The "Sustainable" Chain of Custody

How can a small shop get certification that its wood is sustainably produced, all the way back to the source? June 30, 2009

I have a few questions on FSC. We currently have white oak logs sawed by an Amish mill, dry it ourself and manufacture a finished product. My question is how do we become FSC certified on our end product and be able to cut and dry our own stock. I know we can get a chain of custody cert, but my question is how do we certify the raw lumber or logs? Buying in FSC lumber from a certified supplier is not an option, we need to have some things we do done our own way. Want to find out how we can produce our own FSC certified lumber?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor R:
How do I get certified? FSC accredited, independent, “third-party” certification bodies or “certifiers” certify forests. They assess forest management using the FSC principles, criteria, and regional U.S. standards. This allows FSC to remain outside of the assessment process, and supports the integrity of the standard, and of the FSC certification system. Certifiers evaluate both forest management activities (forest management certification sometimes referred to as “F.M.”) and chain-of-custody tracking (chain-of custody-certification sometimes referred to as “CoC.”) for mills, manufactures and distributors. CoC. certification addresses a company’s ability to track certified products throughout their inventory and distribution processes.

If you are interested in obtaining an FSC-certification, please contact an FSC accredited certifier. They will be able to provide you with information regarding how the assessment process works, costs, and a timeline for certification completion.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the reply. I understand how to get certified, what I wanted to find out is if we can produce an FSC certified product that we cut and dry ourselves with just a CoC certificate? Also, do we have to purchase logs from a certified logger or how does that work? Trying to find out how we would be able to purchase logs and produce our product. I understand if we HAE a CoC certificate we can manufacture our product and not break the chain, what I need to find out is how do we get our raw logs certified. We currently buy logs from several loggers who we like doing business with, do they have to be certified? Where I am lost is the part from the woods to the mill in log form, how does it work for FSC?

From contributor D:
To sell an FSC certified product, all suppliers within the chain must be certified. So yes, you would have to buy certified logs from certified loggers. Without them (loggers) being certified, they couldn't sell you logs stamped "FSC", because a link of the chain is broken.

From contributor S:
It doesn't matter if the logger is certified or not if the forest that the logs come from is not "certified". So that’s were it all starts, you can't certify a log after it has already been cut.

From contributor M:
If your customer wants a FSC stamp and is willing to pay for it then as they say " the customer is always right". Now on the other hand if you expect your log suppliers to absorb this cost you will need to be buying large long term volume. I live in Canada next to mills which harvest hundreds of truckloads per day and many of them are still on the fence as far as the value of certification.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The FSC certification is a way to let consumers know that wood is from a forest that is defined as sustainable, etc. However, to keep the cost down, the chance for corruption is high. Yet on the other hand, almost all of the US forests with hardwoods are sustainable, except when one is removed for a large box store, highway or new homes. When a forest is removed, it would be unthinkable that because there is no certification, the wood cannot be put to wise use. I do believe that underneath the excitement of the various responses here, there are diamonds of truth.

One unfortunate fallout of this approach is that some people (especially the US Park Service) think that wise use of the forest is not to include any harvesting at all. This approach assures that insects or fire will remove the forest. But with over 300 million people in the US alone, I think that wiser use includes harvesting and not letting insects or fire take of things. (One example that is often cited is the improvement of Yellowstone Park after the big fire. I maintain that we could have seen the same improvement by harvesting and then the citizens would have gotten even more from the forest, the air been less polluted, etc.).

From contributor G:
Gene - when the pine beetles started munching on the British Columbia pines, the government lowered the stumpage fees in order to harvest as much as possible before the beetles got it all. The US forest industry viewed this as subsidy and placed tariffs on Canadian softwoods, leading to the Softwood Lumber Dispute.

From contributor M:
Somewhere along the line we have lost sight of the basic fundamentals of our industry. If we can't uphold them how can we expect our customers to choose wood? We have given market share to steel, plastic and concrete and have completely failed to educate customers of the ecological and economic benefits of wood. How many people are aware of the carbon emitted by the manufacture of steel studs and plastic siding? How many of us have a steel beam holding up the roof over our mill. We have sat quietly on the sideline as environmental organizations have taught our customers that logging is bad. Have you ever seen a steel mill shut down because someone found a bird nesting in the rafters? We fight over an ever shrinking market share and complain when things like FSC certification is required by a customer who truly thinks wood grows square and chocolate milk comes from brown cows. I truly believe the problem with certification is that it has become another tool for inter mill competition rather than a customer education tool which could benefit everyone. The focus of the FSC should be to showcase the best practices of our industry rather than adding another layer of bureaucracy.

