Hardwood flooring is beautiful and popular, but it can be a green gamble. Wood is natural and renewable, but it may not be harvested sustainably.
The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), an industry trade group, is taking some of the guesswork out of buying wood floors. It has a new Responsible Procurement Program and the new "From U.S. Renewing Forests" logo. The program promotes wood flooring products from renewing forests, which are domestic forests that are being planted faster than they are being harvested.
"Purchasing wood from renewing forests is the only guarantee a consumer has that our forests are being responsibly managed and that the trees will be available for future generations," said NWFA Executive Director and CEO Ed Korczak. The program is designed to help sell sustainable domestic wood, but also to educate manufacturers and encourage forestry companies to embrace sustainability practices. Rather than replacing existing logos on consumer products, the new logo is mainly used in business-to-business marketing and to help guide companies toward the gold standard in sustainable wood: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo.
Roots of the Logo
Don Finkell helped create the program. He is the head of the NWFA environmental committee, and he runs Anderson Floors, the first company to be approved for the new domestic logo. Mullican was the second certified company, and many other manufacturers are working through the audit process.
Finkell said the idea initially grew out of his concerns about illegal logging. He wanted the wood flooring industry to help enforce the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act, first signed into law by President William McKinley in 1900, prevents the importation of illegal wildlife into the United States.
Congress expanded the law in 2007 to cover illegally logged trees and other plants. Wood flooring companies that use domestically sourced wood have a clear interest in helping enforce the new Lacey provisions and block cheap illegal wood. Finkell said more than half of all wood flooring is imported.
Greenpeace estimates US timber companies lose $1 billion each year because of the cheap products of illegal foreign logging. The group said more than 70 percent of illegal logging is in Indonesia, which has the dubious distinction of being the third largest global contributor of atmospheric greenhouse gasses.
Third-Party Certification Key to Program
To help reduce demand for illegally logged wood, the NWFA is marketing a profitable and sustainable alternative that buyers can trust. Finkell said the Renewing Forests program is not greenwashing or fake sustainability hype. The industry group has support from environmental organizations, including the Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Trust, largely because of the program's third-party certification.
"It's easy to have a program where you just talk about yourself," Finkell said. "You need somebody who doesn't have a dog in the fight."
The NWFA contracted with Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an independent organization, to audit each participating flooring company. SCS looks for transparent and accessible purchasing policies. The auditor then verifies purchases with suppliers, and confirms that the forests in question meet USDA Forest Service requirements for renewing forests.
"We're saying 'Don't take our word for it. Take it from our accredited third parties,'" Finkell said.
Renewing Forests Logo a Stepping Stone
Finkell said the group wants to encourage suppliers to move toward greater sustainability. "We're going out to private landowners to get them to get their land FSC certified."
The FSC has a strict certification process that goes beyond the Renewing Forests definition. It bars the conversion of natural forests to other habitats, prohibits toxic pesticides and genetically modified trees, and factors in the protection of indigenous populations. It also requires annual recertification for compliance.
Finkell said only about two percent of his potential hardwood suppliers are FSC certified. He would like to put the FSC logo on more Anderson products, but he cannot guarantee steady access to FSC wood.
"We don't have the supply to honor that commitment," Finkell said.
To continue promoting the FSC label and avoid confusing homeowners, the Renewing Forests logo will not appear on consumer products. It is mainly used in promotional materials. Since November, when Anderson became the first company authorized to use the label, Finkell said he has mainly used the logo on business-to-business marketing for stores, installers and trade associations.
The Renewing Forests logo identifies the original wood source, so it can be applied to both engineered wood flooring and solid hardwoods. Flooring installers and dealers are being educated about the Renewing Forests program. In turn, they can educate consumers, even if homeowners cannot see the logo. A 2008 flooring industry survey said 70 percent of consumers will pay more for sustainably sourced products.
"More and more consumers are demanding 'green' products in their home, so this will be one more way to meet that demand," Korczak said.
About 50 percent of US manufacturers are going through some level of the Renewing Forests audit process.
"It's just a matter of time until it becomes the norm," Finkell said. For more about the National Wood Flooring Association's Responsible Procurement Program and logos, visit the Responsible Procurement Program.