Minnesota Pallet Makers Serve Niche for Certified-Wood Resource

Minnesota Pallet Makers Serve Niche for Certified-Wood Resource

Two Minnesota businesses have realized that attending to public concerns about forest management through the certification of pallets can stimulate potential markets.

Pallets are an often neglected way in which companies can express an environmental commitment. Stewart’s Forest Products and Savanna Pallet Inc. are owned and operated by families with strong business expertise gained through formal education, industry specific knowledge and a variety of experience. These two businesses have realized that attending to public concerns about forest management through the certification of pallets can stimulate potential markets.

Over-cutting and high grading in the last century resulted in the need for Minnesota’s forests to go through a ‘healing process.’ The state Department of Natural Resources and two counties, Aitkin and Cass, determined that FSC certification might enhance efforts to restore the health, productivity and value of some public forest lands.

“Certification gives credibility to what the county’s doing,” said Aitkin County Board member Darrell Bruggman. “It affirms that county and state land management is doing a good job maintaining our forest for current and future uses.”

Minnesota became the first state to broadly pursue FSC certification of its public forest lands and now has close to 1 million acres of county, state and private forest land certified. Management plans often require that small diameter, lower value trees be harvested and marketed. On a short list of potential commercial uses for this resource, pallets are the highest value-added product.

The Community Forestry Resource Center, a program of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, advocates responsible forestry practices and understands the commitment of forest managers in Minnesota. With feedback from the FSC-certified counties and the Department of Natural Resources, SmartWood and CFRC recognized the need to develop links in the forest product marketing system. Nudging markets to help match the FSC forest resources with potential buyers would be crucial for certification to succeed. The question was: could a viable market be created for pallets made of FSC-certified lumber? Christopher Sietz, general manager of Summit Brewing Company in St. Paul, recognized that sustainable forestry would be good for his business.

“Supporting sustainable forestry is a smart business investment for us,” he said. “Buying FSC-certified pallets allows us to uphold our company values while encouraging forest management practices that protect clean water resources -- an essential ingredient in quality beer. We especially like the direct connection between well-managed forests in the Mississippi River watershed supplying wood for our pallets and protecting the quality of the water we use for our brewing.”

Stewart’s Forest Products was the pallet supplier for Summit Brewery. Considering its accessibility to Minnesota’s FSC-certified forest resource and Summit’s commitment to sustainable forestry, Stewart’s Forest Products was granted FSC chain-of-custody certification by SmartWood in early 2002. The certification gave Stewart’s the distinction of becoming the first company to manufacture and deliver pallets bearing the FSC trademark logo and mark of assurance.

“Stewarts Forest Products originally became FSC-certified to provide a product for our customers that promotes a healthy environment,” said George Stewart Jr. “As we became more involved with the Forest Stewardship Council, we discovered that the chain-of-custody system is an excellent way of restoring Minnesota forests for future use.” Savanna Pallet in McGregor, MN shared Aitkin County’s management approach to forestland and encouraged FSC certification. It received chain-of-custody certification from SmartWood in March 2003.

“We’re sitting in Aitkin County, and the county had already taken the initial steps in getting the land certified,” said Allen Raushel, vice president of Savanna Pallet. “So it made sense for us to be part of that.” The Raushels’ goal was to evolve into a more ‘professional’ pallet company that can serve a variety of customers with the wood products they need. “We want to be able to offer aspen pallets, hardwood pallets, heat treated or FSC,” said Allen.

Stewart’s Forest Products and Savanna Pallet are utilizing Minnesota’s FSC-certified forest resource to supply the best possible pallet at the beginning of the supply chain all the way to the end. In addition to Summit Brewery, Aveda Corporation, a leading Minnesota-based personal care products manufacturer, has begun phasing FSC-certified pallets into its distribution chain. Aveda, which has a strong interest in and commitment to environmental issues, is replacing recycled pallets with FSC-certified pallets. Businesses with ‘green’ purchasing policies or those endorsing environmental protection principles are the likeliest market candidates for pallets made of wood from certified forests.

In Minnesota, the development of a certified pallet market has shown that raised awareness, changing business practices and educated venues can open market opportunities that prove environmental stewardship and economic responsibility can be mutually beneficial.

This article has been reprinted courtesy of the Forest Stewardship Council. It first appeared in the August 2003 edition of that organization’s newsletter.