The National Wood Flooring Association’s Responsible Procurement Program aims to promote environmentally and socially responsible forest management, including increased use of certified hardwood in flooring.

Never before in our world’s history has the desire for green products been so high, especially when it comes to building products. Consumers want it, designers embrace it, builders utilize it, and the environmental community demands it. The bottom line is environmental consciousness is no longer a passing fad; it has become a social norm, and consequently, the de facto standard in the building and construction industry.

Fortunately for those of us in the wood flooring industry, we offer the greenest flooring material available, and a few years ago, the National Wood Flooring Association set out to educate the world.

The first step was to prove scientifically that what we thought to be true was, in fact, true.  We accomplished that by contracting an independent research project conducted by the Department of Wood Science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. They conducted a life cycle analysis that proved that solid wood flooring was the most environmentally friendly flooring option available.

Their research showed wood is a carbon-neutral product that produces oxygen during its growth cycle and stores carbon during its service life; wood floors use less water and energy to produce than other flooring options; and at the end of its service life, wood flooring can be burned as fuel or recycled, rather than dumped in a landfill.

On top of this research, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service states the average annual net growth for hardwoods is greater than average annual removals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports indoor air quality is better with wood floors. The National Association of Home Builders notes wood floors last in excess of 100 years, so they won’t need to be replaced as often as other flooring options. We also know from growth cycles that while it takes most hardwood trees 40 to 60 years to mature, the inventory planted today will not be needed for more than 100 years.

Knowing all this is one thing, but formally recognizing it is another. There are many programs that recognize environmental responsibility, including the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and Green Globes to name just a few, but little was being done to recognize those companies that did not meet the stringent criteria of these programs but were working independently to preserve our forests. That is why the NWFA began working with several prominent environmental groups to develop the NWFA Responsible Procurement Program.

The goal of the NWFA RPP is to harness the power of the United States wood flooring industry to promote environmentally and socially responsible forest management in the regions that supply the timber on which our industry depends. Responsible forest management is important for a number of reasons. Obviously, it is good for the environment, but from an industry perspective, it helps to preserve the raw materials that our industry depends on to survive. What is truly remarkable about the RPP, however, is the environmental community has embraced the program. Not only do they endorse it, but they also helped to develop it, govern it, and promote it.

One of the mandates of the NWFA RPP is to increase the use of certified wood. To accomplish that, the NWFA formed the Forest Stewardship Council Procurement Group. This group consists of members of the NWFA, as well as several prominent environmental groups.  They include the World Wildlife Fund, Domtar, FSC Family Forest Alliance, Scientific Certification Systems, and the Nature Conservancy. The mission of the FSC Procurement Group is to combine forces between industry and environmental groups to encourage private landowners to adopt FSC certification.

FSC certification offers the highest assurance of environmental and social performance in the forest products industry. Demand for FSC-certified wood has increased dramatically during the past few years based on an increase in consumer desire for environmentally responsible building products.

Approximately 270 million acres of working United States forests are owned by small woodland owners, but only 2.5 million of those acres are certified to FSC standards. The FSC Procurement Group will work together to remove the barriers to FSC certification while simplifying the certification requirements in an effort to increase the amount of FSC wood available in the U.S.

The FSC Procurement Group was formed as part of the NWFA’s Responsible Procurement Program, which recognizes wood flooring companies that work to sustain our world’s forest.  The program, supported by the Forest Stewardship Council-US and the FSC Family Forests Alliance, recognizes the NWFA RPP as a valid incremental approach toward socially and environmentally responsible forestry. The program is transitional to higher levels of environmental responsibility based on three tiers of increasing voluntary participation and associated certification.

Tier One is the entry-level stage. It recognizes companies that source their wood from states identified in U.S. Departmeant of Agriculture Forest Service studies, which conclude that U.S. forests in the 33 states east of the Mississippi River are growing faster than the timber harvested or lost through natural mortality. The RPP recognizes these hardwood forests as renewing and allows Tier One companies to use the NWFA Verified from U.S. Renewing Forests seal for off-product marketing.  

For imported products, a Verified Legal Imported seal is available for companies that practice due diligence, as required by the U.S. Lacey Act, when importing products from other countries.

Tier Two is the transitional-level stage. It recognizes those companies that are sourcing wood from FSC certified forests. Companies participating at this level must achieve FSC chain-of-custody certification and meet all FSC standards for the products they source, including both FSC-certified and non-FSC-certified wood, and must agree to increase their overall use of FSC-certified wood during the next two years.

Tier Three is the highest-level stage of the NWFA RPP, encompassing the highest level of environmental responsibility. It recognizes those companies that source more than 50% of their wood from FSC-certified forests, and whose non-FSC sourced materials meet FSC guidelines.

This past year, Anderson Hardwood Floors became the first wood flooring manufacturer to become certified under the NWFA RPP for both Tier One and Tier Two. As a result, the domestically sourced wood flooring sold by Anderson is verified by credible, unbiased, third party audits to be harvested from renewing U.S. forests where growth exceeds both harvest and natural mortality. In addition, Anderson is verified independently to source some of its wood from FSC certified forests and to follow FSC standards for its wood flooring products.  

Other wood flooring companies currently undergoing the independent audit process include Augusta Lumber, Cikel America, Johnson Premium Hardwood Flooring, Mannington Wood Floors, Mohawk Industries and Mullican Flooring. Several should receive their RPP certification later this year.

To oversee the RPP program, and to maintain the program’s integrity, the NWFA also formed an NWFA RPP Governance Board, which is tasked with expanding the program into other sectors of the lumber industry, including furniture, construction, cabinetry, paper, and other wood products. Members of the RPP Governance Board include the NWFA, FSC-US, the Tropical Forest Trust, and Scientific Certification Systems.

The number of prominent environmental groups participating in the NWFA RPP is an indication of the program’s validity as a significant contribution to environmental preservation.  The NWFA will continue to work with these and other environmental groups to develop ways to expand and improve the program.

For more information about the NWFA Responsible Procurement Program, contact the NWFA.