In 2006, the Japanese government passed a law to promote "green purchasing." This included wood and wood products that were verified as being legally and sustainably produced. This is called "Gohowood" in Japan.

Japanese is a complicated language. One sound can have multiple meanings-the sound "ko," for example, could be "child," "small size," or "lake" to name just a few. Meaning is determined both by context and the character used for the word. "Go" in this case is "to meet" and "Ho" is "the law." So "Gohowood" is "wood that meets the law."

While in Japan this past December, I had an opportunity to attend a symposium on Gohowood. The symposium was well-organized and there were presentations from both Indonesian and Malaysian organizations regarding efforts they were undertaking to reduce illegal logging and provide a more transparent sourcing program for their international buyers. Since slightly under half of Japan's plywood comes from these two countries, as well as a variety of other wood products, ensuring a stable and legal and sustainable supply from them should be top priority.

Unlike the often quoted "fact-based, not document-based" comments on the Lacey Act, or the often recommended "risk-management" approach to sourcing, Japan is very focused on receiving governmental documentary evidence. They do often consider certification to be a form of evidence, but what they really like are government documents.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia recognize this and are working to establish government structures that will satisfy this market. In contrast, most U.S. efforts to penetrate the Japanese market with either lumber or value added goods have been made by the industry itself. While there is no question that the U.S. forests are some of the best managed in the world, with very low risk of illegal material entering the supply chain, Japan still wants some form of government stamp to prove that.

There is good demand for wood flooring in Japan, both solid and engineered. Because of other Japanese regulations, the engineered market is very hard to penetrate, but it seems to me that with the demand for "Gohowood" here, the U.S. companies should find a market. Many states are very active in supporting their industries here and could provide that stamp of legality that the Japanese are seeking. AHEC (American Hardwood Export Council) has done a good job in establish a presence in Japan and trying to show that U.S. wood is Gohowood, but clearly more work is needed.

I have to say that the thing I found most interesting about the symposium was that the Japanese industry attendance was very small. There were dozens of Malaysians and Indonesians, a contingent of Americans and Europeans, and a number of Japanese from ENGO's, and various forestry associations. But there were only a handful of actual Japanese buyers there. While I think part of the fault lies with the organizers (I don't believe it was very well-advertised), I think it is also an indication of the industry trend. They want to leave it to the governments to establish the rules and procedures. The Japanese industry is relying on their government to work out agreements with the foreign supplying countries and to say what wood they can buy. The Japanese companies are not aggressively seeking the information themselves. It is a very different approach then what Lacey demands of the U.S. industry or the new EU Timber Procurement Law will place on European importers. We'll have to watch and see how well it works.

For more information on Gohowood in Japan, please see the Gohowood link.

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")