From file "019_PSs" entitled "PWcrtlum.qxd" page 01
From file "019_PSs" entitled "PWcrtlum.qxd" page 01

For Salem Ore.–based Keith Brown Building Materials, the decision in March to start selling certified lumber with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain of custody certificate was an easy one. With 11 full-service lumberyards on the Interstate 5 corridor in northern California and southern Oregon, Keith Brown is located in a traditional green building pocket, where environmental concerns play into the purchasing habits of homeowners and contractors alike. “We are concerned about our forests and want to educate and offer environmentally friendly [product] options,” says Keith Brown vice president of operations Phil Cox. “We went with FSC because our customers were asking for it and our competitors were offering it.”

And it's not just the niche green builders that are calling up Keith Brown yards looking for certified lumber. “New developers, in particular, have been asking for FSC-branded products,” says Cox. “We have several in Salem and Vancouver [Wash.] that are driving demand for the product; and homeowners, as well, are looking for FSC and asking [their contractors] for it.”

Once isolated in green building markets on the West Coast, the demand for certified lumber is quickly becoming a national phenomenon. In 2005 for the first time, PROSALES tracked lumber certification as part of the PROSALES 100 Annual Survey of Leading Construction Suppliers. While the number of firms offering certified lumber trailed all other product categories, nearly half (49 percent) of the top 100 reported involvement in FSC. An equal number of firms said that they either promote or sell green or sustainable building products to their customers.

“Forty nine percent—that's a huge shift,” says Bill Hayward, president, CEO, and chief sustainability officer for 11-unit Hayward Corp., based in Monterey, Calif. Hayward, who sits on the board of directors for the Forest Stewardship Council, expects the number of pro dealers dedicated to procuring lumber from certified sustainable timberlands to continue to increase. “I see the momentum coming pretty fast. Every newspaper has an article on green building, and contractor customers are asking for it more,” he says. “If you want to do business in the future, you'll have to have some kind of certification.”

Civil Competition That sits fine with FSC and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which are both experiencing membership growth as mills, suppliers, and pro dealers tap into the industry's two largest certification bodies for assistance in procuring, marketing, and branding sustainable wood. “Today we have divided our universe of certificate holders into those interested in the pulp and paper market and those interested in the green building market,” explains FSC director of marketing Michael Washburn. “We currently have 350 companies who hold certificates related to the green building market, ranging from a Hayward Lumber to a Columbia Forest Products to a Potlatch. Two years ago that number was only 200, so there's huge growth in the uptake of FSC-certified product.”

SFI officials counter that since much of their product heads into the marketplace unbranded, many pro dealers are likely already selling SFI wood to contractors. “We have over 200 program participants and 90 percent of the industrial timberlands in the U.S. certified under the SFI standard, so most dealers are already getting SFI-certified wood,” says John Mechem, communications director for the American Forest and Paper Association, the organization that oversees SFI. “That is something that our members are working on, relaying information through the supply channels that, yes, we are a part of a sustainable forest management program.”

Although the two organizations have had a history of “certification wars,” inflamed in part by environmental stakeholders involved with FSC and timberland owners who back SFI, the organizations have lately approached the marketplace under a more “civil” air of competitiveness, according to William Banzhaf, president of the Sustainable Forestry Board that handles the audit procedures and auditor qualifications for SFI. “There's still some hostile language out there [among stakeholders],” Banzhaf says. “But the competition and civility between the two organizations has gone in a positive direction.” Banzhaf notes that he and FSC president Roger Dower have been meeting on a monthly basis for the past two years and have made some joint research proposals on biodiversity that “would be helpful to any certification.”

Supply and Demand In comparison to non-branded SFI wood yards may already be selling, dealers interested in participating in FSC face a more rigorous approval process in order to land one of the organization's Chain of Custody (COC) certificates, which allow companies to sell FSC-branded products—including lumber—that meet various economic, environmental, and social provisions. “It's only a two-week process to get the COC, but it is also a bit capital-intensive,” says Keith Brown's purchasing and inventory manager Dave Carpenter, who expects a return on the COC investment as building activity picks up this summer. “We have to have separate inventory areas, and the product documentation [from receivables to point of sale] also has to be separately handled through all of our computer systems. There's paperwork and you also have to remain open to inspection.”

While FSC enjoys broad-based support—and consequently less threat and criticism—from environmental groups, the organization's stringent standards have resulted in a market perception that supply, especially of framing lumber, can often be tight. “That is probably true today ... it is a challenge to get enough FSC wood for framing,” says Hayward, who offers FSC-certified roof trusses from the company's Santa Maria, Calif., components plant. “But for flooring, plywood, and doors, we have no problem with supply—that stuff is readily available at a competitive price point everywhere.”

Carpenter recommends that pro dealers approach certified lumber like any other product, fostering good relationships and clear communication with vendors and customers alike. “You have to have good operating systems in place, but you also want to make sure you've got support from your local mills and suppliers to actually get the product.”

According to Washburn, supply issues are waning as more timberland owners are climbing on board the FSC program. “In North America we're going to see a doubling of acreage this year, and every indicator that we have is that the market is trying to realign to match the demand for framing lumber,” Washburn says. “Some Arkansas lands have been under assessment for awhile that we expect to pass, putting the first FSC Southern yellow pine onto the market, so it's all systems go.”