Timber Companies Seek Green Stamp of Approval

For years, shoppers have seen ”organic” labels in grocery stores. Now,environmental groups are hoping that a ”green” label will catch on withthe timber industry. The idea is that consumers will ask for paper andlumber that are produced responsibly – in ways that don’t damageforests. The program has its critics, but as Brian Mann reports, somebig corporations are signing up:


For years, shoppers have seen “organic” labels in grocery stores. Now,
environmental groups are hoping that a “green” label will catch on with the
timber industry. The idea is that consumers will ask for paper and lumber
that are produced responsibly – in ways that don’t damage forests. The program
has its critics, but as Brian Mann reports, some big corporations are
signing up.

Twelve years ago, a group of environmentalists gathered in New York City to
talk about the destruction of rain forests in Burma and Indonesia and

Some people came into that meeting and said, the way to address it is to
boycott any wood that comes out of rainforests.

Richard Donovan is head of Smartwood, a group based in Vermont that got its
start when some at the meeting raised an objection to the boycott plan.

“Wait a minute. There are people who live in those forests. There are
communities that live in those forests. If somebody does a really good job
of forest management, shouldn’t we be able to wood from those types of

Over the last decade, Smartwood has worked with timber operations in 28
countries that were willing to adopt environmentally sensitive methods.
Those green guidelines were drawn up by an international group called the Forest
Stewardship Council. And slowly the idea has come home to the United
States. Here, more than 250 companies – loggers, processors, and retailers – are
working under Smartwood’s green guidelines.

(Car door slam)
(Logging ambience)

On a cold winter day, forester Wayne Young parks his truck in a sorting yard
on the slope of Lyon Mountain, in the northeast corner of New York state. A saw
blade the size of an airplane propeller is slicing easily through massive red pine.

(sound of blade whine)

The company Young works for – Domtar Communications Paper, based in
Montreal, Quebec – owns more than a hundred thousand acres here. Last summer, the
operation was audited by Smartwood, whose team spent a week hiking the forest and
examining the company’s records.

“We were apprehensive two or three years ago like some of the other
industries. The more we dealt with them, they were very business-like. Very
clear and established principles and guidelines that we’re judged against.
It was good doing business with them.”

In exchange for Smartwood’s stamp of approval, Domtar agreed to tighten
their harvest plans, charting more precise buffers around the forest’s streams and

(saw blade sound fades out)

There was a time, when environmentalists would have rejected a compromise
that still allows aggressive timber harvesting. But many conservation groups now
see this kind of certified logging as a green alternative to more
destructive forms of development – like the spread of suburbs.
Logging companies and mills have their own reasons for agreeing to
certification. Some are weary after decades of bad public relations. They’re
tired of protests and boycotts. For some companies, an endorsement by
Smartwood means public recognition of a long tradition of good forest

“Those initial operations that got involved in this, Menome Tribal
Enterprises in Wisconsin, Kewenol Land Association in Michigan, their main
reason actually initially for doing it was pride.”

But timber companies have another motive for going green. Many think
consumers will pay extra for products that are produced in ways that don’t damage
forests. This idea got a boost last year, when Home Depot announced that it
would certify all 1100 of its outlets. But not everyone thinks certification is a great idea.

After decades of ill-will, there are companies that want nothing to do with
environmentalists. Others say consumers may reject the notion, scared off by higher
prices. Eric Johnson is editor of The Northern Logger, a magazine based in Old
Forge, New York.

“Everybody says they want a clean environment and everyone says they’re
all for environmental protection. But I think what people say and what they do
are quite often different. I think if the major retailers think they’re going
to have a large consumer demand and a large consumer willingness to pay a
premium for lumber, I think maybe they’re misleading themselves.”

There’s also confusion over the type of certification. The timber industry
has launched its own, voluntary set of standards, which environmental groups say
are less stringent. Still, Johnson agrees that groups like Smartwood are
gaining influence fast. The supply of certified wood has grown in recent
years to around five percent of the total market.

(road rumble ambience)

Driving down a logging road, through stands of snow-covered pine and maple,
Domtar’s Wayne Young says he thinks green marketing will keep growing. The
timber industry is intensely competitive, he says. Companies looking for an
edge will have to adopt the new standards.

“I think eventually the market and the public will dictate that all
people need to follow those, so the public is going to decide.”

In order to keep Smartwood’s endorsement, Domtar will have to maintain its
tighter standards. The company will be audited each year by Smartwood’s
team of independent foresters. But the project here in New York is only a
beginning. Domtar is now in the process of certifying its international
operations – more than thirty-six million acres of timberland in Maine,
Ontario, and Quebec.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Brian Mann in Lyon Mountain, New