October 14, 2004

Dower, Banzhaf Talk On Eco-Certification

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A mix of 35 students and staff members welcomed Roger Dower, president of the U.S. Forest Stewardship Council, and Bill Banzhaf, president of the Sustainable Forestry Board, in 135 Emerson Hall yesterday afternoon for a discussion of eco-certification.

Both of the organizations that Dower and Banzhaf are heads of are involved in the eco-certification of forests and forest products, a strategy that is used to create market and commercial incentives to conserve natural resources. Companies which produce or sell wood products seek certification from such groups in order to verify that their work conforms with good forestry practices.

The speakers explained that eco-certification is most pertinent in the current era of globalization and simultaneous weakening of countries’ regulatory authority because it contributes to ecological integrity.

“That is why I was attracted to SFC,” Dower said, “Since I am now a quasi-economist, the notion of a third party taking over in forestry certification attracted me.” Dower and Banzhaf went on to discuss the interplay between their organizations’ standards and governing structure.

“Without making this a love-fest, Roger and I entered our CEO positions within a month of each other,” Banzhaf said, “But from the very start we tried to develop a professional relationship, ending the certification wars between our organizations in order to create a more collaborative and competitive market.”

Several members of the crowd inquired about the overall market and environmental impact of forestry certification within the U.S.

“In a year or two, something like 95 percent of industrial land will be third-party certified,” Dower said.

Banzhaf discussed the positive impacts of such rapid forestry certification.

“As a forester, I am more concerned with improvement of land, but in terms of the market, certification benefits some major players like Lowes and Home Depot. This is because these groups lose market access without certification. It is also important to consider that we wouldn’t be where we are in terms of dialogue within the market if it weren’t for certification,” Banzahf said.

“The timber industry ought to thank SFC for stimulating dialogue in management of forests,” Dower said.

One audience member asked why the certification of land increased so suddenly and where the trend originated.

“There came to be a growing concern about where the wood was coming from — from environmentalist groups — and certification provided a solution to both the environmentalists and groups like Home Depot,” Dower said.

“Because the major groups like Home Depot couldn’t get a premium, there was no incentive for them to get a certification for their products in the beginning.” Banzhaf said, “But a lot of environmentalists made a stink about this because they thought certification would improve forestry management. They would hang banners and protest at Home Depot, which resulted in groups like Home Depot agreeing to certification. While I don’t particularly agree with the means, the end was that Home Depot went to SFC at first.”

The speakers engaged in an extensive debate with audience members, eventually running over the allotted time of one hour.

Archived article by Teah Colson
Sun Staff Writer