I am concerned when some activists push one certification program over all others, leaving a large segment of America’s environmentally friendly and sustainable forestry products out in the cold.
America’s forests are a true treasure, and we have come a long way in learning to responsibly and sustainably manage this resource.
Whether it is FSC, ATFS, SFI or another credible standard for environmentally friendly forestry practices, the goal of policymakers and conservationists should be to continually improve forestry practices, not to bestow one body with a monopoly or play favorites in the marketplace.
by Thomas V Maxwell, President of Maxwell Hardwood Flooring
An excerpt from a column “Reward good forestry practices, protect our economy”
Click HERE to read the entire article.
At Sappi we do not own our own forest lands. As such we rely on a breadth of private and public landowners to provide wood to our mills in Skowhegan, ME and Cloquet, MN. In an effort to assist landowners, Sappi has established the SFPNA Sustainable Foresty Program. Staffed with a full complement of licensed foresters this program offers education regarding certification, estimates on timber value (as well as help with developing and managing harvest plans. Landowners do not pay for our assistance, but we will often negotiate for timber rights – i.e. we wil enter into purchasing agreements with the landowners.
One of our foresters, Katie Cousins (who is also an associate wildlife biologist) is working with the Penobscot County Conservation Association (PCCA) to help oversee their timber harvest. Consistent with their mission, the PCCA has expressed that their primary objective is to manage their acreage to benefit wildlife habitat. As such, there are several features within their management plan that are somewhat unique:
- Fruit and nut trees have been identified and marked for keeping
- Select species are being untouched (e.g. oak and smooth barked beech) to help retain food for species like deer, bear, turkey, small birds and mammals
- Dead trees which do not present a safety hazard for operators are to be left behind (woodpeckers especially love dead trees)
- Two pine clearcut areas (totally roughly 14 acres) will be (partially) re-planted as foodplots
- Roughly four are being replanted with chestnut trees (with support from the Maine Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation)
The general approach is described as an “overstory removal with reserves”. Essentially, older mature trees will be removed to open up the canopy (letting in sunlight) and allow younger established trees to flourish. There is no replanting in the overstory removal and only in a few selected areas will trees be replanted (e.g. the Chestnut trees). Re-growth will occur through natural regeneration. Consistent with best management practices there are many additional features of the plan which will help protect water and soil quality as well as promoting regeneration of certain higher value species. For example:
- Mature spruce is being removed whereas young spruce will be retained to provide diversity within the stand (mostly balsam fir and poplar), in addition to a component of eastern hemlock and cedar, both important components for white tailed deer wintering habitat.
- A wind-firm stand will be left within a riparian area along a major stream which will protect water quality as well as act as a travel corridor for wildlife
- Roads are being improved for access but will then be gated to control vehicle access upon completion
For recreational purposes, skid trails will be cleaned of slash to allow for foot traffic after the harvest on a few major trails. Slash will be left in the other trails for soil stabilization, nutrient retention, and cover for small mammals, birds, and invertebrates.
Like most landowners, PCCA is balancing their primary objective with economic considerations. The group seeks to derive income to support scholarships, and to sponsor students at a conservation camp. Their land is not certified in accordance with a forest management program – but the wood removed clearly meets the SFI’s fiber sourcing requirements as well as the FSC’s controlled wood standards.
While this harvest does not support our overall goal of increasing certified fiber – it is gratifying to know that our foresters helped in the development and execution of the plan – and that the money Sappi paid for the timber will be put to good use.
If you are a frequent reader of The Environmental Quotient you may be wondering why I’m writing about composite panels. There is no need to speculate that we are headed into a new business segment. I follow woodworking news because many of the sustainability issues are similar to those in the pulp and paper industry (e.g. Lacey Act compliance, wood sourcing, workplace safety, etc). Furthermore, our Release Papers Business sells products for engineered specifically for applying decorative surfaces onto solid surfaces. And generally speaking, I think we can all stand to learn much by getting outside of our realm of direct responsibilities and working across industries.
