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Wanted: "Green" Lumber

Forestry certification is clearly the way to go as far as the buyers of Canadian lumber in Britain are concerned. By going "green", British companies gain a marketing edge and also appear environmentally repsonsible.

By Bill Tice
Copyright 1998. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Companies in Canada and around the world are changing the way they do business in order to meet new environmental standards that may or may not improve their bottom line. For example, eastern Canadian forestry giant JD Irving recently applied for international certification as an environmentally friendly company. On the west coast of Canada, MacMillan Bloedel has announced they will phase out clearcut logging. And in the very "green" United Kingdom, B & Q, a chain of Do-It-Yourself superstores, is aggressively pursuing their goal of having all timber products sold in their stores Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified by the year 2000. The question that arises from this interest in the environment is whether being green is just a marketing tool for the 1990s and into the new Millennium, or are these companies genuinely interested in protecting valuable natural resources and ensuring sustainability for future generations?

Alan Knight, Environmental Policy Controller for England-based B & Q, has a mandate to monitor environmental and ethical developments across the globe and recommend policies and procedures for the chain. Knight says in the case of his organization, it is not about marketing.

"The reason we took on the timber issue was our recognition that our business was damaging to the environment," says Knight.

"We have 20,000 employees driving to work, in addition to customers and deliveries going to and from the stores. This has an impact on the environment and we have to accept this. We also know that buying timber from a badly managed forest is not helping us solve our environment problems. With timber, one of the solutions was FSC certification because we needed to assure our customers that we mean what we say," adds Knight, referring to the company policy of not buying timber from non-sustainable sources.

Knight's organization has not exclusively targeted the timber business to prove to their customers that they are serious about protecting the environment. As the seller of one third of all cans of paint sold in the UK B & Q has also provided paint manufacturers with a tough job.

According to B & Q, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), primarily solvents in paint, contribute to photocherrdcal smog and ozone depletion. The mass volume of paint sold by the company amounts to two per cent of all solvents in the UK.

Like the timber industry, paint companies who want to sell their products in B & Q stores after the turn of the century will have to meet strict guidelines set by the superstore chain. These guidelines include a 30 per-cent reduction in solvent used in the paint from 1996 levels and the introduction of a clear labelling scheme showing solvent content in the product.

Other environmental directives from the store chain are aimed at suppliers of all other consumer items. Under the company's QUEST (Quality of a product and its Ethics, Safety and Treatment) program, suppliers will be graded, with an A grade being the highest standard achievable. By December 31, 1999, B & Q expects all of their suppliers to achieve at least a B grade.

B & Q has not excluded themselves from the tough standards set out for their suppliers. A self-assessment measurement system, called QUEST for stores, will measure compliance with legislation, waste minimization, energy efficiency, customer and staff awareness and litter control in the local environment. Stores within the chain are expected reach a five-star standard by the end of 1999.

Adding credibility to B & Q's environmental program is their membership in the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) 1995+ Group, which is a private, voluntary initiative open to purchasers of forest products in the United Kingdom. According to the WWF, the group's goal is to accelerate the development of environmentally enhancing, socially beneficial and economically viable forest management worldwide. The group, which numbers close to 90 members, supports independent, third-party certification such as the FSC certification that B & Q is insisting on.

"Several surveys have indicated that end use customers' attitudes vary," says Justin Stead, Manager of the WWF 1995+ Group. Approximately 10 per cent are very green and will actively seek out green products, like FSC-labelled wood, and pay a premium for it. Fifty to 60 per cent are 'light green', meaning they are reassured by clear, credible messages that the products they are buying are OK. This group is critical for the retailers. These customers will feel better about buying wooden products from them (the retailer), if they get the products FSC-certifled. The remainder don't care."

"Retailers clearly believe offering FSC-certified products will be good for business," Stead adds.

Hannah Scrase, FSC UK coordinator, agrees with the survey results quoted by Stead, saying that "end-use customers do ask for evidence of good forest management and they are beginning to ask specifically for certified wood, but not in large numbers as of yet."

Scrase says certification is not being used as a marketing tool in the way packaging is.

"For retailers it is more about long-term positioning in the market as a responsible corporation with a good reputation amongst their customers. Many companies also find that their staff respond positively to knowing that they work for a company that takes environmental issues seriously," adds Scrase.

David Pearce, Chairman of Bristol-based Premium Timber Products Ltd., an importer and distributor of timber-based DFY products such as doors, cabinets and panel products, also says there is more value to certification than using it as a product marketing tool.

