Pro dealers rally behind “Eco-Label” concept

Kansas City, Mo. -- Heavy hitters from the lumberyard industry spoke out in support of the concept of an easy-to-track “eco-label” that would be stamped on soft lumber harvested from sustainable forests.

Aforum held here by the LBM Institute (LBMI), the educational and research arm of the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA), was organized to “gather industry and stakeholder perspectives” on the idea of such an eco-stamp. The certification system would be similar to the grade stamps now administered by the American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC) and the Department of Commerce.

Moderator Valerie Hansen, LBMI Trustee, opened the meeting with a discussion of an LBMI eco-labeling initiative that proposed to eliminate the current chain-of-custody documentation requirements that follow lumber products from the mill to the end user.

Under the LBMI proposal, eco-labeling would lead to a marketplace with two kinds of dimensional lumber inventories -- one with a label indicating a “sustainable forests standard” and one without the label. Part of the forum was dedicated to the practicability of this concept.

The existing chain-of-custody system was roundly criticized by the dealers present but supported by representatives of eco-management certification programs Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forest Initiative.

ProBuild CEO Paul Hylbert described his company as “hugely supportive” of both sustainability and green building. “It’s kind of like apple pie and motherhood,” he said.

He added that ProBuild was supportive of all the major certification systems but said there should be a more efficient way to track sustainability

“There is a definite supply-side problem with trying to keep track of all the various type of lumber certifications,” Hylbert said. “In general, trying to keep track of the product and keep it separated is not easy. So the idea of an eco-stamp on product is really appealing to us and would reduce our costs.”

Dan Fessler, owner of St. Paul, Minn.-based Lamperts, described the costs of maintaining current chain-of-custody documentation as “ridiculous.”

“I think a stamp would save this industry a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of effort,” he said. “But is it doable? A lot of people put a lot of money behind certification programs that are already in place.”

While other dealers hammered away at the need for a workable method of tracking products, representatives from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) held firm behind the status quo, though both groups expressed willingness to look for ways to make current chain-of-custody requirements easier to manage.

Aprepared statement from the FSC’s Karen Steer, presented during the forum, explained: “FSC forest certification standards are developed in a consensus process, and FSC-US sees no need for development of additional standards.”

The SFI’s position was presented during the forum by Allison Welde, its manager of conservation partnerships and communications. She expressed concern for any new system that would bypass the chain-of-custody process.

“If you create a new standard that’s perceived as not as robust as what’s already out there, then you go through a lot of work, a lot of time and money,” she said. “And at the end of the day, you’re just back where you’re started.”

But the dealers in the forum were quick to emphasize that the lumberyard industry doesn’t want additional standards, either -- just a practical way to track the existing standards.

“People in this room are highly supportive of the concept of green building, doing things in a sustainable and responsible method,” said Gene McKinney of Tindell’s, based in Knoxville, Tenn.

“The whole concept of trying to keep up with paperwork that the wood is from certified forests is unrealistic. The whole notion of a certified forest grade stamp simplifies the process and takes cost and burden out of the process and just makes good common sense to go that route.”