W&WP October 2000



Going for the Green

By Rich Christianson


Slowly, in some respects grudgingly, "green" certification is taking root in the U.S. wood products marketplace. It's not happening as quickly as its biggest proponents and benefactors might have led us to believe. But it's also not going away, as its most ardent opponents would like to have seen.

To better appreciate the forest and wood product certification movement's evolution in the industry's conscience, consider the shifting stance of the International Wood Products Assn., formerly known as the IHPA. The IWPA, which represents the interests of hardwood importers, has long been one of wood certification's most vocal critics. In the past, the IWPA has viewed certification as more of a marketing ploy than a mechanism needed to promote better-managed forests.

In the September 1994 issue of Wood & Wood Products, Robert Waffle, then director of government affairs for the association still known as the IHPA, participated in a point/counterpoint article debating the potential benefits and suspected profit motives of the green certification movement. In a rebuttal to the pro-certification viewpoints espoused by representatives of Scientific Certification Systems, Waffle wrote, "(W)hile the certifiers may consider themselves in the position of the PC (politically correct) manufacturers in the '60 and '70s, I wonder if certification's not more like the 'pet rock' or bell bottoms; very hip and trendy, but gone in a few years after the 'new' wears off."

Then and Now

Zipping ahead to April 26, 1996, the IHPA's Board of Directors put its sentiments on paper by approving a position statement on certification. In part, that statement read, "IHPA has found there is no demand for certification on the part of the vast majority of end-users of these products, especially if there is an expectation that the end-user help pay for additional costs associated with certification. IHPA also finds that current self-described 'third-party, independent' certification programs are very expensive, contain criteria addressing social and other issues that are non-quantifiable and often beyond the control of forest managers, and make little, if any positive contribution toward addressing the real issues affecting forest management and/or deforestation. Therefore, IHPA recommends that each individual company consider whether the pursuit of certification, in any manifestation, is in their best interest."

The association's rhetoric is considerably toned-down in the revised statement of certification that its board unanimously adopted on July 27. It reads in part:

"The International Wood Products Assn. acknowledges the interest in certified timber products and verification of good forest management.

"A number of certification and verification systems are in operation or in development today, and IWPA makes no judgement against or endorsement of any single plan.

"Certification can serve as an audit of work already being done toward improved forest management. An absence of certification, however, does not mean there is a lack of quality forest management."

The statement concludes: "The IWPA and its member companies strongly endorse the development of a mutual recognition system and support any and all efforts that will further enhance management of the world's forests and growth of global and sustainable trade in wood products."

Changing Landscape

The purpose of pointing out the IWPA's about-face on certification is not meant to criticize the association but to acknowledge the impact of the chain of events that is taking place in the industry and the marketplace.

First, major home center chains including Home Depot, Lowes, Menards and HomeBase have announced plans to phase out selling all products made with "old-growth" or "environmentally sensitive" woods and to phase in more products made with third-party certified woods.

Second, major wood products players, including Willamette, SierraPine, Plum Creek and Weyerhaeuser, have recently begun certifying their forests, products or both.

Third, for those who haven't noticed, bell bottoms are back.


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