Consumers are now asking many more questions about the environmental footprint of products and adjusting their buying habits based on how “green” a product is. The funeral industry is not immune to this shift in consumer buying patterns. In the last FBA issue I discussed the different types of engineered woods and how they are used in funeral products. For this issue I will explain the environmental characteristics of the different types of wood and the certifications that you might see – both for solid wood and engineered wood. Armed with this information, you will be better prepared to answer a families’ questions about how environmentally friendly your products are.
Environmental Characteristics of Wood
From an environmental standpoint, solid wood is less environmentally friendly than the engineered woods. Since solid wood uses whole pieces of lumber, only the best parts of the tree can be used – the straight section of the trunk. The rest of the tree trimmings and limbs are wasted. By most calculations only about 60 percent of the tree gets used for lumber. This is what makes it the least environmentally friendly of the wood choices. However, keep in mind that any type of wood product is typically seen as more environmentally friendly than other materials such as plastic or metal. Families look to wood as a green product because it is more natural, it decomposes much quicker in the ground and/or it can be cremated. So solid wood still meets most families’ criteria as a green product. You should also keep in mind that there are some solid wood species that grow faster and can therefore be regenerated more quickly. For example pine and poplar trees grow quite fast and can be planted and harvested for lumber every 15-30 years. Some might view these species as being kinder to the environment than other species, but that can be debated.
Engineered wood is arguably the most environmentally friendly of the wood options. Just as I mentioned previously, solid wood production creates 40 percent waste. It is this wasted fiber that is used to create the engineered wood panels. Most engineered woods use 95percent of the tree or more. In fact for most panels, no tree was cut down for the purpose of making the board. It is made from 100 percent waste fiber or recycled wood. This is true for both particleboard and Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF). Sometimes the engineered wood is covered with a wood veneer. Wood veneer is made by taking the same parts of the tree used for solid wood, but slicing it very thin. The thin veneer is glued onto a piece of particleboard or MDF. So a product made with wood veneer is still mostly particleboard or MDF.
So the positive traits of engineered woods are that they use the whole tree and can be made from waste/recycled fiber. The negative is that it uses glues and other chemicals that are not “natural” in the process. For example, most particleboard and MDF panels contain formaldehyde based glues. In the past, the formaldehyde content in particleboard and MDF was much higher thus creating some fumes or emissions. But over the years, the new standards and regulations have decreased the allowable emissions to almost zero. The amount of emissions is tightly measured and regulated by CARB (California Air Resources Board) and soon to be the EPA. They monitor the panel producers to insure that they stay under the allowable Phase 2 levels of 0.09 parts per million emissions. At these levels the amount of formaldehyde in the air is very close to the amount that exists in nature. Therefore, the positives of using the whole tree and scrap pieces of wood to make the product far outweigh the potential negatives of the fumes.
There are many different environmental wood certifications out there. They are all slightly different so it can be very confusing. Below are 3 of the most common ones seen on wood products and what they typically tell you.
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) – This certification means that the producer can prove that the original source of the wood came from trees that were grown in ways that don’t harm the environment. The product does not contain wood from illegally harvested trees and the grower did not use certain pesticides. It certifies the source of the wood fiber.
ECC (Eco Certified Composite) – This certification means that the producer can prove that the wood came from local sources, that it has at least 75 percent recycled or recovered fiber content, and that the people who supplied the wood used good environmental practices.
SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) – This certification means that the wood came from forests that were well managed to promote wood regeneration, bio diversity, and protect wildlife. They also certify that the wood came from a reputable source and was not harvested illegally.
As the desire for green funerals in North America grows, we need to be prepared to change and grow with the trends to meet the needs of the consumer. Hopefully this information will help you be a more informed buyer of your own funeral products as well as help you answer questions that families may have. FBA
Dan Sauder is Executive Vice President of Engineering and New Markets for Sauder Woodworking Co. Sauder is a 3rd generation family business that was founded in 1934. Over 6 years ago, Sauder launched Sauder Funeral Products to bring fresh value to the funeral products industry. Sauder Funeral Products now produces and sells a line of low cost/high value burial and cremation caskets to distributors throughout North America. All Sauder funeral products are made in Archbold, Ohio. Dan oversees the funeral products division as well as the new product development for the RTA furniture business. Prior to working at Sauder, Dan was the Plant Engineer for the Georgia Pacific Particleboard plant in Russellville, S.C. Dan can be reached at 419-446-3929, by email at [email protected] or by visiting their website at www.sauderfuneralproducts.com.