For two solid days, 250 of us drawn to Indianapolis Oct. 28-29 for the “Dollars & Sense of Going Green” conference immersed ourselves in all manner of public forum, small group and individual discussions, discourses and debates about the challenges and opportunities created by the burgeoning green movement.

We talked at length about the concepts of forest and wood certification; the supply and demand of certified lumber; and ultimately who bears the costs of certification from tree to end product. We also delved into the wood industry’s stake in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Development programs, the wide variety of environmental programs recently launched by major wood industry trade associations and the impact of the California Air Resources Board’s formaldehyde emissions standards for composite panel producers and fabricators.

In case I wasn’t thoroughly convinced at the conference that green is in, I returned to my office to find the October cover of Mad magazine, with the headline, “MAD GOES GREEN!” taped to my door.

If Alfred E. Newman has jumped on board the green bandwagon, then what are the rest of us waiting for?

Mad, Indeed

Sentiments and opinions expressed by attendees and presenters during the Dollars & Sense event, organized by Purdue University and Wood & Wood Products, ran the gamut from those who are mad that North American wood industry professionals must certify they are good stewards of our hardwood forests and its byproducts, to those who say you must be mad if you ignore that certification is gaining traction in the marketplace.

It would take a book to even begin to chronicle all that took place at the conference. Trust me, you had to be there. Some of the themes that permeated through multiple presentations, conference Q&A sessions and networking conversations, included:

• It is difficult for secondary manufacturers to procure certified timber and lumber, especially by grade, species and size, let alone in a just-in-time environment. Dan Meyer, Appalachian regional editor, for Hardwood Publishing, noted that certification systems were developed for large land ownerships, and that about 80 percent of hardwood forests are owned by nearly 10 million private concerns with an average of 10 acres. Small hardwood forest owners have little incentive to take on the additional cost and paperwork burden to certify their land. Meyer provided this mind-numbing statistic: Even if 10,000 of these small forest owners were certified each year, after 500 years, only 50 percent of them would have been certified.

• The LEED programs adopted by the U.S. Green Building Council only recognize the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification scheme. Many conference delegates voiced their hope that the USGBC, which is reviewing its wood policy, would also recognize other certification programs, including the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Mac Williams, chair of the USGBC chapter of Indiana, noted that a recent Yale Department of Forestry study found “no clear rationale” for why FSC should be preferred over other certified schemes.

• Achieving and maintaining chain of custody wood certification can be costly and time-consuming, especially for smaller wood products businesses. Added to this is the hassle of maintaining separate inventories of certified woods so they don’t co-mingle with non-certified materials.

• Going green goes well beyond wood certification issues. Thomas Reardon, executive director of the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn., and Dick Titus, executive vice president of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn., each noted that their respective groups has developed voluntary environmental programs for certifying their members’ products and processes. This includes taking into account energy conservation, reducing VOC emissions and recycling materials.

• A two-hour workshop on the CARB rule presented by John Bradfield, director of environmental affairs for the Composite Panel Assn., underscored the efforts panel producers have made to reduce urea formaldehyde emissions in particleboard, MDF and hardwood plywood. William LePage, vice president of operations for Simple Furniture Co., noted in a separate presentation that while the ready-to-assemble furniture company’s green initiatives have included obtaining FSC chain-of-custody certification, a bigger market impact has been realized by switching to hardwood plywood panels containing no-added formaldehyde.

• Wood certification is complex and further muddled by an alphabet soup of acronyms — FSC, SFI, LEED, etc. Yet, Keith Atherholt, president of Lewis Lumber Products, noted to the audience, “You need to become the experts on these matters and educate your customers. This is where the industry is going.”

• Chad Wheeler, plant manager of Custom Plywood Inc., noted, “This conference is a great start to educating more people.”

I couldn’t agree more and add my personal kudos to Purdue Prof. Dan Cassens for spearheading a most timely, thought-provoking event.

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