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Ecotrust in the News

National Public Radio
May 13, 2006
David Welch, reporting

Green Building Starts with Green Trees

The Zena Forest outside of Salem, Oregon, is a tree huggers paradise. It's packed full of old growth timber, indigenous native species, and it's a perfect snapshot of what many environmentalists say a forest should be. But don't be fooled by this Arcadian exterior because the Zena Forest, well, it's a timber farm.

(Soundbite of chainsaws)

WELCH: Now, don't worry. Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are well aware of these chainsaws and lumberjacks, but they're not concerned. That's because Zena is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC certification is like an organic farming certificate. Sarah Deumling manages the Zena Forest, and she's quick to point out that there's nothing wrong with cutting down trees. She's happy making her living running a timber farm, and she has a lot of strong opinions about how to do it.

Ms. SARAH DEUMLING: My short answer to that is no clear-cutting, no chemicals and no compaction. My three no C's.

WELCH: The long answer involves a whole host of sustainable practices such as carefully choosing which trees to cut as opposed to mass clear-cutting, using natural pest control, eliminating heavy equipment from the forest floor, and letting our trees grow much longer than conventional timber farms. Deumling doesn't mind doing things differently from her corporate competitors. In fact, she says that, over the years, she's found that farming trees sustainably is not only good for the forest, it's also good business.

Ms. DEUMLING: Our belief is that an ecologically healthy forest and an economically viable forest are, in the long term, at the very least, one in the same.

WELCH: Harvesting green timber is only one part of the equation. Getting the wood into the hands of consumers and contractors that value this certified product is just as important. Bettina von Hagen is with the Portland-based conservation group Ecotrust. She says that one huge challenge for certified farms is distribution.

Ms. BETTINA von HAGEN: Just making equipment to manage your forest sustainably doesn't ensure that you can sustainably produce wood products out in the market place.

WELCH: Von Hagen points out that one of the only ways for certified forests to sell their wood is by relying on the existing timber market. That means shipping these carefully grown trees to the enemy, multinational timber companies. In Deumling's case, close to 80 percent of her wood is sold to these mills. That statistic, she says, keeps her up at night because 80 percent of her certified wood ends up at Home Depot or Lowe's mixed in with timber that's been clear-cut and treated with toxic chemicals.

Clark Binkley is the director of International Forestry Investment Advisors. He says that at this point there are few incentives for large timber companies to set up a designated green timber market.

Mr. CLARK BINKLEY: Unfortunately, the United States, the consumers haven't been terribly interested in certified products. You have to have a whole long supply chain, and, unless there's really strong and sustained consumer demand for that, the wholesaler will say, well, why bother.

WELCH: This trend may be changing. Here in Oregon the city of Portland has an office of sustainable development that promotes green building citywide. And on a national level, some building industry leaders established the US Green Building Council to promote green building. Still, certified wood from certified forests makes up only a tiny fraction of the overall US market. But in Europe, green certified products are in high demand and the number of FSC certified forests grows each year. Binkley points out that these forest owners are having huge financial success.

Mr. BINKLEY: There's a little company in Switzerland called Precious Woods that probably has the highest stock market multiple of any forest products company in the world, and they do nothing but sell green certified products.

WELCH: Deumling and others are hoping that consumers and timber companies take notice of this success and place more of an emphasis on building green.

In Salem,Oregon, I'm David Welch from MARKETPLACE.

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