Bill Hayward
Hayward Bill Hayward
CONTROVERSY: Lumberyards seeking FSC chain-of-custody certification will have to pay a bigger administration fee, typically pushing their total bill up by several hundred dollars. Right, FSC-US chairman Bill Hayward of California's Hayward Lumber is pushing to keep certifying groups from saying other standards are as good as FSC's.
Craig Webb CONTROVERSY: Lumberyards seeking FSC chain-of-custody certification will have to pay a bigger administration fee, typically pushing their total bill up by several hundred dollars. Right, FSC-US chairman Bill Hayward of California's Hayward Lumber is pushing to keep certifying groups from saying other standards are as good as FSC's.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a key wood certification standard-setter in green construction, is doubling its accreditation administration fees for chain-of-custody certification as well as retaliating against certifying bodies that suggest other standard-setters' rules are as good as FSC's.

The fees are based on annual sales of forest products. A dealer with wood sales of $1 million to $5 million would see the annual fee for administrating accreditation rise to $400 from $200, while dealers with $5 million to $25 million worth of wood sales would pay $800 rather than $400. FSC's General Assembly approved the fee hikes in early November at its meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.

The accreditation administration fees are part of a bigger package of expenses that dealers pay each year to the independent bodies that do certification on FSC's behalf. Those groups are called certifying bodies, and typically they charge about $3,000 to inspect a lumberyard and approve it for a chain-of-custody certificate. With the fee change, a yard in the $5 million to $25 million range will pay about $3,400.

"It's just a few dollars to run a worldwide system," Bill Hayward, chairman of FSC's U.S. arm and head of Hayward Lumber, Monterey, Calif., said in a Dec. 16 interview. "For those of us using it, we regard it as reasonable."

"The FSC is of a scale and scope that it is expected to pay for itself," added Corey Brinkema, FSC-US president, who noted that in past years, foundations had provided some of FSC's financial support. "Frankly, the original fee structure was ridiculously low," he said.

The FSC requires all companies that handle wood from the forest to the construction site obtain chain-of-custody certification, then assure FSC-marked lumber isn't mixed with unmarked stuff. The system helps assure that builders that want to use certified lumber–cut from wood raised and harvested in what the FSC regards as an environmentally sensible manner–are getting the real thing.

Builders, in turn, care about FSC because it's the only wood certification system that can earn points under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program. If a dealer has customers who want to build LEED-worthy homes and buildings, and that customer wants to get LEED points for the wood it uses, then FSC-certified lumber must be used, and the lumberyard that supplies the wood must have a chain-of-custody certificate.

The Green Building Council is expected to announce this spring whether wood certified by other standard-setters–particularly the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which is more popular with North America's timber industry–should qualify for LEED points. If that happens, it's likely that lumberyards will need chain-of-custody certificates for more than just FSC-certified products. A handful of yards already have secured SFI certification.

FSC dislikes this trend partly because it sees its standard as being better than the others, and in November it fought back. The general assembly approved a policy motion directing FSC's administrators to prohibit certifying bodies "from falsely promoting less-rigorous competing standards as equivalent to the forest management and chain-of-custody standards of FSC." It calls for a review of those certifying bodies' promotional media when those groups come up for accreditation. According to a supporting file for the motion, one result of the initiative likely will be "fewer certificates being issued for competing schemes."

Unlike other topics for the general assembly, which global, European, or Third World organizations often initiate, this one was proposed by Hayward. In information supporting his motion, Hayward said the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), SFI, and other alternative wood standard-setters "have engaged in a 'push strategy,' heavily promoting the practice of dual or treble certification to forest management and chain-of-custody companies. Recognizing the challenge of direct competition with FSC, these weaker standard schemes seek to gain market share by coat-tailing on the acceleration in demand for FSC certification."

The document adds that several FSC-accredited certifiers "are enabling the growth strategy" of PEFC and SFI by doing dual and triple certifications. "FSC-US and FSC-Canada have collected abundant evidence that at least two certifying bodies are openly promoting FSC and the less-rigorous competing schemes as co-equals in forest management standards rigor and impact on forest health and communities," the document states.