Understanding your commitment when installing timber flooring

Martin Cummins

Published by Martin Cummins - UK Technical Support Manager, Bostik

Martin has been involved in the industry for over 20 years. He’s passionate about flooring in all its guises, with his particular expertise being in subfloor preparation products and adhesives. Martin is an active member of the CFA manufacturers committee and he sits on the CFA council. He aims to keep abreast of all the changes in the industry and feeds this knowledge back to installers to make sure when floors are laid they perform to their maximum potential.

One of the massive personal benefits I gain from working with the Contract Flooring Association (CFA) is the sharing of knowledge and understanding. However much I may think I know in the world of flooring, there is always more to learn and understand.

The CFA Council and other CFA groups (e.g. manufacturers) have attendees from across the broad spectrum of contract flooring, which can lead to insightful discussion, debate and ultimately learning.

A recent meeting taught me a lot about the commitment a flooring contractor makes when contracted to provide FSC certified timber flooring installations. It was apparent that there are many stages and potential pitfalls for a flooring contractor should they not get it right. Hopefully this summary will guide people to ensure that the pitfalls or potential problems are avoided.

Many clients and main contractors are looking to offer much more sustainable packages when constructing buildings. This can be anything from energy efficient light bulbs or solar roof panels, to the re-use of water within the building. All of these have clear benefits and I think anyone with a modicum of concern for the environment can only applaud and support such efforts. Acronyms you will have heard of would include BREEAM and LEED, and within these architects and designers achieve points/credits for sustainability based on their practices and the products used.

When it comes to flooring, it is less straightforward to prove actual sustainability as it goes much deeper than the product itself, looking more to the full “cradle to grave” aspect of sustainability and considering, for example, the use of materials that can be recycled or ones that give minimal emissions etc. There is however an increasing focus on timber used in projects, ranging from timber used by carpenters to actual finished wood flooring. Timber being a renewable resource, if managed correctly and diligently, is obviously something that could tick the sustainability box.

To gain, in the loosest terms, sustainability points there needs to be assurances that the timber used is from a fully sustainable and responsible source. This can’t be an arbitrary claim and so has to be backed by a “governing” body. The bodies relevant are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). So what does this mean to the flooring contractor?

There are two major aspects that were explained to me. These were specific to FSC but no doubt will be the same for PEFC. The aspects are:

  1. a) The products themselves need to be certified or labelled.
  2. b) The proof and audit trail that the intended product is actually installed needs to be controlled at all stages. This is referred to as the chain of custody (CoC). The following is an extract from the FSC website explaining CoC:

Chain of custody certification from forest to end-user ensures that FSC materials and products have been checked at every stage of processing so that customers purchasing FSC labelled products can be confident that they are genuinely FSC certified.

During our discussion it was apparent that the full understanding of what is required if claiming to fulfil an installation of FSC timber was unclear. One concern raised was simply due to lack of clarity from timber flooring suppliers as to what products are FSC certified.

The fact that a brand/company itself is FSC registered does not imply all products they sell are too, the claim needs to be specifically for the product being purchased. It is not uncommon that a timber floor can be offered as both FSC certified or as standard, despite appearing to have exactly the same specification. It is up to you to make 100% certain that what you are purchasing and proposing to install is the same product and is FSC certified. It is likely that there will be a price premium for FSC timber, so ensure this is considered and don’t be fooled by the all-encompassing logo claiming FSC certification. So, that’s stage one sorted, the timber is FSC certified. But what about stage two, are you FSC registered?

Did you know that to offer the full CoC you also need to be registered? After discussion it became obvious that if a full CoC is needed, and you are part of that chain, then you also need to be registered. But what does this involve and at what cost?

This is not a full rundown of considerations but will help you appreciate what is needed as a company to commit to full CoC so you can give the client what they are generally seeking to gain i.e. their credits. (N.B. individual clients may simply want FSC timber knowing that it’s morally correct, but may not be interested in the CoC or the aforementioned points/credits).

Timber purchased as FSC will have batch numbers, markings etc. to identify that it meets all the requirements. There will be paperwork linked to each and every batch. Once the materials are delivered to you or the project site you are working on, you will have to ensure and document that everything supplied is correct and in order both as product and as supporting paperwork. You are now in that CoC.

It is your responsibility to ensure that at every stage this record and documentation is kept. This will include where you store it in your warehouse, which will be audited by the FSC to ensure the right product goes to the right customer and, again, is documented.

When the product eventually gets to the stage where it is on site and ready for installation, you will need to have an employee of your company (not a subcontractor) responsible for ensuring that only the FSC timber supplied is used on the project. And guess what, this will also need documenting.

There will also be implications for your pricing, your invoicing systems, your databases for ordering of products and many other aspects of running the company. Another cost, which often isn’t considered, is the training of staff to enable them to understand and run the relevant systems, whether they be in the warehouse or the person on site controlling the product use. They all need to understand what is needed and, whilst being trained, they won’t be making you money. So this is a big initial investment and I can see that many contractors would think twice about getting involved. But if you do want a piece of the action for such projects, and they are becoming much more common rather than occasional, then be thorough and fully understand all points on the road to avoid the pitfalls. If you commit to such a project and then don’t fulfil the CoC requirements for whatever reason, and fail to supply the right product, documentation and proof, then the client may well be asking, or more likely instructing you to rip up and start again at your cost.

Don’t get me wrong however, in thinking that FSC or PEFC are problematic. They are just like any other quality or assurance systems, such as ISO, which simply require diligence and accuracy throughout. They are there to help you supply a benefit to the client, which in turn can give your company additional opportunities with some prestigious clients and main contractors. They will audit you to make sure you are fulfilling the agreed criteria to enable you to be, and stay, registered.

So, in summary, I’ve learnt a lot about the contracting world that I did not know before. While I don’t profess to now be an expert on sustainability or FSC certification, this insight will hopefully enable contractors who aren’t aware of what the chain of custody is all about to become aware and vigilant. Don’t get caught out through ignorance as nobody wants to see a lovely floor ripped up if it could have been avoided, and nobody wants an empty wallet or a damaged reputation!

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