Coming to a Store Near You: Certified Wood

January 3, 2001


As timber-rich states and regions grapple with public calls for ending clear-cutting or otherwise restricting logging on private lands, one notion that is emerging as a potential solution is third-party certification that private forest practices meet "green" standards.

Two major rating systems exist now in the United States. One is the Sustainable Forest Initiative, developed by the American Forest & Paper Association, an industry group. The other, administered by two different organizations in the US, follows the more rigorous guidelines of the international Forest Stewardship Council.

The two systems have different standards on some of the most controversial forest practices. For instance, while SFI suggests keeping clearcuts under 120 acres, FSC generally discourages the practice. FSC also encourages using alternatives to chemical pesticides, while SFI recommends using "best management practices." FSC does not allow new conversions of natural forest to plantations, while SFI does. The two systems also differ on the amount of company-specific information that may be disclosed to the public.

The American Forest & Paper Association requires compliance with SFI of all its members, while FSC certification is sought voluntarily by participating companies.

Companies that have undergone third-party verification of compliance with SFI include Georgia-Pacific, International Forest Products, International Paper, Louisiana-Pacific, Mead Paper, Pacific Lumber Co., and Weyerhaeuser.

(Environmentalists note that Pacific Lumber, famous for owning the Headwaters redwood forest in Northern California, had formally complied with SFI requirements during the same period its license to practice forestry in California was suspended after hundreds of violations of state rules.)

The FSC process is costly and generally doesn't win the companies a premium on their products. But retail giant Home Depot, the country's largest lumber retailer, recently gave companies a powerful incentive by committing to give preference to suppliers of independently certified wood by the end of 2002.

FSC-certified wood is showing up in products ranging from dimensional lumber to guitars, plywood to pencils, decking and flooring to wine barrels and mousetraps.

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