For the last year or so, we’ve received several invitations to attend green building seminars. Since we had plans to write about the trend, senior writer Brian Caldwell attended the Wood Products Manufacturers Association annual conference in Portland, Maine, which featured a “Green 101” presentation. Representatives of Scientific Certification Systems, the WoodNet Market Council and the National Network of Forest Practitioners explained the certification process, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, and how woodworking companies might profit from their involvement. We were ready to take the bait but, based on the information presented, it was hard to fathom how a small shop would profit from the ‘green movement.’
It was a disappointing fact-finding mission, but Brian says the views of Portland Harbor and Casco Bay were stunning.
We understand that ‘going green’ is more involved than where you source your wood. Running your shop on wind power or solar energy are two examples, and using low VOC finishes is another. But since the early 1990s, using sustainably harvested wood from well-managed forests has been the rallying cry for the green movement in the wood industry. Bamboo, in particular, has been especially touted for its “sustainability,” but since most of it is sourced from China, I’m skeptical about how shipping it across an ocean makes it “environmentally friendly.”
Here’s what I think: If you’re building cabinets and furniture from domestic hardwoods, you can call yourself a green woodworker. Since few people actually give much credence to what I think, I was relieved to read a recent study commissioned by the American Hardwood Export Council.
The study called “Assessment of Lawful Harvesting & Sustainability of U.S. Hardwood Exports” not surprisingly concludes there is a very low risk that U.S. hardwood exports contain wood from illegal sources. But it also seriously questions the need or practicality of forest certification in the U.S.
You can read the complete study at www.ahec-europe.org, but here are a few key findings and observations:
“The U.S. hardwood sector is characterized by a dispersed supply chain involving millions of mostly small individual landowners and a complex network of timber buyers, processors, wood dealers, concentration yards, harvesting contractors and traders that makes chain of custody tracking for certification challenging, if not extremely difficult.”
The study, which notes that U.S. hardwood resources are concentrated in single-family ownerships of less than 10 hectares on average, goes on to say that “while the area of certified forest in some states is significantly high, as a practical matter, much of the certified land is not regularly supplying the hardwood timber market. This is due to a high proportion of certified forests in public ownership and the preponderance of small owners who only occasionally harvest timber. Based on average saw log and veneer log harvest per acre of timberland, we estimate that less than 7 percent of U.S. hardwood (solid wood) products are produced from certified forests. The volume of hardwood lumber (and other hardwood products) that carries a certified Chain of Custody product label is even smaller — certainly less than 5 percent at the present time.
“Family forest landowners that supply the vast majority of the hardwood timber consumed in the U.S. are neither generally familiar with certification nor willing to incur its ongoing costs. The number of ownerships with certified forests is relatively small to the 9.7 million private landowners (9.1 million family forest owners) in the hardwood producing region.”
The study, using data collected by the U.S. Forest Service under its Forest Inventory and Analysis program, also states “the data strongly indicates that U.S. hardwood resources are widely distributed, extensive and not in any immediate or future risk of declining. Annual hardwood growth exceeds removals in each of the 33 states [which account for 96 percent of U.S. hardwood production] by a substantial margin — by nearly two to one — and the hardwood inventory has consistently increased during the last five decades.”
So there you have it: There’s no need to certify domestic hardwoods as “sustainably harvested” because it’s impractical from the supply side and there’s no shortage of wood. Gosh, that was easy.
Share your thoughts on “going green” at www.woodshopnews.com/forum.
This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue.