10 green conference observations
August 15, 2011 | 11:06 am CDT
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When it comes to being green, the wood products industry is simultaneously in an enviable and vulnerable place compared to practically any other manufacturing industry.

Unlike steel, concrete or plastics, wood is a renewable resource that brings unique form and function into our daily lives as furniture, flooring, desks, doors, stairs and much, much more. Furthermore, particleboard, MDF and hardwood plywood panels facilitate the fabrication of high-value wood products while stretching wood resources by putting to use wood fibers that would otherwise be burned or landfilled.

Yet, how trees are harvested and forests are managed is of heightened interest and concern. And urea formaldehyde, a prime ingredient in most panel products because of its price-performance characteristics, is a blemish on the panel industry’s green story.

Let’s Toot Our Horn

At the second Dollars & Sense of Going Green Conference, held last month in Schaumburg, IL, we were reminded just how environmentally friendly wood is and that as an industry, we haven’t done a particularly good job of communicating this fact.

As a follow-up to the conference, I put together more than 50 bullet points highlighting information that was presented. These are archived under Articles/Web Exclusives on WoodworkingNetwork.com. Whereas that amounted to the tip of the iceberg, the 10 points below represent the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

There are currently 300 million acres of FSC-certified forests worldwide, including 30 million acres in the United States, said Dr. Wolfram Pinker, partner of American Green Business. He said wood certification offers a “great marketing tool for the wood industry.”

2 Keynote presenter, Dan Meier, Appalachian editor of the Hardwood Review Weekly, presented fresh research on chain-of-custody (CoC) wood certification. Somewhat surprising, he noted that return on investment is a negligible factor for why companies seek CoC certification. The main drivers are: maintain or grow business; differentiate products in the marketplace; open access to markets requiring CoC wood products; and customer demand.

3 The first important step in seeking FSC chain of custody is to appoint a multi-functional point person who understands sales, manufacturing, IT, accounting and marketing, according to Jim Clarke, CFO of Banks Hardwoods, which obtained certification earlier this year. “If you don’t appoint someone who wants to engage the process, it will fail.”

4 Wood is the only building material that requires certification for sustainability under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. Yet, only one of 110 possible LEED points for office projects is directly tied to wood being FSC certified, according to Mike DiGuiro of Flexible Materials. Architects and designers can much more easily attain a point by adding a bike rack to their project.

5 Roger Rutan, vice president of Timber Products, said he believes the Sustainable Forestry Initiative “has become a credible competitor of FSC” and that the
USGBC will be hard pressed not to recognize SFI and other certification programs for LEED credit within the next few years.

6 The U.S. House of Representatives recently adopted Resolution 81, recognizing the sustainability of the U.S. hardwoods industry and its importance to the U.S. economy. This further acknowledges the health of U.S. hardwood forests, said Deb Hawkinson, executive director of the Hardwood Federation.

7 Canyon Creek Cabinets of Monroe, WA, takes great pains to make sure good wood does not wind up in the hogger. John Earl, environmental manager, said a supervisor must OK any “scrap” piece to be hogged. As a result of such due diligence, Canyon Creek has reduced the average waste per cabinet box from about $20 to $9 in recent years.

8 Kip Howlett, president of the Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Assn., noted that industry would benefit if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted California’s standard on formaldehyde emissions from particleboard, MDF and hardwood plywood as the basis of a national rule. In addition to making the rule uniform to all wood products companies that sell products in the United States, a national rule would “level the playing field” with imported wood products.

9 Kenn Busch, founder of Material Intelligence, noted that the entire value chain of the decorative laminate industry needs to learn to “speak the same language” to tout the product categories’ unique green story, which includes using substrates largely made of recovered wood fiber.

10 Wood products companies and their material providers should develop a written environmental statement that identifies what they value about the environment and effectively communicates those values to interested parties, said Margaret Fisher of Saunders Wood Specialties.

If you don’t have an environmental statement, make it your New Year’s resolution to create one.

See you in 2010!

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