Eco-Label stamp fights for seal of approval

GREEN ID FSC-certified lumber from Fairfax Lumber, in Fairfax Calif., isn’t labeled, so the dealer paints the ends green to help distinguish it from the other lumber in the yard.

KANSAS CITY, MO. —At one point during a mostly calm, but occasionally testy public forum on the subject of eco-labeling of dimension lumber, a representative from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) posed the following question: “If you do away with the chain of custody, how do I know that the claim on that final product is true?”

In a heartbeat, someone shouted out an answer: “With a stamp.”

That exchange captured one of the key differences of opinion among the participants of the forum held here by the LBM Institute (LBMI), the educational and research arm of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA).

The existing chain-of-custody paper-trail system to track lumber harvested from sustainable forests was roundly criticized by the dealers present, but supported by representatives of eco-management certification programs Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the SFI.

The purpose of the forum was to “gather industry and stakeholder perspectives” on the idea of such an eco-stamp. The meeting, which brought about 40 stakeholders to the Kansas Marriott, began with heavy hitters from the lumberyard industry speaking out in support of the concept of an easy-to-track “eco-label” that would be stamped on soft lumber harvested from sustainable forests.

“There is a definite supply-side problem with trying to keep track of all the various type of lumber certifications,” said Paul Hylbert, CEO of Denver-based ProBuild Holdings. “In general, trying to keep track of the product and keep it separated is not easy. So the idea of an eco-stamp on product is really appealing to us and would reduce our costs.”

Hylbert described his company as “hugely supportive” of both sustainability and green building. “It’s kind of like apple pie and motherhood,” he said. He added that ProBuild was supportive of all the major certification systems, but there should be a more efficient way to track sustainability.

Kirk Grundahl, executive director of the WTCA, representing the structural building components industry, pointed to an apparent debate among certifiers, such as the FSC and SFI. “That’s not our gig,” he said. “We just want lumber.”

Moderator Valerie Hansen, LBMI Trustee, opened the meeting with a discussion of an LBMI eco-labeling initiative that proposed to eliminate the current chain-of-custody documentation requirements that follow lumber products from the mill to the end user.

Under the LBMI proposal, eco-labeling would lead a to a marketplace with two kinds of dimensional lumber inventories—one with a label indicating a “sustainable forests standard” and one without the label. The certification system would be similar to the grade stamps now administered by the American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC) and the Department of Commerce.

Hansen said one action item from the meeting was to encourage dealers and builders to provide input to the U.S. Green Building Council calling for acceptance of multiple forest certifications for LEED projects. Currently, LEED projects require FSC lumber, which in turn requires chain of custody documentation.

The LMBI also intends to meet with ALSC later this month.

Dan Fessler, owner of St. Paul, Minn.-based Lamperts, described praised the concept of an eco-stamp, but wondered if was doable. “A lot of people put a lot of money behind certificate on programs that are already in place,” he said.

Representatives from FSC and the SFI held firm behind the status quo, though both groups expressed willingness to look for ways to make current chain-of-custody requirements easier to manage.

In a statement released by the FSC, the group said it “sees no need for development of additional standards.”

The Sustainable Forest Initiative’s position was presented during the forum by the SFI’s Allison Welde, manager of conservation partnerships and communications. She expressed concern for any new system that would bypass the chain-of-custody process.

“If you create a new standard that’s perceived as not as robust as what’s already out there, then you go through a lot of work, a lot of time and money,” she said. “And at the end of the day, you’re just back where you’re started.”

But the dealers in the forum were quick to emphasize that the lumberyard industry doesn’t want additional standards, either—just a practical way to track the existing standards.

“People in this room are highly supportive of the concept of green building, doing things in a sustainable and responsible method,” said Gene McKinney, vp of purchasing and product development for Tindell’s, based in Knoxville, Tenn.

“The whole concept of trying to keep up with paperwork that the wood is from certified forests is unrealistic. The whole notion of a certified forest grade stamp simplifies the process and takes cost and burden out of the process and just makes good common sense to go that route.”

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