Over the past five years we have seen a dramatic increase in specifications that demand the usage of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. This is a result of the FSC being the only organization recognized by LEED so the design community has adopted it accordingly. As a result, our company has been influenced to provide FSC wood on many projects.
Like lemmings to the sea we all march with our FSC logos. Since the FSC has gained such widespread acceptance through its connection with LEED, I thought I would check into whether the FSC is really adding value. My take on the whole issue is that FSC has failed and has only succeeded in adding cost to the procurement of wood products.
I fully subscribe to the tenets of environmental stewardship. In addition to believing that all wood used in construction should come from properly managed forests, I also recycle, commute to work by bicycle and even own multiple programmable thermostats. But seriously, our company is dedicated to working with established mills to assure that all of our wood comes from well managed forests.
If you look at the FSC website (www.fsc.org) you will be bombarded with a very impressive message that states that we “shall promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world's forests.” After spending a couple of minutes on the site, one gets a warm feeling that the FSC is saving the environment, supporting underdeveloped economies and improving labor practices across the globe. I truly felt proud about being associated with such a great organization after reading the vision and mission statements. That is until I looked into the major problems with the program.
Although the FSC has over 150 hectares of global forests certified currently, this only amounts to 2% of the world’s forests. It is estimated that approximately 85% of those certified acres relate to wood used in paper production. So the FSC influence is minuscule when one looks at wood used for building materials. Since LEED only accepts forest products certified by FSC, this organization has been perceived to be the gold standard in wood certification. What many people don’t realize is that there are many other credible certification programs available on the market today. The American Tree Farm System (ATFS), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Timber Legality and Traceability Verification (TLTV), and Tropical Forest Trust (TFT) just to name a few. Currently the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is considering expanding the certification programs because the coverage of the FSC is so limited.
The FSC certification process also burdens the system with unnecessary costs. Not only does the FSC certify forest managers and owners, but they have a chain of custody (COC) certification for manufacturers and subcontractors who utilize certified wood. This means that small furniture manufacturers, casework companies, and millwork shops need to go through the cost and bureaucracy associated with securing and maintaining a certification. Since there is little to no policing of the certified parties to confirm they are practicing the proper utilization of certified woods, the certification amounts to little more than a right to use the FSC logo in marketing materials.
Some early adopters of the program have benefited from marketing the certification and are commanding higher prices in the marketplace. Not only is there an added cost for FSC wood due to the costs of certification, but this wood is being marketed as special when that really isn’t the case. Recently we purchased FSC certified mahogany from a mill. The cost of the certified wood was 20% greater than wood without a certification. The strange thing about this scenario is that the mahogany that was certified was the same mahogany that had no certification. The certified mahogany came with a three-page document verifying the certification of the forest and all parties who touched it. In our current economy do we really want to add such a useless tax on the industry?
It seems to me that there is a better solution for creating a system where all wood used in construction comes from properly managed forests. There has to be a solution that doesn’t add needless cost to the industry and does a better job of policing compliance. A manufacturer shouldn’t have to spend thousands a year to maintain a certification when there are less costly ways to document that all wood was purchased from managed forests
Brooks Gentleman has been in the wood window and architectural millwork business for the past 25 years and is currently the owner of Re-View, a manufacturer of custom wood window replicas for historic landmarks across the country based in Kansas City, MO.
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