CORVALLIS, Ore. - A stamp on an ecologically-sensitive 2x4 may soon assure lumber buyers that it wasn't a product of clearcuts, herbicide sprays, lost wildlife habitat or at the expense of native indigenous cultures.
Product certification, a consumer-driven concept that has grown from the guarantee of safe electric toasters to "certified" organic foods, is now poised to take the next step in its evolution in the forest products industry.
The movement is well under way in forestry and the real questions are: Who will do the certifying, with what criteria, and what will be the underlying principles on which it is based, say experts in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.
To explore those questions - some of which are controversial - a spring seminar series will be held at OSU from April through June, sponsored by the OSU Sustainable Forestry Partnership and supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The series, titled "Certification of Sustainable Forests and Forest Products: A Market-Based Approach to Sustainable Forestry," is free and open to the public. Each seminar will begin at 10 a.m. in Room 106 of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building on the OSU campus.
Scientists, leaders of environmental groups, representatives of the forest products and home improvement industries and other parties will speak, on topics that range from "green" retailing to certification economics.
"This is a movement initiated by consumers who want building products produced with what they feel are environmentally sound practices," said Steven Radosevich, a professor of forest science at OSU and one of the university's pioneers in the sustainable forestry movement. "People come into building supply stores and ask for these products. The demand is there.
"Certification is going to happen, that's not really the question," Radosevich said. "It remains to be seen how big the movement becomes, and whether it will move into mainstream commercial construction. But it seems to me the driving forces are becoming larger, not smaller."
A goal of the seminar series, organizers say, is to raise awareness of the issues, concerns and opportunities that relate to forest products certification - and to examine how good ecological practices can also be good economics. Small woodland owners, for instance, might find that with modest adjustments in their forestry practices they could market the resulting products at a premium price.
"We have to get past the mindset that economic stability and jobs are somehow in conflict with sound forest ecology," Radosevich said. "Most people who advocate sustainable forestry don't accept that assumption. What we're trying to do here is define systems that support and protect, in perpetuity, both our natural resources and our communities."
Exactly how that will be done, Radosevich said, is still open to debate - such as the one that will take place at OSU this spring.
The seminar schedule and topics include:
Speakers at the meetings include representatives of Home Depot, a building products retailer; the Forest Stewardship Council, an international environmental group that led the movement for sustainable forest products certification; the forest products industry; U.S. Forest Service leaders; Native American tribes; investment corporations; the MacArthur Foundation; and many other groups.
OSU researchers will speak at the conference, Radosevich said, and the university may also develop a continuing education "short course" in forest products certification and training.
The program will also be carried on the Oregon Ed-Net network to sites around the state and country.
More information about the seminar series and Ed-Net viewing locations can be obtained by calling Richard Recker, the newly-named director of the Sustainable Forestry Partnership at OSU, telephone 541-737-4991.
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