From: Heath E. Combs, High Point (NC) Enterprise
Published April 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Furniture Company Supports Green Line

HIGH POINT, North Carolina — Amid the mass of furniture on display as the High Point International Home Furnishings Market gets under way today, a company is looking for a niche in the green.

Not so much among the financial green as among the environmentally friendly green.

About seven years ago South Cone Trading Company CEO Gerry Cooklin began asking himself how he could continue using the tropical hardwoods of the Peruvian Amazon.

The question was a difficult one since the California-headquartered furniture manufacturer needed hardwoods to maintain its livelihood. But there was also a need to preserve those hardwoods to maintain the environment that produced the trees in the first place.

Namely that as rainforests are destroyed, more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, trapping the Earth's heat, with detrimental environmental outcomes.

So, said South Cone spokesman Einar A. Elsner, Cooklin acted. His company sought certification through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to preserve rainforests through sustainable management. The FSC creates guidelines for harvesting trees.

Now, 60 percent of South Cone's wood is certified through the FSC. Cutting trees is "like cutting with a rose garden. You select where you cut," Elsner said.

Forests are divided into lots, and a company can only cut 10 percent of certain trees in those areas. There are up to 200 species of trees on any given rainforest lot. After a tree is cut and the canopy of the rainforest is breached, Elsner said a manufacturer can't simply replace a tree with another.

"You cannot replant. You cannot say, 'Let's replant mahogany.' You have to let the rainforest decide," Elsner said, stating an FSC guideline.

If enough commercially usable wood is harvested within the 10 percent cut, the lot must remain uncut for another 30 years. Then to sell a product with an FSC certification, 70 percent of the wood has to be FSC certified. While a majority of the company's wood is FSC certified, since many of the products come with a mixture of certified and non-certified woods, only About 40 percent of the company's products carry the FSC-approved tag.

"We have lots with 50 percent, but you have to reach the minimum content," Elsner said.

Elsner said with such strict guidelines, South Cone had to adapt manufacturing techniques to track certified and non-certified woods, since once or more a year the FSC audits companies, warehouses or retailers. "So they know we're not cheating," Elsner said.

And, Elsner said, FSC certification hasn't affected the mid- to high-end furniture company's profits or cause them to raise prices, he said.

To see more of the High Point Enterprise, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2005, High Point Enterprise, N.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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