Photo of a tree frogYou love the rich look of jatoba and the wild colors of tigerwood. One customer wants bamboo to match her new "Asian décor,"

while another knows that the vertical-grain sapele will give his new office the classic feel that will impress his clients. But you've heard scary rumors about the Lacey Act — how some woods aren't safe. And another customer shies away from a favored line because she's worried about the rainforest, saying, "Maybe I should just look at laminate or tile instead." What to do? You want to have a range of colors and styles of real hardwood to offer. Rest assured that you can, both safely and proudly.

The most important thing is to understand that Lacey can protect both the world's forests and you. By selecting your suppliers and choosing your product lines carefully, you can use Lacey to promote your imported products and reassure your customers that they are helping the environment.

Your Responsibilities Under Lacey

Let's look first at the act itself, and your obligations under the law. In simple English, the Lacey Act has two primary provisions relevant to our industry:

  1. It is a U.S. federal offense to trade in illegal plants/plant-based products. Examples of illegal activities include harvesting logs illegally, trading a product without paying proper duties or other fees, or smuggling/stealing lumber. Lacey covers material from every country, including all wood and wood products harvested and produced in the United States.
  2. Importers need to file a declaration with the U.S. government identifying what species they are bringing in and where it came from.

Moreover, the Lacey Act confers responsibility on all members of the flooring industry—importers, distributors, retailers and contractors—to conduct "due diligence." Due diligence is making a reasonable and responsible effort to understand and evaluate your supply chain. To do this, you will want to ask questions of your suppliers to make sure they are doing their best to harvest and supply you with legal wood.

Doing "Due Diligence"

In order to demonstrate due diligence, keep your conversations on the record—send a fax, an e-mail or a letter to your supplier and ask them what actions they are taking. Do they have an environmental policy? Do they have staff responsible for monitoring Lacey compliance? Do they question their own suppliers about the chain of custody? Do they participate in any certification programs such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) or the NWFA's Responsible Procurement Program (RPP)?

If you feel that one of your suppliers is not taking responsible action or is not taking Lacey seriously, you may have to consider dropping that line. However, if you receive reassuring answers, you should be able to use the information provided to promote your imported products as legal and positive.

Giving the Forest Value

After all, imported woods should be promoted; developing a healthy and legal international forest industry can help save the rainforest. In the past, countries have tried to "save the rainforest" by banning tropical timber. Unfortunately, this usually has the opposite effect. When the forest has no value, people have to use the land for something that does provide them with an income. So they simply burn the trees and plant something people will buy, such as coconuts, bananas or palm oil. The best way to save the forest is to give it value so people treat it as an investment and look to it for the long-term return. The more value the wood has, the more people will protect it and plant for the future.

Ken Snyder, tropical forest coordinator for the National Audubon Society, has studied the effectiveness of boycotts in conservation campaigns. Among his conclusions: "The majority of tropical forests are in countries experiencing extensive economic hardships and carrying massive loads of debt. These governments are stuck in a short-term mindset as they desperately exploit cash crops and natural resources in order to generate foreign currency. A boycott can put additional pressure on these fragile economies, hindering conservation programs and causing the government to increase exploitation of resources."

Furthermore, recent survey data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has shown that overall, forests outside tropical regions are increasing in size. The reason is generally attributed to healthy forest products industries. The more profitable the forests are, the more people will work to keep them healthy and increase their number. This has been proven by the U.S. forest industry. The wood flooring industry can help save the world's forests by assisting developing nations in creating strong, legal and sustainable forest industries.

Neither the Lacey Act nor imported products should be feared. By practicing good "due diligence" and asking questions, companies can protect themselves from Lacey prosecution. And once they are confident in the legality of their supply, they can promote the beauty and variety of imported woods knowing that they are doing their part to ensure that the world's forests are being secured for the future.

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Notes from the author on helpful resources for working with the Lacey Act:

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is the branch of the Customs Department responsible for collecting the Lacey import declarations. Their site offers the official government position on Lacey and the requirements: www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/lacey_act/index.shtml.

The International Wood Products Association (IWPA) has a due diligence package to assist their members and additional information on ensuring legality available for both members and non-members; the information can be downloaded at www.iwpawood.org. Be sure to check out their Q&A Guides available at www.iwpawood.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=74.

The World Wildlife Fund is an extremely well known environmental organization that promotes the responsible use of the world's resources. Their program, the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) is designed to network responsible companies and to eliminate illegal logging. Joining their program would provide a great deal of support for your company's work in verifying your sourcing. They also have a number of excellent online guides available at www.panda.org/gftn.

The World Resources Institute's (WRI) Sustainable Procurement of Forest Products is an excellent resource with guides for legal sourcing and examples of documentation. Two very comprehensive guides on legality are available for free at www.sustainableforestprods.org

NWFA Connect

NWFA Connect:

Read more information about the Lacey Act from the NWFA here: >> http://nwfa.org/member/Lacey.aspx

For information about the NWFA's Responsible Procurement Program, click here: >> http://nwfa.org/member/RPP.aspx

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.'")