But more to the point…
Last month the Composite Panel Association announced expansion of its Eco-Certified Composite Certification Program. Composite panels are defined as particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), hardboard, engineered wood siding or engineered wood trim. The certification program has separate criteria for primary manufacturers (those making panels) as well as for manufacturers of finished products (like cabinets or furniture).
As many of these products are used indoors, there is an absolute basic criteria as part of the standard. Panels must meet the CARB requirements for formaldehyde limits. I like this – a show stopper in a standard that is focused clearly on a core environmental issue related to indoor air quality. Beyond this element, the standard allows from some flexibility and must meet three of five criteria related to:
- Carbon Footprint
- Local and Renewable Resources
- Recycled/Recovered wood
- Wood Sourcing
While I am somewhat limited in my knowledge of these products, it strikes me that they’ve tackled the tough issues while allowing for some flexibility in implementation. I personally would have labeled the “sustainability” aspects as “Efficient Use of Materials” as it is related to minimizing waste to landfill. But despite the word choice, I like the criteria.
Sappi Fine Paper North America is committed to ensuring that 100% of our fiber supply is procured from sustainably managed forests. We support inclusive policies and do not express a preference for one forest management program over another. With less than 10% of the world’s forests certified, we strive to expand certified forests, especially in those regions that provide fiber to our mills.
So, kudos to the CPA and to others that express inclusive positions on wood sourcing criteria for eco-standards.
Forests act to process precipitation into high quality surface waters. In fact, a recent water profile study* (see below) reports that two thirds of freshwater in the U.S. originates from forests. Therefore society and industry have a shared interest in maintaining forests and the water resource benefits of forested land.
But this notion does not preclude us from using trees to deliver on society’s needs for wood and paper products. On the contrary, developing strong markets for wood products can help keep forested land forested.
Forest management programs can help minimize impacts to surface and groundwater by the use of Best Management Practices (BMPs). For example, foresters lay out riparian zones, areas abutting waterways and ponds, that are important for soil stability and filtration. If there is a river or a stream, loggers will create an extensive buffer strip so that there is no cutting in that area. For water crossings, panels are placed over streams so that the water and banks are not disturbed. For smaller streams, culverts are inserted to allow water to continually flow without having any dirt or silt enter into it.
In order to further this understanding, The Sustainable Forestry Initiative announced today that they have awarded a grant to the World Resources Institute (WRI) to research how forest certification standards help protect lakes and rivers.
WRI is working in collaboration with the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, the Willamette Partnership, the American Forest Foundation, and others to advance investment in forests to ensure stable supplies of clean freshwater.
We can treat water with technology – but at what cost to society? And why would we put more steel in concrete in place when our forests can do the job for us?
In other words: more well managed forested land = more clean fresh water.
*Reference: Wiegand, P. S. et al., “Water Profiles of the Forest Products Industry and Their Utility in Sustainability Assessment”. TAPPI Journal: July 2011, p. 19-27.
Across the board – from landowners, to environmental activist groups, to paper companies, to procurement officers from large corporations – there is a collective agreement that forest management programs are benefiting the health and wellbeing of our forests.
I have vented enough over the frustrations associated with the debates and misunderstandings about which program is “better” or the “best.” And I get particularly flustered by some of the tactics that are used to promote FSC by undermining other programs. Whether we are talking about sports cars, soda pop, or scientific standards, it is hard to refute that competition drives improvements. Consumers benefit through greater choice, lower prices and better products.
A self-proclaimed, “Greenpeace Dropout”, Patrick Moore gets directly to the point. In a special to the Vancouver Sun he stipulates simply that “Monopoly for forest certification is wrong." He argues that “promoting an FSC monopoly will limit consumer choice and market competition while having no effect on forest sustainability”.
Earlier this week, forest products company Weyerhaeuser announced a preference for certified fiber from forests managed under the American Tree Farm Standard. As a long- time supporter of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative program, I do not believe Weyerhaeuser sees the ATFS standard as superior to SFI, but rather they are stating a need to drive further recognition for a program that supports our nation’s small family farmers.
