Green Building Standards Take Hard Line on Forest Products


Article by Amy Hengst appearing courtesy of Matter Network.

Once upon a time, the levies along the rivers in Sacramento, California were becoming unstable, so the city planted Eastern white oak trees to help root and hold them in place. The trees grew to maturity, but eventually the city re-evaluated them and realized they were no longer stabilizing the levies. The trees needed to be taken out.

Such is the story from Earth Source Forest Products, an organization that stepped in and bought up all the old oak wood, to recycle and resell. The company claims to be one of the first companies certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an independent, non-profit organization that strives to make sure its members harvest and manufacture their hardwood products responsibly. According to Earth Source, the FSC is the strictest of the standards-setting bodies for responsible forest management.

As I spoke with a representative from Earth Source at the West Coast Green conference about their reclaimed wood, I was distracted by a giant pyramid of wooden boxes being raised up in a nearby booth, reaching maybe 10 feet up toward the ceiling.

When I wandered over, a man in a stylish bowler hat started a spiel about the dovetail boxes in the pyramid, all made in different sizes and colors of wood. This was Max Hunter with Western Dovetail, a company that creates custom drawers for commercial clients.

When I asked Hunter if it was all recycled or reclaimed wood, he paused for a second and said no. Then he explained that recycled woods were not really available for those types of woodwork and cabinetry. Instead, the company uses new materials that are also certified by the FSC as well as compliant with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards , to create their custom boxes that they sell to commercial clients.

He agreed that the FSC is a strict standards body and said it was good to have strict oversight. Companies who want to be certified must pay a membership fee and undergo an annual independent evaluation. Each member is awarded a number, which is stamped on each piece of wood as it passes through their factories or mills. At each step, their customers know that they are purchasing FSC-certified wood, he said.

But FSC isn’t the only standards body available. Another vendor, Chuck Kuhn with Jeld-Wen Windows, explained that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is a competing organization that provides standards for responsible forestry as well.

According to Kuhn, the SFI is newer than the FSC but the two organizations have a different focus as well: while the FSC concentrates on hardwood forests, the SFI is more focused on softwoods. He said that Green Building Council’s LEED standards originally included the FSC standards as part of their certification, but have recently revised their verbiage to include SFI standards as well.

[photo credit: Flickr]



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