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How does a community support the use of FSC certified wood in its built environment? Ian Hanna, FSC-US Director of Development, Responds.

Torlikes There are both direct and indirect ways a municipality can support the use of FSC-certified wood. But for readers who are unfamiliar with the term FSC- certified wood, I should provide a brief definition of the term.

FSC-certified wood is wood that is certified under the standards set the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC-certification is given to companies and landowners to verify that they practice forestry that is consistent with FSC standards.

FSC is a non-profit organization that advocates responsible management of the world’s forests. Our standards ensure that forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible way that takes into account economic viability, and social responsibility. Although there are other certification programs, FSC is by far the most rigorous and takes great pains to avoid being dominated by industry.

There are many benefits to using FSC-certified wood including the direct and permanent positive impact on the world’s forests and the people living from, in, and around the forest. You might want to check out FSC International or FSC-US websites for more information on these..

Communities that promote green building and/or sustainability in general will find that using FSC-certified wood is directly aligned with these goals. The same is true for communities that make a living from forest products. What are some practical ways to encourage its use?

First: Include specifications for using FSC-certified wood in public sector capital improvement projects. Specifications may require or include a preference for FSC-certified wood by including a deduct (preferred) or alternate to allow pricing FSC-certified wood as part of bid. (Deducts make it less convenient to drop the preference.) Include a list of FSC-certified wood sources in the bid documents.

Second: Provide education as part of the bidding process. When the Bainbridge Island City Hall was being contracted in 1998, it became clear that the “lowest” bidder (and winner of the project contract) knew the least about FSC-certified wood (and certified wood in general). The deduct he offered for FSC-certified wood was extremely high, triggering a strong negative political reaction community wide, as well as a call from the local paper to drop FSC-certified wood from the design. Miller-Hull (the project’s designer), O’Brien & Company (the sustainability consultant), and the Forest Stewardship Council understood this to be a “teachable moment” and organized a presentation at a televised Council meeting. At the conclusion of the presentation the Council voted to send the contractor back to the drawing board, and the bid (and actual cost) for FSC-certified wood was reduced fourfold. The project was able to utilize 70,000 board feet of FSC-certified wood, the largest quantity of wood used by a public project in the Northwest at that time.

FSCTour_2010 183 Third: Require proof of understanding as part of the bid process. In the recent FSC Local Living Economies Tour (photo) conducted by King County’s Green Tools Program, participants learned that the bid process for the Cedar River Watershed Educational Center required prospective bidders to complete a pre-bid walkthrough as well as provide brief presentation on how the bidder intended to fulfill the project’s requirements for green building materials and FSC-certified wood. As a result of this and specifications with a preference for FSC-certified wood, the wood in the project’s buildings is comprised of 98% FSC-certified wood.

Fourth: Adopt a procurement policy for the municipality in general. The City of Seattle has had a preference for FSC-certified wood products in place for years.

Fifth: Use public projects to demonstrate the feasibility of using FSC-certified wood. One of the nice things about public projects is their access for this purpose. Signage and tours can tell the story to those in the private sector considering FSC-certified wood.

Sixth: Pursue FSC-certification of municipal land. This will create “anchors” of supply, and eliminate the argument that FSC-certified wood is not as available. Two of the mainstays of supply in the Puget Sound region are the Department of Natural Resources South Puget Region and the forestlands within Fort Lewis. In addition to municipal land, communities might work with private landowners who have development interests and might certify some of their forested land in return for permission to develop other property. The circle is completed for communities that are hoping to promote the local economy as part of their overall sustainability when they specific FSC-certified wood from local properties.

Seventh: Incentivize green building generally. FSC-certified wood is widely recognized as a green building material choice. There are several ways to incentivize green building, including providing free technical assistance, and – when construction is more active than it is now – expedited permitting.

Eighth: If your municipality does not own forestland, consider purchasing tree-based carbon offsets. You’ll want to make sure these offsets are based on trees growing in FSC-certified forests. If you want to encourage certification by small landowners, there is a group in the Northwest that has created a carbon offset program (NW Neutral) specifically with small landowners in mind. There may be similar programs elsewhere.

Ninth: Take the long view. If we can all agree that we want to live here forever, we need to be talking about forestry for the next 1000 years – the lifespan equivalent of a Doug Fir. Or even 3500 years, the lifespan of a Yellow Cedar. Government is the appropriate vehicle for taking the long view.

Ian Hanna is the Director of Development at the Forest Stewardship Council U.S. National Office and has been involved in FSC supply chain and market development since 1997. He brings broad perspective having worked across the supply chain in forest management, family forest certification, manufacturing, market development, and sales. With the FSC market quickly coming to scale, Ian is responsible for growing FSC-US's operational and financial capacity to match the needs of the thousands of producers, manufacturers and retailers that have integrated the protections and value FSC offers into their business strategy.

Building Capacity Blog is edited by Kathleen O'Brien, Principal and Founder of O'Brien & Company. Editor's Note: Some of you may not be aware but a very important ballot to revise the USGBC LEED Credits with regard to certified wood is underway. The consensus body is open to individuals employed by USGBC member organizations. If you opted-in and have not yet received information from USGBC regarding voting procedures, please email The ballot will remain open until Nov. 23, 11:59 p.m. ET.

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