by Matthew Spieler
In the world of green, wood, by and large, is considered one of the more environmentally friendly products out there: It’s renewable, can last for generations, can be repurposed into something else and contributes to the overall health of the planet—both in a living and decaying stage.
Despite all its positive environmental attributes, illegal logging here and abroad, mismanaged forests and unfriendly environmental manufacturing processes have force governments and non-government agencies and organizations to put forth numerous regulation and rules surrounding the material—from laws, such as the Lacey Act and California’s CARB to standards like the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGNC) LEED rating system and third-party certifications such as from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)—in order to ensure the product is not only available for generations to come but is safe to bring into home and offices environments.
And while most people agree the various rules and regulations are beneficial to wood’s long-term viability like anything else, they are not without their share of controversy and confusion.
One of the biggest areas of contention, currently, is with USGBC trying to publish a new, revised version of LEED, known as LEED v4. Originally scheduled to be finalized and in use this year, the organization pushed back the new standard until June 2013 in order to undertake a fifth public comment period which begins Oct. 2 and runs through Dec. 10.
A key reason for this delay has to do with proposals to alter the program’s certified wood credit, which is currently based only on the use of FSC-certified wood.
FSC called the certified wood credit “one of the single most significant conservation policies ever,” and because more than 1.6 million square feet of space is certified to LEED standards every day, “the stakes in this effort are huge, [This is why] FSC and our partners will continue to support USGBC in every way possible to ensure LEED v4 promotes the use of wood from responsibly managed FSC-certified forests to grow this legacy into the future.”
The organization noted until LEED v4 goes into effect, the current LEED 2009 is not only still available for new projects “USGBC announced [it] will remain available for new project registration for three years. As a result, the certified wood credit, based on use of FSC-certified wood, will now remain in effect until 2015.”
While some people and organizations feel when the dust settles and the new LEED is ratified by USGBC members next year the FSC-only certification will remain the standard, there are those within the flooring industry who are hoping other certifications are allowed.
Dan Natkin, Mannington’s director of wood and laminate, called FSC “the gold standard when it comes to sustainable sourcing of raw materials.” Nonetheless, “We are hopeful USGBC will continue to listen to reason and include other certification programs, perhaps at an interim level, such as the National Wood Flooring Association’s Responsible Procurement Program (RPP) program.”
Don Finkell, CEO of Shaw Hardwood and president of its Anderson division, said, “There is a lot going on around American hardwoods gaining more acceptance in LEED. It is anticipated additional LEED credits will be available for non-FSC wood products. These are most likely to be awarded for regional sourcing—wood flooring sourced close to the project site—and for products with environmental product declarations.”
As chairman of NWFA’s Industry Research Foundation Board, he added the association is “working with SMaRT to recognize RPP certified wood products within LEED. Again, all of this is dependent on what LEED v4 ends up being.”
While Michael Martin, NWFA’s CEO, feels “FSC will remain the wood standard for LEED, the association would certainly like to see wood credit expand to include other certifying entities.”
He noted in U.S., there is very little FSC wood, “yet we know from the U.S. Forest Service all hardwood east of the Mississippi is responsibly managed and increasing in volume.” Which is why “We’d like to see other programs recognized as well as FSC. LEED doesn’t currently give wood a very favorable credit. This would help [change that].”
Milton Goodwin, Armstrong’s vice president of product, agrees with Martin in that the Eastern Appalachian Hardwood Territory, “Armstrong’s manufacturing base for wood products,” is a region which the Forest Service has verified is naturally regenerating at a sustainable rate. “The net annual growth of trees within the Appalachian region has been increasing for over 50 years.”
Neil Poland, Mullican’s president, added, throughout the vast majority of the land east of the Mississippi River “1.8 trees grow for every one tree that is harvested or decays.” And due to the “70% decrease in housing starts and poor economic conditions, this growth rate has most likely increased even further during the last four years due to the dramatic decrease in harvesting of hardwood timber.”
The challenge, he added, “is only 2% or 3% of the hardwood forests in the U.S. are FSC certified.”
Natkin point out with so little U.S. forest land FSC certified, “it makes it difficult to obtain the associated LEED points at a price point the consumer is willing to pay.”
Goodwin said “there are times when participating in an independently verified program like the NWFA’s RPP can help the wood industry to achieve that goal.”
Martin said a key reason RPP was created is because “there is little FSC certified land in the U.S. This is primarily because most forests in the U.S. are privately owned, and are small family plots of a few hundred acres or less. FSC requirements and costs make it difficult for these smaller forest owners to participate, especially when they likely harvest only once a generation, so RPP offers a step-wise approach to work toward future FSC certification.”
NWFA developed RPP as a multi-tiered program to provide companies with an opportunity to prove—through third-party verification—they are sourcing their materials from renewing forests.
