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Who Wood Have Thought?

7/28/2005 12:00:00 AM

Tags: forest, products, green building

In response to last week’s post, we received a letter asking why the forest products industry would be considered a “foe” to green buildings. “I can understand why plastics and vinyl doesn’t make sense, but aren’t wood products exactly the kind of material that qualifies as green?” this reader asked.

It’s a tricky issue, and I’m glad she brought it up. Certainly wood qualifies as a natural, even renewable, material. However, in terms of sustainability, all wood is not equal. With its Sustainable Forestry Initiative label, the American Forest and Paper Association, a timber industry trade group, has been hoodwinking consumers into believing that wood from old-growth and endangered forests, harvested through clearcutting and other harmful logging practices, is actually “green.” The problems lie in the way some of the trees are grown—in heavily sprayed monoculture plantations—and also in the fact that many SFI-certified companies log or buy wood from some of the last unprotected wilderness areas in our national forests. Companies such as Pacific Lumber, which is logging the world’s last remaining ancient redwood forests, qualify for the label. These are the folks who are trying to have their way with the LEED standards.

Now, here’s where it gets a little more confusing. The Forest Stewardship Council is a reputable independent third-party certification agency created to change the dialogue about and the practice of sustainable forestry worldwide. The nonprofit FSC encourages responsible forest management, ensuring forestry is environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable. FSC-certified wood is from forests where trees are sustainbly harvested, ecosystems and biological diversity is conserved, and threatened or endangered species protected. If the forest industry giants have their way, SFI “certification” would replace FSC as a standard.

Make your blood boil? (It does mine.) The good news is, environmental groups are doing something about it. On May 20, conservation organizations involved in the Don’t Buy the SFI campaign ran a full-page ad in the New York Times with the headline “SFI = Same old Forest Industry: Destroying Forests, Deceiving Consumers.” The group’s website allows concerned consumers to get involved through letter-writing and other campaigns.

And, one last note. As consumers, our greatest power is with our pocketbooks. Ask specifically for FSC-certified wood wherever you buy it (even Home Depot and Lowe’s carry it these days). Don’t settle for a glib “sustainably certified” explanation from the sales clerk—make sure you’re supporting third-party certification. As our friend and board member David Johnston reminds us, “Only you can prevent forests from disappearing.”

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