The National Lumber and Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) reported continued action Tuesday, March 17, but avoided claiming progress on its campaign to persuade the group that oversees lumber grading to establish a new eco-standard covering lumber from sustainable forests.

Former NLBMDA chairman Harold Baalman said this is a good time to make the initiative because the rules set by the American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC), the federally recognized group in charge of accrediting the organizations that manage lumber grading, are coming up for their official five-year review.

"As an industry, we've all relied on the official ALSC grade-stamp to document the attributes of every stick of lumber bought or sold for more than 50 years," Baalman said at a Green Building Forum co-sponsored by NLBMDA and the North American Building Material Distribution Association. "Right now, the ALSC's lumber grade rules are up for their official five-year review. We have an opportunity to get this right."

NLBMDA bodies have been pushing for the eco-label for two years. Lumber dealers argue that an eco-label, just like a grade stamp, would be an easy way to identify materials that have been grown, harvested, and milled in an ecologically sensitive manner. Current certification systems go beyond a stamp by requiring dealers to be part of a chain of custody in which they have to maintain paperwork--and worse from the dealers' perspective, pay certification fees of up to $3,000 per yard per year per certifying body. An eco-label would remove the need for chain of custody certification, as the proof would be stamped on the wood.

An information sheet issued by NLBMDA said the NAHB and the Structural Building Component Association both support the idea for dimensional lumber. Baalman said the NLBMDA has had several conferences and discussions with ALSC "seeking their cooperation in developing a standard." NLBMDA also has written to several dozen timber producers asking for their support.

"Our last meeting was an informational conference call with ALSC leadership, held just 10 days ago, with representatives of producing mills, forest owners, and retailers. Everyone appears aware of the need," Baalman said. But as for any likelihood of success, Baalman said only: "The solution is a work in progress."

NLBMDA faces several major obstacles in its quest. The first involves getting support for a common eco-label from green building certification groups who disagree with each other on green building practices. For instance, the USGBC’s LEED program gives points for wood used in construction only when that wood has been certified by FSC. Other programs, including Green Globes and the National Green Building Standard, recognize competing wood certification programs, particularly SFI.

In addition, discussions that ProSales magazine has had with producers and grading organizations suggest that they aren't necessarily thrilled with the idea. Some point out that they already have problems avoiding smudges when they stamp wood using high-speed grading machines.