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Study Finds Need for More Certified Wood

Builders could face shortage of sustainably grown wood for construction

New York builders eager to use the greenest construction techniques might have difficulty finding locally grown wood that is certified as having been produced in the most sustainable manner, according to a study published in the Forest Products Journal.

The study by forestry Professor Rene Germain of the SUNY College of
Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and Pat Penfield, who teaches supply chain management at Syracuse University, revealed a combination of factors could prevent builders from obtaining New York-grown, Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood. Certification means the wood has been grown and harvested in accordance with sustainable practices.

"FSC-certified wood continues to be the gold standard in certification due to a strict chain-of-custody process from stump to final product. This ensures the final user that the wood in question originates from forests under sustainable forest management," Germain said.

Germain and Penfield identified three factors that could add up to a shortage of FSC-certified wood for builders: Use of such wood is of limited importance in seeking Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and there is a shortage of both FSC-certified sawmills and FSC-certified wood.

LEED certification bestows only one point for use of FSC-certified wood in construction. LEED certification is granted on several levels, depending on how many points are awarded for various aspects of the construction.

The researchers found that builders prefer to buy their wood locally but more than 30 percent are forced to purchase FSC-certified wood outside New York state, for which they usually pay a premium price.

"These findings suggest a lack of product in New York state," Germain said. "Lack of supply combined with premium prices could potentially discourage use of FSC-certified wood and increase the use of other materials, thereby defeating the well-documented benefits of using a sustainable resource."

In order to alleviate the FSC-wood bottleneck, more sawmills need to seek FSC certification. Germain and Penfield suggest that a higher price premium for FSC-wood is needed to entice sawmills to participate. They also recommend raising the points allotted to FSC-certified wood toward LEED certification.

"The ultimate goal should be to increase the use of wood from well-managed forestlands in construction," Penfield said. "If the shortage is not addressed, the role of FSC-certified wood in green construction in New York State could be detrimentally impacted."

The study was published at a time when consumer demand for "green" good is increasing. Even with the current downturn in the housing market, a 2008 poll showed that 91 percent of registered voters nationwide would pay more for a house if that meant a reduced impact on the environment.

The same is true for the commercial building industry, as construction companies prioritize environmental investments as a smart return on investment over the life of the structure. In fact, green building products and services in the United States are expected to grow to $60 billion in 2010.

Germain teaches core forestry courses and conducts research on sustainable forestry systems at ESF. Penfield is an assistant professor in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Their paper, titled "The Potential Certified Wood Supply Chain Bottleneck and Its Impact on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Construction Projects in New York State," was published in the latest issue (volume 60, number 2) of the Forest Products Journal.