What’s it mean to be green?

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There’s little doubt that the green movement is gaining steam in the United States. In the wood and construction industries, terms like certified wood, sustainable forestry practices, and green building initiatives have become more than propaganda, actually influencing the buying decisions of consumers.

But what exactly is the green movement? What does it mean to be building green? What environmental issues are affecting small custom furniture and cabinet shops or wood product companies? Or is it possible that the majority of all this talk about green issues is just that — talk.

In many ways, “green” is a confusing and nebulous term. Its definition or exactness is often in the eye of the beholder. And once one gets a handle on what green issues may impact their work, the decision on whether to get involved is a choice that can be a personal one or business-related.

Certainly, the green movement is an emotional issue, and like most things in life, it is rather complex. A person or business isn’t simply for or against green. That would be too easy. So it’s probably beneficial to examine the green movement, to break it down into an understandable topic and see if involvement in any green issues would be beneficial to your shop or wood products company.

Green materials
Certified wood products in the United States and Canada usually meet standards set by either the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Consumers and dealers are more familiar with the FSC than SFI; the latter is more of the industry standard set primarily for pulp and paper products.

The main “green” question facing small custom furniture and cabinet shops is whether to use materials obtained from sustainable forestry sources, including wood dealers selling FSC-certified wood products. On a residential basis, custom shops are sometimes requested by customers to use sustainable or certified wood products. The situation is much more complex on the commercial side.

The FSC doesn’t certify anyone directly. The nonprofit organization recognizes third-party certifiers such as SmartWood and Scientific Certification Systems that assess land, verify sustainable forestry practices and abide by other rules the FSC sets before certification can occur.

Only FSC members can sell FSC products and there is a financial ingredient associated with being certified. Prices for FSC-certified wood products

are usually higher than non-certified products and it is up to wood dealers and shop owners to decide whether to pass the added cost on to their clients.

“There are costs involved with the certification because, just like getting your financial books audited, you have to have an FSC chain of custody audit,” says Jamison French, president of Northland Forest Products in Kingston, N.H., and the Hardwood Federation, the largest forest products industry association in the country. “We’re able to recover the costs on some items, but not on others.”

The FSC was formed to assure consumers that its products originate from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations. Through the years, the FSC’s relationship with wood dealers has run the gamut from amiable to contentious. Some dealers gladly promote FSC products, while others feel the organization has developed into a power-hungry bully.