October 5, 1997 in Nation/World

Professor Sees Potential For Eco-Friendly Wood

Associated Press
 

U.S. consumers are lagging, but demand for wood products produced under environmentally friendly logging standards is catching on in Europe, researchers say.

“Certified” products account for less than 1 percent of the total wood products market, and demand is driven more by concerned industries and wholesalers than by consumers, according to a report by Oregon State University professor Eric Hansen.

But, “if even a single country there goes toward this in a big way you could see a ripple effect,” Hansen said. “I’m telling U.S. companies they should not ignore or discount this movement.”

Hansen recently published his analysis in the Forest Products Journal. He and other Oregon State colleagues also have conducted studies of specific companies.

Certified wood products are an outgrowth of environmental groups and others pushing for “sustainable” forestry, which often rejects some fairly common forest management practices, such as widespread clearcutting or extensive use of herbicides.

But there still is no clear consensus about who should do the certifying, what criteria to use and how the process should be handled.

Those issues and lack of infrastructure have limited the growth of this movement, Hansen said.

Wholesalers are reluctant to push certified wood products without a dependable supply. Forest product companies are unsure what management practices are acceptable and consumers are left uninformed.

Many companies are reluctant to become allies with some environmental groups that in the past may have been their harshest critics. They also fear costly changes in forest management practices that may not be recovered by higher prices at the retail level, Hansen said.

So far, he said, not a single large U.S. industrial company is involved with “third-party” certification, which many see as the best approach.

But Home Depot recently sold some “certified” pine shelving for a lower price than its regular pine shelving, Hansen said.

Lexington Furniture, however, recently tried to market a certified furniture line but failed to generate sufficient sales and canceled production after its first year.

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