Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Let's Acknowledge "Wood is Good"
Currently LEED recognizes only FSC-certified material as being able to contribute credits to LEED certified projects. Many have advocated that they should open up the standard to other certifying systems such as SFI and PEFC. There is also an understandably strong feeling in the U.S. hardwood industry that U.S. hardwoods should be recognized for their highly sustainable nature even though much of the nation's forests are not FSC-certified.
I don’t want to debate right now the differences between FSC and SFI or other groups and the details of forest management policy. I want to focus on the idea that “wood is good.” Wood, depending on how you calculate it, is the only building product with a negative carbon footprint. It is the only completely and indefinitely renewable building resource we have. It comes naturally in nearly infinite colors and patterns and qualities and many species offer incredible natural durability or strength that make it ideal for specific construction.
BREEAM, the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method is the U.K. counterpart for LEED. It gives a point simply for using wood, and then adds points for certified material. I’d like to encourage that concept with all green building programs. Let’s start by acknowledging first and foremost that “wood is good.” Let’s then say that “certified wood is better.” We might even say that “FSC is best,” and look at an additional point for that, but can’t we start with “wood is good?”
Less than 10% of the total global forest area, about 20% of total commercial forest area, is certified under one of about 60 different certification systems, either private or governmental in nature. These 296 million hectares of certified forest worldwide are heavily weighted towards the developed nations and temperate hardwood and softwood production. The amount of certified tropical timber available is very limited because of limited financial and technical resources in many developing countries.
As we’ve already discussed, we cannot stop purchasing tropical timber in an effort to save it. If you commit to only buying certified material, yes, it means there should be a slight increase in demand and therefore hopefully an increase of certified supply. However it might also mean a much greater increase in lost forests as poor countries who cannot afford certification turn to faster and easier means of utilizing the land for quick income. Our goal should be to give good value to all wood products and help developing countries expand their value-added production opportunities. The more long-term employment and financial return they see coming from their forest resources, the more incentive they will have to maintain a healthy and growing forest.
“Wood is good.” Can’t that be the bottom line and we move on together from there?
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Ask Your Supplier for LKS
Part of my tour in South America was done as a GFTN Mission. The GFTN (Global Forest Trade Network) is a program developed by the World Wildlife Foundation (yes, the folks with the panda logo). The WWF recognized that only by working with industry and developing active, healthy and responsible forest industries could they ensure the long-term survival of the native forests. The GFTN networks with companies interested in responsible sourcing and production and provides a tremendous range of tools and information for both producers and buyers.
One area of the GFTN program is the study and commercial development of Lesser Known Species (LKS). Everyone knows ipé, but how many have worked with angelim pedra decking instead? Some studies indicate that up to 93 percent of tropical forest volume consists of LKS. If we’re to develop an ongoing healthy forest industry, we have to move beyond just ipé and jatoba. (Or African sapelli or Malaysian merbau—there are LKS in all the tropical regions, not just South America.)
Other groups recognize the need to increase the usage of LKS. The IWPA (International Wood Products Association) has an LKS taskforce and there are a number of USAID-sponsored programs throughout the world assisting local governments with their forest inventory and research programs. The USDA’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., works regularly to expand the world’s technical knowledge base for LKS, analyzing their densities, durability, shrinkage rates, etc.
So the next time you’re offered a new tropical species, give it more than due consideration—not only might you be a trend setter, you’ll be helping save the rainforest.
Next week, let’s consider the “in the news” story of LEED and the debate over their “FSC-only” policy.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Banning Tropical Timber = Burning Tropical Timber
I recently returned from a six-week, five-country tour of the South American flooring industry. I was delighted by how healthy many of the forests seemed and by the increasing awareness and efforts made by the local industry not just regarding legality, but also sustainability and even towards certification. In decades past, the Amazon seemed to be a forest without end, but now we realize that we do have the risk of losing it, and it is only by recognizing the economic value within the forest, will we be able to save it.
I talked to industry, association and government officials, and all spoke of the increasing pressures made upon the forests by mining operations and by agricultural programs (both for local use and international sales). All agreed that without a healthy, ongoing commercial wood program, the forests would be converted to other usages.
In the past, countries have tried to “save the rainforest” by banning tropical timber. Unfortunately this usually has the opposite effect. Experts agree that the best way to save the forest is to give it value so people treat it as an investment and look to it for the long-term return. The more value the wood has, the more people will protect it and the more they will plant for the future.
During my trip, I visited not just flooring, decking and other wood operations, but several alternative-use industries as well. One—a factory producing Brazil nuts—would not be a surprise, but the second was: a condom factory, utilizing naturally harvested rubberwood latex from commercial forests. During my trip, I also picked up some artisan soaps that included “rainforest oils.” All three of these industries were dependent on healthy forests and all were utilizing the resources of forests that were being commercially and sustainably harvested. The logging companies were supporting their programs and they definitely supported the logging operations as well.
Survey data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has shown that forests outside tropical regions are generally increasing in size. FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment shows that during the 1990s the area of forest in non-tropical regions increased by 29 million hectares. That’s 80% of the total area of Japan. The reason for the increase is generally attributed to healthy forest products industries (and the jobs they create). The more profitable the forests are, the more people will work to keep them healthy and increase their number. This has been proven by the United States forest industry. The flooring industry can help save the world’s forests by assisting developing nations in creating strong, legal and sustainable forest industries.
Next week, a look at using “LKS” as a way to promote sustainable forest industries. (If you don’t know what LKS is, tune in next week.)
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The World of "Green"
Welcome to the HF Green Blog! I’ve been asked to blog now and then on the various “green” issues in the flooring industry. I’ll try to make a post at least once a week and I’m going to try to offer up (hopefully) useful information on various issues. I may chat now and then or even rant once in awhile as well, but mostly I’m going to try to provide information that will help our industry get a handle on green issues.
As Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring’s ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer), I have full or partial responsibility for a number of areas of focus. My most important job is supervising the contents of our products—the wood and chemicals that are used to produce the flooring. I give myself headaches trying to interpret all the various regulations and program details—that alphabet soup of FSC, LEED, CARB, and other acronyms. I also am involved in quality control procedures and supporting our corporate social activities.
I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years and have been fortunate enough to travel widely—I’ve left footprints in over 60 countries and a thousand mills of all sizes, qualities and products. And I still have a tremendous amount left to learn and see. I welcome input into this blog—please leave comments, ask questions, make suggestions for additional topics. If you catch me in a mistake, please, do tell me. “Green” is an evolving standard and concept in our industry and can cover almost any aspect of our business, from the material that goes into the flooring, to how it’s produced or installed, to the corporate policies of the company that provided it.
So there’s a lot to look at. Next week, a few thoughts from my recent jungle journey.