For companies that want to set goals or track their usage of certified products, we routinely advise paper buyers to be inclusive with policy statements and recommend that they acknowledge the leading certification standards (ATFS, FSC, SFI, and PEFC).
And we also want to create an understanding that one need not feel guilty about the impact on the forest when products are sourced responsibly. As an industry, we must strive to meet society’s needs for wood and paper products. But it is not just about meeting that demand—good forest management is about making forests better.
From the opening letter of our eQ Journal Volume 4
The US Green Building Council has developed one of the leading standards for design, construction, operations and maintenance of buildings. Their LEED standard is built upon a point system based on a breadth of criteria for energy and environmental design. One criteria addresses sourcing wood from certified forests. In a recent update to their standard, the USGBC has indicated that points for wood would be awarded for wood that is “FSC or better.” This designation has caused quite a stir amongst many stakeholders.
Sappi has long expressed support for inclusive policies that recognize the world’s leading forest management standards including FSC, SFI and PEFC. With only 10% of the world’s forests certified to any reputable standard, we need to spend our collective energy to expand certification and protect against deforestation rather than getting in the weeds over some of the details of which standard is best (or in this case “better”). It is clear that the principals of both SFI and FSC are quite similar and effective for sustainably managing our forests. To quote from a review by Dovetail Partners:
“Significant changes have occurred within the major certification programs in recent years, and, … it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between certification systems in North America.”
But beyond our official position on inclusive policies, I am shocked that such a leading organization would write what amounts to me as a sloppy reference in a standard. “FSC or better”? What does this mean? I am certainly not the only one pondering this question and supporters of SFI have been writing some insightful guest blog posts in reaction to this recent announcement.
Last week, Dr. Richard W. (Dick) Brinker, Dean Emeritus, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, Auburn University shared his position on the SFI’s research commitment.
And today, Bob Luoto, Owner and Operator of Cross & Crown, a third generation logger shared his perspective on the negative impacts that exclusivity can have on private landowners.
While both of these writers do have an acknowledged affiliation with SFI (they are board members) their comments and insights should not be overlooked.
In yesterday’s post I wrote about the rationale behind eco-logos and illustrated the difference between self-generated claims and certifications. Now let’s take a closer look at claims for paper.
Here’s an example of a self-declaration regarding the environmental attributes of paper: Paper is made from renewable resources with high levels of renewable energy and is recyclable.
If you trust me and/or my credentials this statement alone might make you feel comfortable about using paper. It is hard to imagine a material with a stronger sustainability position. However, it is undeniable that not all paper mills have the same environmental footprint, and not every company sources their wood fiber responsibly. Herein lies the value of certification programs.
Let’s break down my statement one element at a time.
Within the wood and paper products industry it is well understood that stakeholders want assurance that forest management practices are in place to protect forests and verify that the source of wood fiber indeed gets renewed and stays as a working forest. Several international standards have emerged and our mills maintain chain of custody certifications for the three leading programs: FSC, SFI and PEFC. If the chain of custody is maintained all the way from the forest to the print shop floor, projects printed on our papers can carry labels representing these certification programs. At the consumer level, the label helps to convey the fact the wood was sourced responsibly. These labels are also being seen in the solid wood markets on products ranging from timber (e.g. 2x4’s) to cabinetry, flooring, and furniture.
High levels of renewable energy:
When a papermaking facility is integrated (the pulp mill attached to the paper mill) wood waste and by-products are incinerated to generate steam. That steam is then passed across a turbine to generate electricity and the remaining steam is used to turn mechanical shafts and provide thermal energy throughout the mill. This co-generation of steam and electricity makes integrated mills highly efficient as compared to electric utilities that discard waste heat. While I have yet to find a certification standard that has developed a program for overall energy claims, there are multiple standards that exist regarding the use of renewable energy for electricity. These programs are based on the generation and trading of renewable energy certificates (REC’s). The chemical recovery boilers at Sappi’s coated fine paper mills are both certified in accordance with the Green-e standard and we are therefore able to make claims in the marketplace that 100% of the electricity for certain products is certified renewable energy. If a printer is also using certified REC’s the final product can carry a Green-e label explaining that both the paper and the printing utilized 100% certified electricity.
