What’s it mean to be green? - Difficulties

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“There is a lot more interest and business than ever before,” Mamrak says. “FSC used to amount for 1 percent of our business not that long ago. It’s grown by leaps and bounds. There’s almost no interest on the residential level; a very small percentage. But the government and educational buildings, pretty much all of those right now have gone entirely FSC. You either become chain of custody certified, through FSC or someone else, or else you give up the opportunity to quote those [jobs].”

“We never went into [FSC certification] thinking we were going to make more money,” adds French. “We went into it because we thought it would give us some market share and access to new buyers, both domestic and international, who shared our values. We found that our customers, both overseas and our high-end furniture and millwork customers here, were actually getting more [government and education] jobs. I think our employees have always felt good about it, working in an industry that was trying to build a good reputation for our ‘greenness.’ ”

There are several areas associated with the certification process that pose problems for wood dealers and shop owners. Many report that the supply of FSC lumber periodically falls short of demand. Several large wood product companies and exotic wood dealers reported they were unable to bid jobs because they were unable to source certified materials.

“I’d say a handful of times out of the year a job will be bid out and then at the end they require that it be a certification,” says Mitch Talcove, owner of Tropical Exotic Hardwoods in Carlsbad, Calif. “Guess what? A lot of those people that have architects and designers have to redo everything because they can’t get the wood.”

Another potential drawback is that residential green building is expensive. The consensus among panelists participating in the session, “Green 101,” sponsored by the Wood Product Manufacturers Association in Portland, Maine, in October, stated that green building projects are for clients with a minimum annual income of $150,000.

Then there is the complicated matter of the certification of imported or exotic woods. The FSC’s certification umbrella is spread worldwide, and chain-of-custody questions concerning wood from foreign countries pose a major problem. Corruptness, phony paperwork and similar practices have created a bureaucratic mess. Except for companies importing plantation-grown stock and a limited number of exotic species, dealers have stayed away from certification of exotic woods.

“I wouldn’t see any possible benefits to my business being certified,” says Myles Gilmer, owner of Gilmer Wood Co. in Portland, Ore. “I seldom, if ever, get people who are interested in certified woods; I never thought the expense ever justified getting certified; and having personally looked at some of the areas mostly in Central America that [the FSC] had gone through and certified, I was just kind of aghast at the fact that it certified species that were seldom seen in the woods down there. The one I remember specifically, that I wrote notes about, was ziricote.”

“We bring in FSC eucalyptus from Uruguay, which is plantation-grown and is a great substitute product for mahogany, and we also bring in some FSC mahogany from Central America,” explains French, the Northland Forest Products president. “But we’ve taken a position of only stocking exotics that are FSC-certified. If I was concerned about this issue as one of your readers, I would be very cautious about my imported woods.”

“I pay a lot of money down in Mexico to do things right,” says Talcove, who imports his cocobolo from that country. “Being that I’ve been bringing wood in since the early ’70s, I have had to jump through all sorts of hoops, go through all kinds of criteria down there, and I believe that that’s enough. We get audited down there from time to time. I’m a rare guy that actually has the logging and the sawmill facility and brings it into the country and markets it. Now, if you’re one of those people that continually brings in illegal wood, then you’re going to get caught sooner or later. It’s like robbing a bank — sooner or later you get caught.”