Marketing certified wood products for green building


Certified wood products represent a special case for marketing green products, since wood is not typically a large percentage of the total costs of a commercial or institutional building. The certified wood credit (Materials and Resources credit 7) requires that 50 percent of the value of all new wood-based materials used in a project pass through an FSC-certified chain of custody (COC). For nonprofits, universities and other green building clients, the use of sustainably harvested wood could be an important selling point for a LEED project.

In 2007, there were more than 800 COC certificates in North America (generally in both US and Canada), including 156 issued directly to managed forest owners.14 There were about 70 million acres (28,160,000 hectares) of FSC-certified forests in North America, indicating there are many providers of FSC-certified lumber and many forest sources. Canada alone represents 22 percent of the global total of FSC-certified wood. For many cities in the US, this marketplace is very healthy and very cost-competitive, especially for dimensional lumber ("2 X 4's"). For design firms in major cities who want to encourage clients to support the use of certified wood in their projects, there should be plenty of supply, especially since this is an item which can be bought and stockpiled ahead of use. However, a 2006 survey of design professionals found that only 54 percent of those wanting to use certified wood were able to, primarily owing to cost and availability considerations, as well as a lack of education about this product type. Another survey found that some regions of the country such as the Pacific Northwest have much higher rates of certified wood use in LEED projects, as much as 15 percent above the national average.15

Looking at various LEED-certified projects, we often see very different results in terms of certified wood use. The lesson for marketers of certified wood products is to know an architect's and owner's project goals intimately and be prepared to argue that the public relations benefit is worth the extra money that would be spent on certified lumber for rough carpentry or finish items. In many cases, the cost premium for dimensional lumber is not significant; however, its use is probably not enough to meet the requirement for certified wood to represent 50 percent of the value of total wood products. In this case, add some combination of dimensional lumber and cabinetry, and the total cost for buying this lumber as certified will be enough to meet the 50 percent test of total value for all wood-based materials.

Even though much of the green building to date has been commercial construction, project teams are still using FSC-certified framing lumber on more than 25 percent of the successful projects. As expected, interior products such as doors, interior finishes and plywood/paneling were the next most included certified products after framing lumber.16

Case study: Marketing certified wood in the Northwest

For this case study, we interviewed Lee Jimerson, manager of manufacturing accounts and Wade Mosby, Senior Vice President for the Collins Companies, one of the more experienced growers of certified forests in the US. Collins is a relatively small (over $200 million revenues in 2007), but sophisticated marketer of certified wood products headquartered in Portland, Oregon (www. Collins has 300,000 acres of certified forests in Oregon, California and Pennsylvania. The 152-year-old company sells FSC-certified hardwood and softwood lumber, veneer logs and particleboard known as CollinsWood®. Collins also sells a product called TruWood® Siding and Trim, but only in the West (Figure 7.2).

Collins' brand identity is tied up with the claim that it is "the first privately owned forest products company to be independently certified by the FSC" and the "first forest products company to adopt the principles of The Natural

► 7.2 CollinsWood FSC-certified lumber was used in the LEED-NC Platinum certified Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Health and Healing. Courtesy of Collins Company.

► 7.2 CollinsWood FSC-certified lumber was used in the LEED-NC Platinum certified Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Health and Healing. Courtesy of Collins Company.

Step"17 for its corporate and manufacturing practices. Collins manufactures engineered wood products such as particleboard, using I00 percent recycled fiber from post-industrial sources, and TruWood Siding and Trim using a minimum of 50 percent recycled and recovered waste.

Clearly, while Collins' brand and key point of differentiation is heavily tied to its sales of certified lumber and sustainable forestry practices, as a practical matter, it must also sell products into regular lumber channels and must compete with noncertified forest products on price, terms, customer service and quality for a good part of its sales. Selling close to the point of production is also important, since distribution costs can often be important factors in making or losing a sale. Having a good supply chain is therefore a key factor in being able to meet demand, in competition with local and regional lumber chains.

At present, institutional projects are driving demand for certified wood, since nearly 50 percent of the LEED-registered projects are with institutional users: government agencies, schools and colleges, and nonprofit organizations, for whom environmental commitment and responsible stewardship are key principles to demonstrate in new buildings. Certified wood is also benefiting from the rapid growth in LEED-CI projects, which gain valuable points for their LEED rating goals by using not only certified wood in cabinetry, but also in furniture and furnishings.

A big issue for the green building industry is the existence of two major competing certification programs for certified wood: the FSC program, supported by most major environmental organizations, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program which had been industry-dominated until about 2004. At this time, only FSC-certified wood is allowed to claim a credit in the LEED system. In the Green Globes system and in most residential certification programs from local home builder associations, certified lumber from both systems can receive credits toward certification.

What has Collins gained from its early adoption of environmental responsibility? According to Jimerson, certification has delivered market share and customer loyalty; it has helped develop strong partnerships and relationships with manufacturers and assemblers of wood products, including veneers and furniture. In my view, the company's commitment also demonstrates vision and integrity, both internally and externally, that makes it a valued business partner and supplier. However, there are still issues with how LEED standards are written, as they impact the company's products. For example, a ban on using products with urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins works against using the company's parti-cleboard in furniture, even though it is sealed and never off-gasses. In this case, a LEED measure to protect indoor air quality works against using sustainable and recycled wood products!

As an indication of customer loyalty, Collins was able to have its certified wood specified and used in the world's largest LEED Platinum building, the Center for Health and Healing in Portland, Oregon, a project completed in 2006 by a developer who is a long-time user of the Collins products.

From a marketing standpoint for LEED projects, the devil is still in the details. It is important for Collins to get into a project early, so that product specifications don't inadvertently specify types of lumber not available in certified form or not in the regional supply chain. In Jimerson's opinion, the ground-breaking work that Collins has done with architectural specifiers has paid off, but there are still issues with familiarizing contractors with how to procure the specified product. In the end, if the ultimate buyer does not value certification (i.e., is not willing to pay extra for the certified product), Collins can elect not to maintain the COC certification of the wood and just sell it as regular lumber.

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