While recycling has been around since the first paper mills landed in the US, there is still much confusion regarding the recyclability of certain grades. For a product to carry a broad claim of recyclability, at least 60% of users must have access to a facility that can recycle the product. Otherwise a claim should be supported by an additional clarifying statement such as “where facilities exist”. For coated fine papers, the groundwork has been covered and it is appropriate to make these claims. However, to my knowledge there is no third party certification for “please recycle claims”. Several trade associations have developed logo programs including the MPA’s “Please recycle this magazine” the DMA’s “Recycle Please” blue bin logo and the EMA’s “Please recycle this envelope” program. We have also made hi res icons available for download here.
Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental attributes of products and packaging. If you are in business today, whether selling a product or a service, it is possible to create an advantage in the marketplace by touting environmental credentials. As such, eco-labels and claims abound: from cleaning supplies that we use at home to the clothes we wear and the cars we drive. Environmental labels are also applied to packaging of products ranging from toys to tater tots and everything else we buy. With so many environmental attributes to consider (toxicity, energy, water, waste) it can be difficult to decipher whether one product is truly better than another.
To help protect consumers from false or misleading claims, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has established a set of general principles that apply to all environmental claims. The International Standards Organization (ISO) has also developed some very helpful resources.
Welcome to the world of environmental marketing and claims.
If you are in marketing, it is critical to get your claims right or risk jeopardizing the integrity of your brand. For someone new to the space, the options and the responsibility can seem overwhelming. But at the end of the day it basically boils down to three basic tenets.
1. Claims must be accurate (don’t stretch the truth)
2. You must be able to substantiate your claim (provide proof if challenged)
3. Consumers should be able to understand your claim at the product level (when in doubt provide a URL and more information on line)
Legitimate claims can made through self-declarations but unfortunately many consumers don’t trust business and seek additional assurances. Labels developed by credible third party certification programs offer assurance and transparency for marketers that choose to use them. Let’s look at examples of each type of claim.
In the realm of responsible sourcing I might simply tell a customer: “100% of our wood fiber is legally sourced from well managed forests”. This self-declaration is legitimate and we can substantiate it with purchase records and the ability to track all of the fiber we use back to its origin. But for many paper users this simple claim is not enough. Some of our customers want additional assurances. To that end our wood and fiber procurement processes are audited by independent third parties in accordance with forest management standards. Specifically, we are certified by third party auditors to show that our sourcing meets the chain of custody standards of the FSC, SFI and PEFC programs. Because we meet the standards, our products can be labeled in accordance with those standards.
Another example of a self-declaration would be if we simply report: “we use efficient logistics providers to ship our products thereby reducing emissions associated with transportation”. If challenged, we can provide records of shipping routes and even the fuel efficiency of the fleets that are used. Or we can offer additional assurance by pointing our customers to the fact that we are a certified SmartWay Transport Partner.
Certification programs add costs. There are resources required to meet standards and manage the programs and there are often fees associated with logo usage and third party audits. Sustainable businesses do not take on environmental programs without consideration of cost and the value delivered by participation. With a plethora of programs to choose from and more popping up each day, we evaluate each one closely and limit our participation to those that we believe provide legitimate assurances to our customers.
For more information about labels and claims for Sappi products, be sure to check out our “On Product Label Guide” which can be downloaded here.
If you are responsible for creating marketing claims, be sure to get a copy of the FTC Green Guides as well as ISO 14020, Environmental Labels and Declarations: General Principals.
I also recommend the Canadian Standards Association’s “PLUS 14021 Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers”