An Impossible Green Dream?

An Impossible Green Dream?

Flooring retailers and distributors see roadblock in FSC certification requirement

Flooring retailers and distributors — who have learned they must have Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in order to sell FSC-certified products that count as certified wood under the U.S. Green Building Council’s rules — are questioning whether FSC rules have gone too far.

FSC certification is the hallmark of sustainably harvested wood. While it is the only certification accepted for certified wood by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in awarding credit under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the USGBC acknowledges that it has not strictly enforced certification requirements on retailers.

Flooring manufacturers who produce certified products have FSC certification and must package and clearly label FSC-certified products. Some retailers who then sell those products argue that they are not repackaging or altering the materials, and should not have to pay to get certified. Depending on sales volume, a wholesale flooring distributor or retailer can expect to pay $2,000 and up annually for achieving and maintaining certification.

“Does it pencil out to become certified?,” asks Mark Thompson, sales manager for Major Brands Floor Supply /Abbey Carpet & Floor of Seattle. “Is it something that will drive business toward me? If the certification is so watered-down that every other store down the street is certified, then what goal was achieved? Some Eco-capitalist got more chumps to buy into his ‘label.’”

FSC counters that the rule is to ensure proper chain of custody, not to make money.

“Independent, third-party verification is at the core of the LEED system,” the FSC-US said in a written statement from its communications office. “FSC Chain-of-Custody certification provides assurance that an auditor has verified the claims being made by retailers. This is central to the integrity of LEED certification, making sure that the wood used is in fact FSC-certified.”

Fees connected with certification are charged by the company or group that assesses and ensures a business is in compliance with FSC rules. Third-party certifier SCS Global Services estimates  the average cost of FSC certification for a flooring retailer to be $2,000 to $3,000 annually. FSC spokesmen also point out that group certification has been created to help small retailers, with forest product sales less than $5 million annually, share certification at a lower cost.

A retailer or distributor does not have to have certification to sell FSC-certified wood that is not intended for a LEED project in which credits – that often mean tax abatements – will be awarded.  And if there have been instances of a retailer who is not certified selling the wood for LEED credit and passing on the FSC certificate number of his supplier instead of his own, the U.S. Green Building Council has not questioned it as it is not an enforcement agency, says Sarah Buffaloe, USGBC LEED specialist.

“Nonetheless, USGBC always intends to align LEED requirements to FSC- US requirements,” she says. “Sometimes due to versioning or misinterpretation, those requirements get out of sync. USGBC does not intend to enforce FSC Chain of Custody differently than FSC does.”

Retailers who intend to sell products that contribute to LEED points should consider the potential benefits of becoming certified.

The rules are the rules, some retailers say. If after analysis, it doesn’t make business sense to follow them, retailers can focus on all the other products that contribute to points under LEED.

Others like Abbey’s Thompson in Seattle say that while customers are increasingly expressing interest in sustainably harvested wood, demand for FSC-certified flooring is not justifying certification costs because the products are special order, take longer to ship because of chain-of -custody requirements, and cost more than non-certified products.

“Bean counters are watching inventory like no other time in our history,” Thompson says. “If FSC certification will slow down delivery, we can look to another system down the road to replace it… Like most things, government and technical writing of specs, loans and awards will continue to drive the FSC brand.  But, if FSC upsets enough people, it could become like Myspace compared to Facebook. ”

Sam Snow, owner of ECOFloors in Portland, OR, says reclaimed hardwood flooring often is a more attractive option for his customers, due in part to the costs of ordering and shipping FSC–certified goods.

“A common answer we hear when requesting FSC is, ‘Add $1 to the price per square foot,’ ” Snow says. “It’s such a flawed system, a step in the right direction, but there is a lot be improved on.”

The cost of certification, which increases with a company’s sales volume, also can be prohibitive for a wholesale flooring importer and distributor, says R. Lanny Trottman, president of Global Market Partners in Memphis, TN.

“When we looked at this a couple of years ago, the cost seemed excessive, given that we do not repackage, fabricate or alter the goods,” Trottman says. ©

Nancy Kibbee is editor at naturalinteriors.com

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