Within a larger green building product, it gives the builder another bullet point and line item of environmental friendliness.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in the last six months making the market more aware of SFI and the benefits that the standard offers in the marketplace,” says SFI president and CEO Kathy Abusow. “Historically, SFI did not do any outreach, and a lot has changed­­—we became independent from the APA, we revamped our standard in 2005, and we instituted a chain-of-custody program. We want to put the word out on those successes, so we’re meeting with customers, hitting the trade shows, and making a huge push on product labeling.”

At FSC, U.S. region president Corey Brinkema has felt the market heat. “SFI is spending a considerable amount of money to create some consumer demand for its product and do what it needs to do to get credibility in the marketplace,” Brinkema says.

Brinkema counters that his organization’s partnerships have led to the appearance of the FSC moniker on Victoria’s Secret, Crate & Barrel, and Williams-Sonoma catalogs as well as the last Harry Potter book. “All of a sudden, we have the eyeballs of the American public on our brand,” he says.

Whether or not co-branding and industry outreach can conjure a dominant market share in the building materials sector remains to be seen. Collectively, SFI and FSC already account for the lion’s share of certified wood available in the United States; certified wood overall makes up about 10% of U.S. wood supplies. According to data prepared for the U.S. Green Building Council by the Yale School of Forestry, SFI-certified producers account for approximately 50% of U.S. solid wood products and 85% of U.S. panel production, while FSC remains the de facto certification body for wood not originating in North America.

Naturally, competing certifiers would have you believe their standard is the best, the largest, the fastest growing, the most preferable, the greenest. But navigating through each program’s certification criteria doesn’t reveal a clear-cut winner, even for the experts.

“All of the programs—FSC, SFI, the American Tree Farm System, the PEFC system—if you look at what happens on the ground, are today remarkably the same,” says Jim Bowyer, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Bioprocess Engineering and an elected fellow of the International Academy of Wood Science, which does not endorse any particular certification standard.

“I hear that argument all the time, that it is Coke vs. Pepsi,” says Brinkema. “And I think that PEFC and the related standards of SFI and CSA would have you believe that all standards are equal. But the reality is that they could not be further apart.”

Culling the Stock

But are they? Comparative matrixes prepared by both Yale and the independent Forest Certification Resource Center show that all standards share active oversight and balanced participation from academics, industry stakeholders, and members of the conservation and environmental community.

The criteria of CSA, FSC, and SFI all touch on a broad range of forest science, environmental, social, and economic issues; are addressed by independent third-party audits; and are subject to public review. All prohibit using illegally harvested wood, and all offer chain-of-custody certification that verifies to the end users that the product they hold has been segregated from noncertified wood throughout the harvest, milling, and distribution processes. Certifiers also offer “percentage” or “mixed” chain-of-custody standards that allow for co-mingling certified and noncertified woods.