Martin is hopeful RPP will be given more consideration because it was recently acknowledged as a standard for achieving due care for Lacey Act compliance. “Chain of custody (COC) documentation is required by Lacey, and as RPP has now been identified as a standard for doing so, the program has the potential to grow significantly.”
Natkin said Mannington is certified to RPP and he is hopeful “USGBC will recognize the program within the LEED framework.” Nonetheless, the company’s plants have been certified to FSC-COC standards.”
Like Mannington, Finkell said Shaw and Anderson each have received FSC-COC and RPP certifications. “Anderson did this first but Shaw brings a lot of credibility to both programs because of its size and influence.”
Martin agreed, saying with Shaw now in the program RPP represents 65% of the U.S. forest land meet the program’s Tier 1 level, which states the lumber is verified as coming from a U.S. renewing forest, which is verified by the Forest Service.
“The recent certification of Shaw has had a nice impact on the program,” he added. “The program has progressed more slowly than we had hoped, but that is in large part due to the economic downturn our entire industry is experiencing. We expect participation will increase once the industry has experienced a steady, sustained rebound.”
Having both FSC and RPP certifications, Finkell said “Shaw is now able to launch an FSC certified line of engineered wood floors in time for Greenbuild. This is a goal that is being realized after years of behind the scenes efforts to build the FSC certified wood supply through the FSC Procurement Group, which is a part of NWFA’s RPP. Until now there has not been enough FSC certified hardwood timber available to introduce an entire collection of wood floors. Anderson always did it on a job-by-job basis and still offers that service. Shaw has a strong presence in the commercial arena and it will now have a hardwood product that meets USGBC’s LEED requirements.”
Mullican’s Poland noted, “We have maintained our FSC and RPP certifications and remain focused on growing our business in the ‘green,’ so when the economy gains momentum and the American consumer is more willing to purchase upgrades and green products, we will be well positioned to take advantage of the growth in that category. The near-term opportunity with FSC and RPP are large residential or commercial specifications that require FSC products or third-party certified domestic products.”
He added, the company believes “RPP can help stimulate growth of the hardwood flooring industry through the continued growth of the members, therefore acting as one voice for the manufacturing sector as it relates to wood flooring being recognized as a natural, renewable, recyclable product.”
Beyond LEED, there are few legal issues executives cited as impacting the wood category, with each affecting different parts of the supply chain.
Martin said the one retailers and contractors should pay immediate attention to is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lead Paint Rule (FCNews, Aug. 29/Sept. 3).
“This regulation requires any renovation or reconstruction work—including refinishing wood floors—conducted on buildings built before 1978 to practice safe lead paint removal processes,” he explained. “When refinishing a floor, you’d either remove baseboards or get close to/touch them with edger, in which case, regulations apply,” meaning having gone through an EPA-approved training and certification program. Failure to do so can lead to fines of $32,500 per violation, per day. “There is also a very strict documentation process that must be followed as well.”
On the larger scale is the federal government moving to enact regulation similar to California’s CARB rule, which aims to clean up emissions of lumber once it has been harvested, specifically formaldehyde emissions.
“The CARB regulations are being adopted at the federal level, under the oversight of the EPA,” Goodwin said, noting Armstrong is one of a number of manufacturers working with the EPA and through trade associations “to ensure future regulatory action is implemented in a way that is meaningful to the end consumer and supportive of U.S. manufacturing.”
Finally, there is the Lacey Act, which has seen a number of developments in recent months.
“This summer there were two proposed amendments in the House—the Focus Act and the Relief Act—resulted from efforts by Gibson Guitar and the Tea Party to dramatically weaken Lacey,” Finkell said, “such as making a first time offense punishable by only a $250 fine.”
Though they faced strong opposition from the flooring industry, along with various environmental and labor groups it was looking like the Relief Act would pass but got pulled from the floor before going to vote.
Finkell noted a week later the Department of Justice announced a consent agreement with Gibson wherein the company admitted guilt and agreed to pay fines of $350,000 and forfeit over $250,000 worth of illegally harvested wood components. “At over $600,000 it is quite a difference from what it would have had to pay under the Relief Act.”
He added the Gibson settlement had another impact on Lacey in that it spelled out what the Justice Department considers to be ‘due care’ under the act in a series of required steps.
As such, a number of voluntary standards are either in the process of being or have already been developed laying out the steps to comply with Lacey,” he said. One was passed in April by the Capital Markets Partnership, while the other is being developed by the Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association working under the auspices of ANSI. “Both standards expressly recognize the NWFA RPP certification as evidence of compliance with the Lacey Act. “Although the two standards have some minor differences, both follow closely with the steps identified by the government in the Gibson settlement.”
Finkell said this is all good news because “the industry is finally getting some clarity on what is required to comply with the Lacey Act, and the severity of the Gibson penalty means the government is serious about enforcing the Lacey. This is good news for the American wood products industry.”