Will Consumers Pay More for Certified Wood?
More and more landowners are considering having their timber lands “certified,” but there are questions about the possible costs and benefits.
Forest certification involves having a third party agency declare that the forest is being managed in a sustainable manner. The “certified” wood harvested from these forests can then be sold displaying a special stamp, or “eco-label”, that indicates its origin. There are a number of certifying agencies, each with varying guidelines for sustainability. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) are two of the more well-known certification groups in North America . Some environmental organizations are demanding that retailers stock certified wood whenever possible, and some retailers, including major chains such as the Home Depot and Lowes, have started to give preference to certified wood.
Surveys have shown that consumers claim that they would be willing to pay significantly more for certified wood products. However, recent research suggests people's actual buying habits don't match their predicted behavior. In one study, shoppers at Home Depot were presented with two stacks of plywood sitting side by side. The plywood sheets were identical in grade, but one pile was stamped with an eco-label from the Forest Stewardship Council while the other plywood had no eco-label. When both stacks of plywood were the same price, consumers indeed bought more of the FSC-certified plywood. However, when the certified plywood was increased in price by 20¢ per sheet, the un-labeled plywood outsold the certified product by 2:1. A similar study found that most customers wouldn't pay more for pencils displaying a certified wood eco-label.
Many people who have joined a forest certification program have found that the process has required few changes in their forest management practices. This is a reflection of the fact that most forestry today is environmentally sound. However, certification requires inspection and auditing, and these are paid for by the landowner. The question remains whether these costs can be recovered in the sale of certified wood products.