Networx: What is FSC certified wood and why does it matter?

Laura Firszt More Content Now
Although wood does not off-gas volatile organic compounds or cause health problems, it cannot automatically be classed as environmentally friendly. [Gerhard Elsner (GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0) from Wikimedia Commons]

Laura Firszt More Content Now

Wood is one of the most enduringly popular home improvement materials. It’s beautiful, sturdy, and useful for all sorts of projects, from flooring to furniture. Besides, it's an eco-friendly choice (you may reason) since wood is natural and plentiful. Or is it?

Is wood an eco-friendly material?

That depends. Although wood does not off-gas volatile organic compounds or cause health problems, it cannot automatically be classed as environmentally friendly. Not all wood is harvested responsibly or obtained from sustainable sources.

For instance, export of Brazilian rosewood was banned by the CITES treaty in 1992 due to overharvesting of this lovely wood (lumber from rosewood trees which fell naturally is still permitted). And bamboo — technically a grass rather than a true wood — was the darling of the green set around the turn of this century. However, it's since come under question amid reported problems like non-sustainable harvesting, creation of monocultural bamboo plantings which threaten local biodiversity, and use of potentially harmful fertilizers and pesticides.

What is FSC certified wood?

There are 3 types of certification:

— FSC 100 percent, virgin wood grown in forests certified by the Council as sustainably managed with responsible harvesting practices.

— FSC Recycled, wood produced from recycled material, usually pre-consumer.

— FSC Mixed, a product comprising a minimum of 70 percent FSC-certified or recycled wood, while the remainder is "controlled wood," from sources the Council deems acceptable.

How does forest certification apply to home improvement?

Green-minded homeowners and renters alike can take the initiative to look for products certified by the FSC when shopping for home improvement items such as kitchen cabinets; furniture; flooring made of hardwood, softwood, composite, or bamboo; and even wallpaper. Of course, it’s important to ensure that your other renovation and repair supplies are eco-friendly, as well. Use low or no-VOC adhesives, varnishes, and paints, for example.

How can I find FSC wood?

What is FSC certified wood’s role in the LEED program?

Forest Stewardship Council certification falls into the responsible extraction category of LEED’s "Building product disclosure and optimization — sourcing of raw materials" (MRc3). Using at least 25 percent responsibly extracted products, by dollar value, will make a new construction project eligible for an LEED credit.

Are there any alternatives to FSC certification?

— Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI). Launched by the American Forest and Paper Association in 1994, the SFI is the largest certifier in North America, the only area where it currently operates.

— Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). The PEFC is a non-profit NGO founded in 1999, which monitors forests internationally. Although less known than the FSC to the average homeowner, the PEFC has grown to become the largest certifier of sustainable, responsibly managed forests worldwide.

— Use of reclaimed or salvaged lumber. An out-of-the-box alternative avoids the use of newly harvested timber altogether. Two possibilities are utilizing reclaimed wood from barns and other structures that are being demolished and sinker wood salvaged via underwater logging.