When it comes to hardwood products, it’s safe to say that both retailers and designers alike aim to provide customers with flooring that meets their specific quality, durability and aesthetic needs—just to name a few. But before that can be done, dealers and designers must be sure they are selecting environmentally friendly hardwood products that adhere to today’s legal and sustainable regulations.

Environmentally friendly flooring starts from the root: Literally. In order for a hardwood product to meet the legal and sustainable regulations that have been put in place to protect U.S. forests, it must be produced from responsibly managed forests and legally logged trees.

“Being proactive about the responsible use of forest and paper products means more than reducing consumption—it means sourcing products from well-managed forests,” said Nadine Block, vice president of government affairs and COO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

The illegal logging of trees includes using corrupt means to gain access to forests; removing trees without permission or from a protected area, and cutting down protected species. These harmful deforestation practices have led to the extinction of both forest and wildlife species, and according to Brad Kahn, communications director of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), 15% of all carbon emissions. Like SFI, FSC is an organization that protects forests by creating demand for products from responsibly managed forests.

“If forests are responsibly managed, they are among the most sustainable resource—renewable, non-toxic, carbon sequestering and compostable,” he said.

Created in 1900, the Lacey Act is a U.S. conservation law that prohibits the trade of wildlife, fish and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. A 2008 amendment of the Act has led to the inclusion and protection of a wider variety of prohibited plants and plant products—including products made from illegally logged woods, for import.

The Hardwood Federation, the lobbyist for 26 hardwood trade associations in Washington played an integral role in getting wood products included in the protection of the Lacey Act. “We just felt it was very important that timber and wood products from the illegal logging trade weren’t brought in to the U.S.” said Dana Lee Cole, executive director.

According to Block, the Lacey Act prohibits trade in plant and plant products that are illegally sourced from any U.S. state or foreign country, and requires importers to declare information about the products—including country of origin of harvest and species name of plants. “The Lacey Act is a ‘fact-based’ statute rather than a document-based statute. In other words, it is up to the private sector to comply as it sees fit and is not required to match any one standard of legality documentation.”

Similar to the Lacey Act, the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR) was created to protect the European market from illegally produced hardwood products.

”Passed by the EU Parliament on Oct. 20, 2010, the EUTR prohibits illegally harvested timber or products derived from such timber to be brought into the EU,” said Block. “Forest certification is referenced in the EUTR and supporting regulations and guidance as a potential tool for risk assessment and mitigation.”

Anyone who buys or sells forest products in the U.S. must adhere to the Lacey Act and according to Kahn, this means companies that trade in forest products need to exhibit due care.

“If wood is being used that is imported into the U.S., it falls under Lacey Act laws, which require declarations to prove the wood has been harvested and imported legally. Without this documentation, the material can be seized, penalties of $500,000 can be assessed, and jail time can be enforced,” said Michael Martin, president and CEO of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA).

Kahn believes these and other penalties can be avoided if retailers and designers educate themselves about suppliers and verify sources. “Do not simply take suppliers at their word—verify for yourself.”

“Knowing where the wood comes from is critical in regards to Lacey. Even with the proper documentation, retailers and designers may still be at risk. Working with reputable organizations is the first step,” said Martin.

Kahn suggests purchasing FSC-certified products. “There are good, domestic, FSC-certified hardwoods available. Sometimes it may take a bit longer to find or source, but they are available. By buying domestic FSC-certified hardwoods, companies can help protect forests in the U.S. and feel confident they are being managed to the highest standards.”

Similarly, the SFI Standard Program is a tool to help document and demonstrate due care. According to Block, the SFI Standard has strong existing measures to avoid illegal sources of supply, including requirements to reduce the risk that wood fiber procured from overseas is from controversial sources.

“By choosing products that are certified to the SFI program, companies are ensuring society continues to benefit from all the amenities forests offer—water, air, recreation, aesthetics, wildlife, jobs—and ensuring forest owners and managers have continued incentive to provide these services,” she said. “SFI’s Forest Management Standard is based on principles that promote sustainable forest management, including measures to protect water quality, biodiversity and wildlife habitat.”

NWFA’s Responsible Procurement Program (RPP) recognizes and promotes companies that implement environmentally and socially responsible forest management.

“NWFA worked with several environmental agencies a number of years ago to create the association’s RPP, which recognizes and promotes companies that implement environmentally and socially responsible forest management,” said Martin. “The program provides a framework of progressive tiers in which participating companies voluntarily and gradually move toward higher levels of social and environmental responsibility and performance. The thing that differentiates this program from some others is it was created with input from numerous environmental organizations.”

According to Martin, NWFA’s RPP has scientific data—life cycle analysis—that supports wood’s environmental benefits, and also uses a third-party certification company to provide independent audits to verify companies are meeting the program criteria. “In other words, RPP has scientific data to back it up, and third-party audits to keep it honest,” he said.

In addition to adding timeless beauty to spaces, there are many environmental benefits that come with hardwood flooring. According to Martin, these include wood floors using less water and energy to be produced than some other flooring options; wood floors last hundreds of years, so they won’t need to be replaced as often, and indoor air quality can be improved with wood floors.

Taking it upon yourself as a retailer and designer to ensure the hardwood products you are providing for customers are environmentally friendly will help to ensure the longevity and preservation of this material. And, will help ensure you and your company avoid any legal problems based on the products you are selling. As such, it is to your benefit to speak to your wood suppliers and make sure their products are properly documented and certified to meet the various laws and regulations surrounding the wood industry.

For more information about these laws and programs, contact NWFA at (800) 422-4566 or visit nwfa.org; or FSC at (621) 353-4511 or visit us.fsc.org; or SFI at (202) 596-3450 or visit sfiprogram.org; or the Hardwood Federation at (202) 463-2705 or visit hardwoodfederation.wildapricot.org. To specifically learn more about the Lacey Act and how it can affect you, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture at (877) 770-5990 or visit aphis.usda.gov and type “Lacey Act” in the search bar for tons of the latest information.