In My Opinion: Certification and the Hardwood Industry

By Ray H. Moistner

Last year in the Woodland Steward, I authored an article on forest certification, and what it means to the landowner.  The article touched on your role as a private landowner in supplying the valuable resource to the state’s largest agricultural industry. At the time of that article, the industry was still very much reluctant to embrace certified wood. They still reject the notion of an independent third party verifying what the U.S. Forest Service and the individual state forestry divisions already acknowledge – that U.S. hardwoods are sustainable and legally harvested. It remains questionable to tax landowners, loggers, and manufacturers just to affix a seal stating as much.

The industry boils at the notion that we need to do even more to prove that we are “green,” while the major certification schemes still discriminate against hardwoods. Hardwood people know that theirs is the greenest of products, but have struggled to get that message out.

Over the last 20 years, industry has watched certification programs gain momentum, but has not been able to unify to the degree necessary to stay out of the mud hole in this game of environmental tug-of-war. Meanwhile, those seeking to make a buck off of LEED-designed buildings have joined the opposition movement, and helped force costly certification on taxpayers and construction projects.

Throw into the mix a dismal housing market, and an economy that has been hard on the hardwood industry, and you have seen more and more companies reluctantly sell some form of certified wood, rationalizing that any market niche is worth pursuing in these tough times. Every day it seems to become easier to sell certified wood, however “diluted,” as long as one is willing to pay the ransom.

There are many fronts on which to fight the certification monster, but they all will require a common denominator: we have to be able to get our message out in a widespread way. No longer can we accept 30 mini-efforts from thirty different hardwood organizations. The time has arrived, and there is an effort underway for a hardwood check-off program, which could raise the funds needed to get our message out to the masses. The first major industry meeting about the check-off program was held at the IHLA convention in February.

An educated consumer, as well as enlightened architects and designers can go a long way toward getting hardwoods their due. One can imagine a doctor on a TV commercial talking about reduced allergies among children in homes with hardwood floors instead of carpet. Sustainable hardwoods, available from thousands of local sources, should become the material of choice in green projects. The public deserves to know we aren’t running out of trees and the hardwood industry is a huge part of our economic engine. High school students should be proud to announce they are pursuing careers in an industry with so many different types of opportunities.

Check-off programs have done wonders for other products, and made their slogans automatically recognized by the public. We “got milk” because we know “it does a body good.” We know pork is the “other white meat” and that beef is “what’s for dinner.”

The group of leaders who are working on this initiative have raised the funds necessary for the initial phase, and have submitted the program to the USDA for approval and oversight – a requirement of every check-off program. Once the USDA determines eligibility, the program will go to the pool of affected hardwood manufacturing companies for a referendum. (A key hurdle was cleared when it was determined that manufacturers, not landowners or loggers, would be the group who paid the check-off.) Mills with over $1 million in annual sales, as well as large concentration yards and unfinished flooring manufacturers, all comprise the initial group identified to pay into the program. There is a potential of about 1,200 companies in all.

A check-off program and certification seem to be entirely different animals, yet the ability to get a unified message to the public has been at the heart of almost every challenge the hardwood industry faces. Despite its insistence that certified hardwoods are costly to landowners and everyone else, and not really needed in the sustainable forests of the United States, the industry applauds the efforts of the Indiana Division of Forestry to seek affordable solutions for procuring certified forest products.

We hope the landowners will work in unison with the manufacturers, continuing a mutually-beneficial relationship between the suppliers and the companies who meet thedemands. The best way to support the hardwood industry is to be a vehicle for delivering the message of sustainability, and by continuing to produce high-quality hardwoods and manageyour forestland for all uses.

Ray Moistner is the Executive Director for the IndianaHardwood Lumberman’s Association. For more informationabout the IHLA, visit