Wisconsin has been a leader in identifying and implementing forest resource strategies designed to address the broadest needs of its constituents as possible. Forest certification is a key example of that commitment to both innovation in approach and sustainability as an outcome. Key to the success of a new strategy is the early evaluation of obstacles to success and the willingness to address those constraints. The purpose of this project was to identify informational constraints to the development of a market for materials produced by Wisconsin’s certified forests.
Forest certification is a complex concept, and this study found that not only was there limited awareness of forest certification activities within the state but also that there were a number of key misconceptions about the nature of both the participation on the part of forest managers in the state and of certification itself. Perhaps one of the key constraints to the growth of the certified market is embodied in the fact that a majority of end channel members of the wood products marketplace (e.g. contractors, builders, and retailers) rely heavily on their vendors for product information. This study suggests vendors are largely ignorant of certification issues and therefore traditional information transfer channels are inadequate.
Despite a pervasive lack of knowledge among wood products manufacturers and distributors about forest and wood products certification, an increasing number of customers and certification advocates are moving forward on their own, often based on limited information. The dominant drivers of certification in the region today are regional and national green building programs as well as specific large paper product users. These organizations are the innovators and early adopters in this new marketplace, and in the absence of alternate informational sources become the primary influencers of future behavior.
All product adoption processes follow a progressive series of rational stages. These stages are generally referred to as awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption (or purchase). Each stage is generally essential to its successor, thus it is difficult to get people to evaluate something they have no awareness of or interest in. The primary obstacle to certification’s progress in Wisconsin is in the limited level of awareness of its existence among potential users. In a situation with limited established awareness, questions about “peoples interest in” or “individual’s willingness to pay” are often reported inaccurately because interviewees have no basis for a reasonable judgment. It is critical that effort is increased to make individuals aware of Wisconsin’s certification activities and that this information is provided by a trusted source for greatest effect. Continued education and outreach by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and its partners is encouraged.
The overall awareness of certification in Wisconsin has improved over the course of this two-year project, as the simple process of interviewing organizations and providing workshops impacted hundreds of participants. The green building movement and other trends also continue to develop. This momentum may continue to build on its own, but more strategic efforts may both increase this growth as well as steer it in ways that maximize the benefits to Wisconsin’s forests, communities, and businesses.