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What is Certified Wood?

By Kathy R
Updated May 17, 2024
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Certified wood is timber that is officially approved by a certification organization as coming from a responsibly managed forest anywhere in the world. The first organization that certified wood in the United States was the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which was formed in 1993 to further the cause of sustainable forestry. Since then, several other organizations that certify wood have appeared, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The Forest Stewardship Council's certification is still the most highly respected and it is recognized throughout the world.

To get its wood certified, a timber producer has to accept a visit from an official auditor. The Forest Stewardship Council partners with five auditing organizations inside the United States, including Bureau Veritas Certification and Scientific Certification Systems, Inc. During the audit, the company checks to make sure that the producer operates its business in accordance with stringent standards for forest stewardship, including giving strong attention to workers' rights, thoroughly understanding their environmental impact, and following well thought-out management practices.

All certified wood can feature a symbol that looks like a tree with a checkmark on the left side of it. This mark also has the words "Forest Stewardship Council Certified" on it to avoid any confusion. Companies that distribute this wood have permission from the council to use it in their branding and marketing, to help them increase sales. Many companies will go to great lengths to achieve FSC compliance, since it makes their products more appealing to eco-conscious business owners and consumers. In fact, there are companies, such as Ecotrust Canada, in the business of helping companies achieve this certification.

Finding certified wood is not difficult to do. There are almost 3,000 companies with chain of custody certificates in the United States alone, which means that they sell wood that is certified from the beginning of the process through the end. There are also over 30 million acres of certified forest in the US, so suppliers can basically pick and choose where to get their certified wood from.

The only limitation to obtaining this wood seems to be whether or not a company is willing to pay for it. As the demand for responsible forest management increases, the amount of certified wood available is certainly going to grow, and the FSC stamp of approval is sure to make its way further into mainstream society. Tax credits for green building may help speed up the process in the US.

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Discussion Comments
By matthewc23 — On Dec 05, 2011

@titans62 - It sounds like you are a pretty informed landowner, but I am curious if you have heard about certification co-ops. Basically, they are just what they sound like. Because there is such a high upfront cost for getting land certified by FSC, some foresters are organizing several forest landowners in an area to go through the certification process.

The landowners split the cost of the initial certification as well as the regular inspections (with payments being relative to forest size, of course). The forester in charge will try to schedule regular harvests among the co-op members so that everyone is receiving fairly regular payments from having a certified forest.

I only know this because we recently entered into a certification like this. I'm sure some of it would depend on where you live, too. We live in the eastern US in an area where a lot of people own forestland.

Besides domestic certification, how does certification happen in other countries? Does anyone know?

By titans62 — On Dec 05, 2011

@Izzy78 - I am not positive about Lowe's, but I know for a fact that all the wood sold by Home Depot is FSC certified. Once certification started to get more popular, they got a lot of pressure put on them by environmental organizations to start selling certified lumber.

There are actually a lot of different certification groups besides FSC that exist. We recently went through the process of getting our forest certified. In the US, the American Tree Farm system is very popular. They have changed some of their procedures around recently to better compete with FSC. Instead of having a local forester audit your land, they now have it done by a third party. Tree Farm is the one we decided to go with based mostly on price.

Some of the other organizations we found were PEFC and SFI. They aren't really for small US landowners, though. The problem with FSC is that there is a fixed cost to fly a group of auditors to your property, so unless you have a lot of land, you will probably never realize any increased benefits from certification.

By Izzy78 — On Dec 04, 2011

I guess my real question is, where do you buy FSC certified wood? I believe I know what the symbol looks like. I am also pretty sure that I have seen it on a few things before. I think the printer paper I buy usually has an FSC certified logo on it. If you are looking to get lumber, though, where do you go?

Can you find FSC wood at normal lumberyards like Lowe's or do you have to go to special places to find it? The article mentions that certified wood can cost more than regular wood. What is the difference in price? Is there anyone besides FSC that certifies timber?

As far as getting a forest certified to produce this wood, what would someone have to do? Is there some sort of cost associated with it?

By cardsfan27 — On Dec 03, 2011

@ingomoth - I think one of the biggest problems we face today, and the one that will continue to be the most important in the future is that it is actually getting difficult to support our wood consumption. It isn't so much the problem that there isn't enough forest in existence. It is kind of the opposite of what you mentioned. Most of the forest land in the United States is owned by small landowners who don't really have any plans to harvest their timber. They value the aesthetic and recreational uses over timber prices.

By making sure you are only using certified lumber, you can make sure that the forest it came from was not only harvested in a sustainable manner, but that the forest as a whole is being managed in a way as to continue efficiently producing timber for many years to come.

For the most part, large scale paper producers like Georgia Pacific have a pretty detailed plan for the future, because their company relies on it.

By summing — On Dec 03, 2011

For people that care about the world's forests using certified wood should be a priority. But it is important to remember that this goes beyond just the wood that you use in your own projects. In order to be truly responsible you must ensure that all the wood products you have in your home come from sustainable sources.

This includes everything from cabinets to doors to hardwood floors. It can be a tedious process to check all of their origins but it is really the only way to be sure. If you are working with a remodeled it is usually possible to request that they use only certified wood.

By umbra21 — On Dec 03, 2011

@indigomoth - I think in a lot of cases it's not just a matter of greedy corporations swooping in and stripping the land. Sometimes small farmers need to make a living, and they simply sell the wood on their land to the highest bidder so that they can cultivate it.

The wood would be cut down anyway, and if someone didn't use it to build things, it would go to waste, maybe even be burned.

I know, ideally the small farmer wouldn't be using that land for farming, but he's got to feed his family. It's not a black and white situation.

By indigomoth — On Dec 02, 2011

@pleonasm - I think the problem is that people like using particular kinds of woods, like, for example hardwoods, which take a long time to grow. Pine grows relatively quickly, but oak, for example, can take 40 years or so to get to the point where it's worth cutting down.

Meaning that, unless you get corporations which are thinking in the long term (and how many of them think five years ahead, let alone five decades?) you end up with old oak forests being the only quick source of lumber.

And oak is a pertinent example, because quite a few species of oak are now endangered in the wild.

Can you imagine if the oak tree went extinct?

It's a good reason to insist on certified hardwood.

By pleonasm — On Dec 01, 2011

I find it so difficult to believe that there are still companies which source wood from unsustainable forests. It just seems like such a foolish thing to do.

I mean, usually the soils underneath these forests aren't all that great for agriculture anyway, so the land ends up wasted. So why not just use all that wasted land in growing timber? There must be millions of hectares where that could be done at the moment, and the trees could be managed so that the wood comes out in good form.

Using certified wood products just makes sense to me. I mean, you're stopping ancient forests from being destroyed (harming the environment) and you're creating more jobs since someone has to plant the certified trees AND someone has to cut them down.

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