Made In The U.S.A.

This fence thing is getting to be ridiculous.

In Adventures on April 23, 2009 at 12:14 am

This post was almost called “_uck Home Depot” after a particularly difficult experience getting FSC certified information from the only Home Depot in the area that (I’ve been told) sells FSC certified lumber. Here’s how it went.

I called the only Home Depot in the area rumored to sell FSC certified lumber. I pressed 3 when prompted to go to the lumber department. They answered immediately.

Me: “Hi, I’m calling about FSC lumber. Do you carry it?”
Lumber Dept: “What is it?”
Me: “FSC lumber. It’s a certification on a type of lumber. It’s like an eco-friendly thing.”
Lumber Dept: “Umm… I’m not really sure. Let me transfer you to the pro desk.”

So I was transferred. The phone rang. And then it rang and rang. And then I started counting rings. And it rang 20 more times before I hung up.

I called back, and pressed 0 and 0 until a person picked up.

Me: “Hi, I’m calling for the pro desk.”
Them: “Okay. Please hold.”

So I held. And I held and held. Then I started paying attention to the Home Depot commercial playing in lieu of music. It said something about the many “Eco Options” at Home Depot, and where to find out about them online. “Or,” the recording said, “just ask an associate for details.”

“I’m trying!” I thought.

Three-and-a-half minutes later I hung up. I called back.

Me: “Hi. I keep holding for the pro desk, but nobody’s answering.”
Them: “Okay, let me track ____ down for you and make sure he’s there.”

She put me on hold. This time, though, within 20 seconds or so, ____ picked up.

____: “Hello, this is ____.”
Me: “Hi, ____. I’m calling about FSC certified lumber.”

____ instantly knew what I was talking about. He proceeded to tell me about the subtleties of the lumber policies of the only Home Depot in the area that sells FSC certified lumber.

It turns out that they are “certified by FSC” but they don’t stock it. That means any of the lumber they have in the store is not FSC certified. BUT… they can order it for me.

Problem is, any of the orders they’ve made before have been for big jobs. I’m talking about a half-dozen 4x4s and 15 or so 2x4s of pressure treated lumber. It’s likely impractical to even order this sort of thing on this small a scale–because it’s all the “chain of custody” information that makes something FSC certified. And that sort of thing isn’t done on an individual 2×4 scale.

It feels like the same challenge as calling Starbucks and asking them to import for me a very specific pound of coffee beans.

___ seemed like he knew what he was talking about, so I inquired about the possibility of perhaps finding a local lumberyard with its own mill. It may not be certified, my reasoning goes, but at least it would be local.

“Maybe,” he said. “But you need it for exterior, right?”

Damn. Exterior lumber needs to be pressure treated so that it will stand up to the rigors of weather. At least in this part of the world. And the process of pressure treating is carried out on a massive chemical scale.

Damn.

___ then asked me one more question that seemed to illuminate the whole nature of the problem: “What is it that you have to use FSC lumber for?” I told him it was just a requirement for the project. The implication, though, is that the only people who order FSC certified lumber are contractors and builders who have been required to do so by the entity paying the bills–probably usually a government entity or some hippy-dippy liberal tree-hugging organization. No disrespect to ____ is intended; he’s just illustrating the point: the only people who buy this stuff do so because they’re forced to. It’s just another hurdle in the process. Maybe, the question implies, there’s some way around this requirement.

But in my case, obviously, I don’t want around this hurdle. I want to do the right thing. I want to buy lumber that I know didn’t come from bombing acres of old growth forest.

And I’m quickly coming to the realization that I can’t.

It’s starting to feel a lot like my coffee conclusion. It may well be technically possible, but for all intents and purposes there’s no freakin way a regular guy can do it. I can’t drink American-grown coffee, and I can’t buy responsible lumber. The system just isn’t set up for it.