I'm getting a little off topic here, if you are going to ask your suppliers to certify please ensure it will be a positive experience for them and not just another cost they bear which helps you market your product. I believe the small mill should not need to certify as we should have enough knowledge of how and where our logs came from to keep our customers happy. A little leg work walking through some of your logger’s old blocks may provide more assurance to your customers than a stamp on the lumber and will also give you a feel for how difficult or easy it will be for your logger to get certified. Don’t forget your camera, nothing like a ten year old forest to show your customers that it grows back. If you get your logs from selective logging then it will be difficult to tell that the stand was logged ten years post harvest.

There is no doubt we are headed into some rough economic times so any business decision which adds costs must pay for itself especially when the bulk of the cost will be carried by a associated company.

From contributor J:
I own 20 acres in the People's Republic of King County (that's near Seattle), and we got our stand FSC certified through the local resource group (Northwest Natural Resource Group). This group is interested in the entire concept of sustainability, so they provided scholarships for the process - didn't cost me a dime. Check around, you might be able to find a similar group. But, getting back to the original question, if it didn't come from a FSC certified forest, it can't be FSC certified. On the other hand, you can attempt to market it as "sustainable" as there is no real definition of that (you might want to use the UN's definition, which basically states that a resource will remain available for future generations).

From contributor J:
Perhaps I should clarify one thing regarding logging 100% - it can be done due to the type of forest I have (underdeveloped and overstocked alder), which is in the process of being replaced with other types of trees. I hope I didn't mislead or confuse anyone (the idea here is to maintain the sustainability of the forest -removing less than is growing). I'll be replanting with more trees than I remove, and not in a monoculture manner (mixed forest).

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the input. We do mostly reclaimed oak products right now and about 25% of our work is rustic cut from new lumber. I believe that the "idea" or being sustainable is great, but as pointed out I think this is more of a pay to play organization. What I feel in my gut is that it is very hard to regulate what is truly FSC and I am sure a percentage is passed on through. But we fall prey to what the masses want and in my market it is FSC products. I just lost a rustic cherry job to a FSC product - it was flooring. This is what gets me, it was residential, no lead points involved. Here is what I feel is common sense, we had cherry that was blown down from a storm, it was horse logged by Amish and cut up on a small band mill and it avg. 8"-12" widths and 10'-16' long! I am sure the FSC cherry was logged and cut using large equipment for speed more than energy consumption. Now at the end of the day as the dust settles, don't you think the Amish sawn cherry is more earth friendly than a mega large production mill cutting FSC logs? Seems like more of a marketing ploy playing to people’s fears than of reality. I just wish I patented the word "green" a long time ago, makes you think.

From contributor G:
Is SFI an option for your customers yet? Although FSC did a better job of marketing themselves early on plus their tree hugger flunkies did a good job of blackmailing big media companies and big box chains into requiring FSC initially, in some areas SFI is a better option as it accepts wood from American Tree Farm (now PEFC certified) forests into its CoC process. SFI also has a certified content label option that allows you to state what proportion of your volume comes from certified forests. The mill that I work at has had a SFI certified procurement program label since 2004 and we will be going for the certified content label in the near future. LEED is also looking at giving credit for SFI products because FSC is not likely to be able to satisfy demand when the building market recovers and SFI will. If you haven't done so, I would hire a knowledgeable consultant to spend a day with you looking at your operation (certified content procurement opportunities, CoC options and customer needs) and advising you on what your best options are.

From contributor K:
It used to be that The Society of American Foresters had a code of ethics that essentially made an accredited forester agree to practice ethical forestry. It is much like a doctor's oath. If that were upheld the whole certification concept would not be needed. Find a good forester who can also help source possible ways to certify the small suppliers in your area possibly in aggregate. They could also potentially provide enough information on the sources of your lumber so that you could market your products without FSC.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The FSC is not like an antibiotic that, when used, improves the health. It is a way that a consumer will know for certain that the forest is sustainable. How many hardwood forests (measured on a large scale and not just one or two acres) are not sustainable at the time of harvest and the years prior to harvest? I think that we will find that there are a lot of sustainable forests (some forest land has no value other than growing trees, so even after harvest, a new forest emerges). But, the cost of getting a certification of sustainability is high. Plus, how many certified forests will actually be harvested?

The cost of a piece of wood furniture or cabinet or flooring is about 70% wood. Would you be willing to pay more if the wood product was certified? If so, the price of such furniture will mean that imported furniture will be cheaper and more attractive to many. Of course, do you think that such furniture is certified (or if certified, done accurately)?

We have many sustainable, healthy hardwood forests and have had many for many years. (Unfortunately, there have been a few softwood forests that have given all forestry a "black eye." There are also some forests that have converted to another species such as oak growing on an older SYP site). If we want sustainability, we need to encourage ethical treatment of the land (maybe through tax incentives). Who wants to invest in a 70 year investment that has the risk of fire, insects, ice storms, etc. and is taxed every year? How can we make "proper" forestry more attractive? Let's attack the forestry ethics and not the consumer.