W&WP March 2002
See also: Strong Home Sales Keeps Cabinet Industry Steady
What Happened to the Frameless Revolution?

Green Certification Has a Long Way to Go

While wood certification has gained steady acceptance among wood suppliers, among secondary producers it is just getting started.

By Greg Landgraf

Environmentally certified wood has been a big story in recent years, as timber companies have rushed to have their forests certified as sustainably managed under one or more certification systems. According to survey participants, however, certification's impact on the cabinet industry has so far been negligible.

Fourteen percent of survey participants say that they use certified woods in their products. Another 10 percent say that they do not currently use certified woods but are exploring the idea for the future.

Also evident from the survey, however, is some degree of confusion of what wood certification entails. One respondent says his company uses certified woods in its products but does not recognize any certification system. Another company president says his company uses certified woods but that he does not know which system.

KCMA's View
"I think it's working its way down, but it hasn't had much of an impact yet," says Dick Titus, executive vice president of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn.

Last September, the KCMA adopted a sustainable forest beliefs statement. The statement recognizes several certification systems as credible, but also says that an absence of certification does not necessarily mean a lack of quality forest management.

"The statement was intended to be prospective in nature," Titus says. "I think the focus of the attention, and rightfully so, remains with those growing and harvesting trees."

Titus notes that some cabinet companies, particularly those that export their products, have adopted their own policies on using certified wood. Titus says that some chain-of-custody issues need to be worked out before certification becomes widespread on the secondary producer level.

Focus Shifting From Suppliers
Michael Virga, director of sustainable forestry programs for the American Forest & Paper Assn., says that about half of the sawn lumber in North America is produced by Sustainable Forestry Intiative participants. He says that it is quite possible that survey participants may use wood from SFI-certified forests without knowing it. "Unless you really understand your supply base, you don't know," he says.

Both the Forest Stewardship Council and SFI acknowledge that their respective programs so far have focused on the wood suppliers. Hank Cauley, FSC executive director, says FSC's push so far has been on the forest management and retail ends.

"Where FSC has to focus is on the demand side," Cauley says, at least in the short term. By building demand among consumers, retailers and builders, FSC hopes to demonstrate the value of its system to cabinet and other wood product manufacturers.

Through independent U.S. certifiers Smartwood and Scientific Certification Systems, the FSC does offer a chain of custody certification to recognize secondary manufacturers as using certified wood.

Cauley says that FSC welcomes the idea that some companies view FSC certification as a way to differentiate their products. However, he also acknowledges that most manufacturers will not view 'because it's there' as a compelling reason to adopt product certification. "If I were to talk to a secondary producer, their reaction would be, 'Why should I get certified any sooner than I have to.'" Cauley says.

SFI does not yet offer certification for secondary products, but one is in development. "We have seen strong interest in having access to an on-product label," Virga says. He adds that such a label would require a "content audit" to certify that manufacturers are sourcing through certified suppliers.

Still Seeking Consumers
Despite the interest that SFI has received in a new product label, and despite the FSC's high-profile inroads into the retail market, the cabinetmakers surveyed have not yet seen significant interest among consumers James Lobley, president of Hagerstown Kitchens in Hagerstown, MO, says his company has had "Zero request for certified wood from customers." Lobley says about 65% of the company's product uses wood from SFI-certified forests, which the company promotes at the point-of-purchase and through newsletters.

Virga says that SFI has started a communications initiative to try to build consumer interest. "Consumers aren't yet asking for certified woods - the interest is coming from retailers and manufacturers," Virga says.

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