###

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  1. Can’t help you with the fact that their phone rings forever but I can enlighten you on your other points:
    Depot, Lowe’s and others won’t STOCK FSC lumber today because it is not competitive to do so. There is not enough demand for them to devote shelf space to it. Due to the process of earning certification, FSC lumber is considerably more expensive. When more people, like you, demand it, they will stock it. And, I have to challenge your statement that if lumber is not FSC certified it must be from a “bombed old growth forest”. Treated wood (PT) is from managed, sustainable forests. None is from old growth.
    And I’m not sure what is meant by “the process of pressure treating is carried out on a massive chemical scale”, but it sounds like it’s meant to imply that pressure treated wood has a negative environmental impact. Actually the opposite is true. The PT sold at Home Depot has been certified by Scientific Certification Systems to be an “Evironmentally Preferred Product”. It’s EPP status was recently reported on in both the Wall Street Journal and Popular Mechanics. See here for more: info:http://www.ufpi.com/product/pwmicro/epp.htm

    As regards buying American made wood products, with the exception of some fence pickets, all the PT wood you’ll find at Depot and Lowe’s is grown and treated in the US.

    Good luck in your quest!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Dick. But don’t read too much between the lines. There’s no hidden agenda.
    The point I’m trying to make with the sentence “I want to buy lumber that I know didn’t come from bombing acres of old growth forest” is that the ONLY way I can know that my lumber didn’t come from clearcuts is to buy certified lumber. And that’s pretty darn expensive and pretty darn near impossible on my individual scale.
    As for the “implication” regarding pressure treated wood… I’d say you’re inferring something I’m not implying. I understand the process to be one of chemistry, and one that is carried out on a large scale. That is why local mills, as I understand it, are not equipped to pressure treat their wood. If I am wrong, please let me know.
    Not everybody’s out to get the pressure treatment process, or the logging industry. The fact is, I’m simply trying to buy my product the most responsible way I can. And I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible for a regular guy to buy anything other than what is proffered by the retailer. That’s frustrating–no matter what you’re trying to buy. I can’t vote with my dollars in this case, so as far as Home Depot knows, I don’t want responsibly harvested lumber.

    • Bill: Thanks for the clarification. Many who read these posts take the host’s words as gospel. That’s what prompted my response.

      If I had the energy – and a dog in the fight – I’d challenge John’s views on FSC vs. SFI, as I believe that debate is largely political. I do find it ironic that he directs people to a Web site called “dontbuysfi”, then asks the reader to form his own opinion, as if there will be balanced views there.

      Dick Gauthier

  3. Bill,

    I enjoyed your post. I operate a FSC certified lumber company on the west coast and understand your frustration in aquiring FSC products. That is the exact reason why we started the company almost 4 years ago. A couple websites that you might check to find local availability is http://www.metafore.org and http://www.fsc.org

    Getting back to your Home Depot experience – most of the people at home depot don’t realize that they actually stock some FSC products. Your right, if you’re trying to comply with a certain green building requirement such as LEED, you’ll need chain of custody. Next time you head back to Home Depot, take a look at their plywood section. You might see the FSC stamp listed right on the front of the unit. Also, their redwood is being supplied by Mendocino Redwood Company – all of MRC’s timberlands are FSC certified. So look at the end of a piece of redwood. You’ll see the MRC’s name along with their FSC COC number. In fact, one of the directors of Home Depot is a sitting stakeholder of FSC Germany. HD’s gerneral policy is to buy wood from those FSC mills as long as the pricing is competitive. At least in the West Coast, HD isn’t stocking any FSC dimensional lumber – probally due to cost premiums. A general rule of thumb is 10-15% premium should be expected when purchasing FSC products. If you would like to see some of the large companies that claim they have sustainable logging practices, go to http://www.dontbuysfi.com – SFI is the competing standard to FSC – SFI claims that their standards are just as good as FSC. You be the judge.

  4. All good points. And thanks to everyone for the robust comments!

  5. I just wrote an article about a similar experience I was having in Pittsburgh, PA finding sustainable lumber. Verrrrrry similar… especially in hearing that I would have to buy an entire lift (100’s of pieces) in order to place an order. It made purchasing sustainable lumber very prohibitive. Thought you might like to read about it. (I mentioned you in my post. ;-D)

    http://www.stephenhorvath.com/2012/07/how-to-buy-green-lumber/

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