"When Greenpeace was more powerful than they are today, retailers did not want demonstrations in front of their stores, so it was important to be environmentally friendly," says Pearce.

"Certification of forest products is also important to the investment community as mutual fund managers and buyers are always looking for environmentally sound ethical funds," adds Pearce.

Pearce also points out that the FSC guidelines protect workers' rights.

"Let's face it, none of us want to be involved with products unless we are sure they have been socially and environmentally responsibly produced, and the FSC monitors these issues to ensure compliance," says Pearce.

Clive Gardner, Managing Director for Premium, claims certified products won't provide a premium, but do offer market protection.

"We are a commercial concern and if our customers are asking for certified products, then it is up to us to provide them. Certification becomes a product specification, similar to size or quality," says Gardner.

Green Lumber

Clive Garder (left) and David Pierce of UK's Premium Timber Products with a door manufactured from FSC-approved wood.

Obtaining certified timber is become increasingly easier as a number of forest products companies seek certified status and are ensuring the sustainability of their forests.

Colin Macgregor, Environmental Manager for Stantons Timber Services, a major UK supplier of timber and timber products to the DIY chains, says British Columbia-based MacMillan Bloedel's recent decision to stop clearcut logging "can only strengthen the FSC program as the environmental impact is reduced if clearcutting is stopped."

Macgregor says he believes "MacMillan Bloedel's decision was the right one," as it not only satisfies environmental advantages, but is "supported by principles number five and six of the 10 Principles of Forest Stewardship as set out by the FSC."

In a June 1998 media information kit, MacMillan Bloedel President Tom Stephens is quoted as saying, "the company's approach to forestry and logging will meet or exceed the requirements of the BC Forest Practices Code and also enable MB products to be certified under any of the independent systems currently emerging for forest certification."

"At MB, this is the future of forestry," adds Stephens. "It reflects what our customers are telling us about the need for certified products, but equally important it reflects changing social values and new knowledge about forest ecology."

The response from environmental groups was understandably positive, as demonstrated by Greenpeace forests campaigner Karen Mahon. The activist presented Stephens with a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne after a news conference on the subject.

"What you've done is take the first step down the right road and we want to congratulate you for that," said Mahon.

"All around the world people always say, 'The customer is always right.' Finally, MacMillan Bloedel is listening to the customers," added Mahon.

Other coastal British Columbia producers will continue to pursue international certification, but they have not announced a similar halt to clearcutting. Although there are scientific reasons for continuing clearcutting, B & Q's Alan Knight claims "science has to play second fiddle to emotions."

"We were uncomfortable with the sheer size of the clearcuts when we visited Vancouver Island in 1994 and I said we probably would not buy from that part of the world because of clearcutting,' added Knight.

Although Knight admits the amount of timber they were purchasing from MacMillan Bloedel was always small, he says they may look at the company's products again.

"If they can convince us that they can achieve FSC certification, we will certainly continue to look at MacMillan Bloedel," says Knight.

The Certifications Players

With ever-increasing environmental awareness by the public, it is becoming easier to find lumber products and products made from wood that has been certified. This designation helps consumers determine that the products they are purchasing come from well-managed forests.

In Canada, there are two organizations willing to certify forests: the Canadian-based Canadian Standards Association (CSA) which has adapted the International Standards Organization (ISO) rules to Canadian conditions, and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is quickly becoming recognized as the world leader in certification of forest products. The CSA system sets a standard for management, but unlike the FSC system, does not label products. For more on the ongoing debate between the two systems used in the Canadian industry, see the Spotlight section of the April 1998 issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal.

The FSC, which has redional offices worldwide and international headquarters based in Oaxaca, Mexico, has incorporated a number of initiatives into their program. These initiatives include the endorsement of a buyers group, called the WWF 1995+ Group, which is linked to the powerful World Wildlife Fund.

"The buyers group is a partnership between the WWF and wood-using companies in the UK who are committed to making sure all of their wood products come from well-managed forests," says Vanessa Sequeira, Forest Information Co-ordinator for the WWF in the UK.

"The FSC is the tool the group uses to dfine what a well-managed forest means," adds Sequeira. There are buyers groups in many other countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, the US and Australia.

The FSC also requires manufacturers to create a paper trail, called "a chain of custody", if they want their products to be FSC certified. This paper trail segregates wood certified by the FSC from non-certified wood.

"A chain of custody certificate proves that a wood product can be traced back to an FSC-approved forest, and as a consequence the FSC label can be used on that product," says Sequeira.

In terms of numbers, 10 million hectares of forest worldwide were certified by the FSC as of July, 1998.

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