Good Wood without Guilt

One of the unavoidable realities of the human condition is the need to wrestle with contradiction. The contest goes on everywhere, though the details are different for each of us. One of my main, personal contradictions revolves around wood. I use more of it than most people:

  • In my workshop.
  • To heat my house.
  • Indirectly for the newspaper in which my writing appears.

But, I also love the beauty of forests and trees, especially the old-growth giants. Even though I’ve experienced how ugly and depressing a clear-cut logging site can be, during several summer’s work as a tree planter, I still marvel at the possibilities contained in, say, a knot-free pine plank. Contradictions don’t make sense, but they remain.

Forest vs Wood Dilemma

Society wrestles with the forest vs. wood dilemma all the time. You see it when the forces of preservation square off against the chainsaws. Wherever you find trees, especially big ones, you’ll usually find people with very different ways of seeing them. I suspect that if people on both sides of the conflict were completely honest about it, neither could put forward a workable model of the world based only on their own views. I’ve made a less-than-perfect attempt to have-my-trees-and-cut-them-too by:

  • Buying lumber from local sources, cut by people who I know and trust as reasonable stewards of the land.
  • The wood I use to heat my house comes exclusively from sawmill waste or windfalls.

But still, I’m not much different than anyone else. I remain part of the problem because much of the wood I use comes from hidden sources that probably aren’t sustainably managed. And that bit of easily-ignored truth bothers me. I believe that true sustainability — especially if it leaves some wildlands untouched — probably comes as close to solving the forest dilemma as we’ll ever get.

Certified Harvesting Practices

I mustn’t be the only one feeling the pangs of a poorly-handled, forest-based contradiction, because a promising global initiative to help solve the challenge is emerging right now. The Certified Forest Products Council (CFPC) is an independent, international, not-for-profit organization that promotes sustainable forestry through certified harvesting practices. Here’s how it works:

  • The CFPC has developed guidelines for sound forestry practices based on balanced input from independent sources.
  • The guidelines vary for different parts of the globe, of course, but the aim is universal: To put forth a method of using forests in a way that doesn’t kill the golden goose, while at the same time boosting local economies and preserving non-commercial forest values. It’s a tall order, but one that is being met right now in a small way.
  • Producers can seek to have their operations certified through third-party inspection firms such as US-based Scientific Certification Systems or SmartWood.

Benefits of Wood Certification

When businesses succeed in winning certification, everyone benefits:

  • Our children inherit a more secure supply of high-quality wood products, based on the best, unbiased scientific knowledge we have right now.
  • Business reaps greater profits from the added value that certified wood products command.
  • We all enjoy a little more mystery and wonder in forests that still look like something nature created.
  • In a world where levels of timbering have maxed-out, increases in corporate profitability can only come from adding more value to a steady stream of newly-cut logs. Certified wood is one way of adding this value for primary producers, as well as others. Progressive retail lumberyards, homebuilders, furniture makers and other secondary users can also boost themselves above the competition by using certified wood.
  • Certified wood looks good.


  • Never seen a certified 2×4? That’s not surprising, since certified production streams are just now developing.
  • Unfortunately, here at home, certified wood products are often exported to Europe, where public consciousness of forest problems is high, and demand for guilt-free wood strong.
  • Nevertheless, certified forest practices are occurring closer to home more than you might think. In the area around Huntsville, Ontario, forest products giant Tembec is involved in certification under inspection from Scientific Certification Systems. This supplements an internal company program that pays loggers a bonus for careful forest work.
  • It’s not all about boards and plywood, either. Gibson Musical Instruments — the famous St. Louis, MO guitar maker — now offers their SmartWood guitar, an instrument crafted exclusively from certified tropical and temperate-zone woods.
  • The power to put more certified wood products on every store shelf, in lumber yards and housing projects across Canada ultimately comes from us.
  • We have to ask about the origin of the wood we’re buying, and demand only what’s rightfully ours.
  • Too much of the great wood we’ve enjoyed in the past wasn’t really ours to take. It belonged to the future, and we took more of it than we deserved. The certified wood movement is a step towards keeping us all honest and well-forested. You can learn more about the Certified Wood Products Council.

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