By John Caulfield. Golden State Lumber can pretty much get all the certified wood its customers want to buy. But filling one recent order, from KB Home, required a bit more effort than usual, suggesting the difficulties even the best-intentioned builders -- and distributors -- face in trying to implement policies that promote responsible forest management.

Golden State, based in Petaluma, Calif., operates four distribution yards that generated $215 million in sales in 2002. In 2001, the Forest Stewardship Council anointed Golden State as "chain-of-custody" certified, which means that the dealer could assure customers that the FSC-certified products it sells are "responsibly harvested wood from sustainable forestry practices."

KB Home, which has bought wood from Golden State for years, took belated interest in Golden State's certified wood offering after the builder began working with the Natural Resources Defense Council on ways it might use certified lumber in its home building projects. Debbie Hammel, NRDC's senior resource specialist, said her organization even recommended Golden State to KB for a 128-home community it is building in Pleasanton, Calif. It wasn't long before the certified wood deal set.

Rick Zaslove, vice president at Golden State, and a driving force behind the dealer's efforts, set up the order which he estimated would eventually involve shipments of 32 truck and trailer loads of 2x4 studs and plate stock to this jobsite; or the equivalent of around 650,000 board feet. But the deal nearly fell through when Golden State's primary supplier backed out. Zaslove said Hampton Lumber, in Portland, Ore., had agreed to mill FSC-certified logs at a cost that would have added only around 8 percent to the price of the wood. But Zaslove's contact at Hampton Lumber suddenly left that company, and the mill told him it wasn't interested in the contract anymore.

That left Golden State scrambling. Zaslove found a substitute supplier in Mendicino Redwood, which supplies The Home Depot with FSC-certified redwood and cedar. "They had some Doug[las] fir they agreed to cut for us," said Zaslove. Golden State also draws from a secondary source -- Agwood Lumber, in Ukiah, Calif. -- although Zaslove noted that Agwood's 24 percent markup is less attractive than Mendicino's 9 percent.

Golden State struggles to make a profit on the FSC-certified wood it sells. But Zaslove remains convinced that "this is a place we need to be as a company." He also said he believes that prices will drop when more companies like KB Home demand certified lumber.

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