us QR codes with the documentation, which will then bring up an image of Google Earth. That is where your trees have come from and go onto Google Earth, like Guyana or anywhere, Guyana’s 87% forest cover and you’ll just see forest. And that’s all you would see if we go down that road with the QR codes. And it’s the same out of West Africa and they can do the same in Cameroon and Congo. Yeah, but we’re foresters can be a little bit slow to embrace technology. So we haven’t quite got there yet, but we’re really not far away.

Sue: That’s exciting times. You’ve mentioned to me that in terms of engaging with your suppliers, the value and the quality of relationships, what role do you think relationships play in that engagement with your suppliers? And what is it that you do to maintain the quality of the relationships?

Maintaining supplier relationships

Roddy: I think that relationship is really important. Supplier and buyer, you both have to be successful for it to work. There’s no point in a buyer squeezing the supplier down and down so he becomes not profitable. You both rely on each other. So it has to work for both sides for that transaction to work. And I guess that comes back to one of our objectives in longevity. right? We don’t want to deal with suppliers that aren’t going to be there in five years’ time. Or we’ve driven the price down so low that they can’t operate. We don’t run that supermarket model of just driving everything down, down, down, down. And that was all part of relationships, right? The timber industry is in a lot of respects quite old-fashioned, which in that supplier-buyer relationship is a lovely thing, right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everything old-fashioned is good, but the way that we deal with a lot of our suppliers where we still don’t see them, I’m in Guyana four or five times a year, I’m in contact with our African guys.

I’m in Africa a couple of times a year, and I certainly speak to them, and it’s that person-to-person contact in the timber industry is it’s still really real and it’s so important because you need to be able to look your supplier in the eye and get a handle on them and they need to do the same to you because equally they don’t want you to disappear in five years time because they still want a customer and it’s a big part of that on how we operate as a business is we’re still One of the businesses that is left traveling, that is still going to the country to see the people doing the work on the ground. We’re not sort of driving a desk and doing everything by email. We’re still going out to the Republic of Congo or Cameroon and Guyana to meet the suppliers. And then if the supplier knows you, then they’re less likely to give you something that you don’t want or to try and pull the wool over your eyes. And if you have that personal relationship where you’ve spent time over dinner, you’ve like traveled with them, in a pickup for two days straight to get to the forest. So you’ve had chats and you know about each other’s family. It just adds a sort of level of stability to a certain extent to a business relationship. And that’s what we want, because we want stability. I mean, no business wants to be unsure of its supply chain. you need to have confidence in that supply chain and we do treat it as a two-way street because you’ve both got to be successful for it to work.

Sue: It sounds to me like that level of trust that you build up with your suppliers and vice versa is an important thing. And I’m just wondering whether that focus on relationships and valuing those relationships, perhaps it wasn’t necessarily guiding principles, but something that is a thread that’s run through the five generations of the business.

Materials for sustainable construction

Roddy: I would say definitely, right? I mean, the timber industry, you have to have trust, right? Because what happens on the practicalities, the commercial realities, is that we’ll place a contract, and then the contract will then be loaded onto a boat. And then we’re expected to pay it after it’s loaded on the boat. So we haven’t seen the material, but we’re expected to pay it. So if you don’t have any trust, and you’re paying for material that you’ve not even seen, then you can end up in a lot of trouble. And it’s all part of that relationship. You go out and you eyeball the person. Is he likely to ship a whole lot of garbage and then send me documents? Well, you get a better handle on that if you’ve actually looked the guy in the face. Yeah, without trust, a lot of the tropical timber operation will fall apart. There’s still situations where things don’t go quite right. But as long as you have a relationship with the supplier, then you can iron out these things that do sometimes go wrong. I guess coming back to the fifth generation, I guess there’s so much stuff that is kind of embedded in me that I don’t really realise because it’s just been normal and that is probably one of them.

Sue: Well, what I’m taking from what you’re saying, Roddy, is the values of how you work as much as what you do. And so given that this is the Access to Inspiration podcast, I’m wondering, where do you get your inspiration from? Who or what inspires you?

Roddy: That’s a difficult one. I take real positives from a job done well. I’m very passionate about supporting the tropical timber industry and the people working in it. And I think that inspires me actually to try and help the industry improve itself. I take great value in the fact that we are trying to champion and getting there with all the sustainability qualifications and certifications and the very positive carbon story we have of changing people’s perceptions of what was a very unfashionable industry. That really pushes me ahead. I’m very passionate about that. Does that inspire me? Yeah, I guess it does. I mean, what I take inspiration from going to the forest. They’re amazing places to wander about and, well, you’ve just come back, right? There’s something about the forest that just, almost like the air contains more oxygen, you know, it’s just, it feels like a better place to be. And I say the same about the temperate rainforests that we have in Scotland, the remembrance of the proper oak rainforests we have out on the West Coast, they’re equally amazing places. I guess you can say I take inspiration from the forest to a certain extent. I’ve run around the last 20 years telling everyone I’m an environmentalist, but no one believes me. But it turns out that there we go, I am. And I guess as with the fifth generation, the business part of the inspiration is being able to hand it on. When the time comes, it’s almost like it’s stewardship. I am doing my bit and then I want to hand it on in as good or if not better condition than it has been passed on to me.

Sue: That was going to be my next question. It’s what you want your legacy to be for the next generation. But I think you quite clearly described it there.

Roddy: Yeah, I think my legacy, legacy is a big word. I’m just a wee Scotsman that runs around selling timber. But if we can do anything to change even one person’s opinion on tropical forestry, then I will be happy.

Sue: Well, I hope that at least one of our listeners might get a new perspective listening to what you’re saying today. My final question to you, Roddy, is if there’s one piece of advice that you would offer to our listener, if they were to do something differently as a result of what we’ve been talking about today, what’s the one thing you would hope that they would do?

Roddy: If someone’s doing a building project, if someone’s building a fence, if somebody is putting an extension on their house, think about materials. Do you need to use that new PVC decking or cladding or could you put a natural product in that place? Don’t be intimidated by a tropical forest product because of a preconceived idea that people have maybe picked up on from the last 10 years of negative media. Research a bit more about where products come from, the environmental damage of products before you write one off or decide what you’re doing, because your preconceived idea may well be wrong.

Sue: Well, that’s a lovely way to end our conversation today, Roddy, and certainly you’ve inspired me to think differently about this whole subject and the materials that we use for constructing things around our cities, towns and even in our houses. If people want to find out more about you and your business, how might they do that?

Roddy: Yeah, we’re Gilmour and Aitken based in southside, Glasgow. Obviously, the website, gilmouraitken.com Yeah, all our contact details are on that. A wee bit of our story is on that. Yeah, and we’re quite happy to field conversations. Wonderful.

Sue: Delighted to. And I would encourage you, listener, to go on that site and have a look at the video about how trees are felled in Guyana. Thank you again for your time today. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation and I wish you well in the future.

Roddy: Thanks Sue. Pleasure.

Sue: Thanks to our guest today, Roderick. and please let us know what resonated with you from his conversation with me. We do love to get your feedback. To listen to other guests who have an interest in the planet, I’d recommend episode 15 of the podcast, where Marlena Moreno and Shannon Rivera explained why conservation and collaboration go hand in hand. Next week, I’ll be speaking to mindset coach Danielle McDonagh, so I look forward to connecting with you then.

Host and Producer: Sue Stockdale
Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra