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Prop 65 Label Resources
California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (commonly known as Proposition 65, or Prop 65), has been in the industry news recently. In this blog, I am not going to look at the chemicals or their levels…let’s get down to the immediate bottom line: I want the industry to evaluate what labeling they want to add to their flooring packages. Below I’ve listed out a quick selection of sites (with small direct excerpts or summary descriptions so you can decide to read more or not) to get you thinking on the issue. Of course there are many sites more out there—check them out! My goal is to encourage the industry to consider the issue to avoid any more negative press for wood floors.

The state’s official website:

OEHHA is the lead agency for implementation of Proposition 65 and may adopt and modify regulations as necessary. This site provides official documents as well as lists cases related to the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (commonly known as Proposition 65) for informational purposes.

The original NWFA recommendation on sawdust—ADD A LABEL!:

“The proposition requires that wood products sold in that state carry a warning label saying wood dust can cause cancer. People who violate the act could face fines of $2,500 per day per violation. Wood dust was added to the list in December 2009…  The label reads, "Drilling, sawing, sanding or machining wood products generates wood dust, a substance known to the State of California to cause cancer. Avoid inhaling wood dust or use a dust mask or other safeguards for personal protection."”

The California Restaurant Association provides some guidance on label issues here and also warns about nuisance lawsuits—this is a very good look at why companies fear nuisance lawsuits and why they are so common:

“Proposition 65 is now widely criticized for requiring meaningless warnings in parking lots, hotel lobbies and restaurant entrances, as well as on airport walls and consumer product packaging. These “warnings” are required by Proposition 65 even when there is no actual risk of harm to anyone. In fact, Proposition 65 requires warnings at exposure levels as much as 1,000 times lower than the levels proven to have no adverse effect.

Proposition 65 is unique to California. No other government, state, federal or foreign, requires warning people about substances at safe levels…Private plaintiffs are also allowed to sue under Proposition 65… (they) are known as “bounty hunters” because they are allowed to keep one quarter of any civil penalties they collect. Lawsuits by private plaintiffs are much more common than lawsuits by the AG or DAs. “
A lawyer looks at possible changes to Prop 65 currently under discussion: 

“Prop. 65 has created numerous headaches for companies that do business in the Golden State. One of the biggest is what is an “adequate” warning, and when does it have to be given? The law’s implementing regulations give little real world guidance, and the law was written before the Internet and e-commerce exploded….As far as content is concerned, several environmental and consumer groups that regularly bring Prop. 65 suits want to see all Prop. 65 chemicals that a product contains listed on the product label.  This could be a big deal because right now there is no requirement that a warning specify which of the state-listed chemicals is in the product, and some companies actually place a Prop. 65 warning on their products sold in California as a prophylactic strategy to avoid Prop. 65 notices.”  

The American Coatings Association is concerned about the changes referenced above increasing nuisance lawsuits:

“Products sold throughout the state of California now bear Prop 65 warnings that are easily recognized by consumers. However, Prop 65 has also given rise to a cottage industry of bounty hunter litigation with millions of  dollars being spent on frivolous litigation with little, if any, benefit to the public at large.”

This is best article I found is by a lawyer on the issue of nuisance lawsuits, protective actions, and more. Since it is a must-read for all, instead of excerpting text from it, let me instead screen cap his opening:

 Prop 65 Ostrich label.jpg

Unsurprisingly the Wikipedia entry is easier to read than most official sites. It also provided an excellent illustration of the widespread use of a label to avoid problems:  

Prop 65 Disney sign.jpg

A defense attorney’s guide to Prop 65:

“Some view Proposition 65 lawsuits as legalized extortion.”

There are plenty of other sites out there, so do your research. Talk to an attorney. Talk to testing labs. Consider this blog my warning label to the industry:

Prop 65 label from Elizabeth.jpg
Alphabet Soup Series, Part 12 of Many: NAx
This week, we’ll do a quick look at the use of “NA” in our industry. The two most familiar terms are probably NAUF and NAF. NAUF is No Added Urea Formaldehyde and NAF is No Added Formaldehyde. Clearly the “NA” is “No Added.” You can have other No Added features (no added sodium is a familiar food claim), but for us, we’re mostly looking at formaldehyde.
Remember that there is naturally occurring formaldehyde in just about everything. We need to make the distinction between what was already there and what we’ve added in. There is no “formaldehyde-free floor,” but you can have one where you have not added any more to the product.
There are typically three types of formaldehyde glue combinations used by the wood industry: urea formaldehyde, phenol formaldehyde and melamine formaldehyde. (Melamine formaldehyde also comes in a version of melamine urea formaldehyde, referred to as MUF, which is very commonly the glue used in our MDF flooring cores.) As a general rule of thumb, the bonds in the urea formaldehyde combination are weaker, so over time the emission levels of free formaldehyde are a bit higher. In the original development of air quality standards, people looked at formaldehyde glues as undesirable and urea formaldehyde glue as an absolute “no-no.” That’s why there is a special notation for NAUF but we don’t bother to make note of NAPF or NAMF.
And since we’re talking formaldehyde acronyms, I’ll toss in one more for free this week: ULEF. That’s Ultra Low Emitting Formaldehyde (it tops out at 0.04 ppm under CARB, where a regular CARB certification for plywood is 0.05 ppm.) ULEF can be any type of formaldehyde glue (and it is often PF or MUF), but rather than looking at what went in, the testing is checking what went out, i.e. that the emissions were extra low.
Trees Save Lives
Trees save lives … and the Forest Service has statistics to prove it!
The U.S. Forest Service recently released a report outlining the amount of pollution trees remove from our air and correlating it to the reduction of health problems in the U.S. population. They estimated that our trees save more than 850 human lives a year. They also suggest well over a half million incidents of respiratory problems are avoided, as well. The researchers valued the reduced air pollution as providing nearly $7 billion every year in savings from the reduced number of health problems.
The study pointed out a very significant value coming from urban trees, noting that the greener our cities are, the healthier our lives will be. From the news release:  
"With more than 80 percent of Americans living in urban area, this research underscores how truly essential urban forests are to people across the nation," said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory.
The study focused on four pollutants: nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and “particulate matter less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in aerodynamic diameter,” which most of us generally call “dust.”
(Actually calling it dust is apparently a bit simplistic. That “particulate matter” is not just very fine particles of dust, but also dirt, soot, smoke or microscopic liquid droplets. And by the way, the term is apparently a dead giveaway for some. I sent the above sentence to one of my specialist proofreaders and asked if it was OK to call the stuff “dust” and he told me I should really add the other items, and then said, “I'm curious about why you are covering subject matter that is in the outdoor air pollutants arena, using EPA terminology.” I think it’s kinda scary when someone reads about “aerodynamic particulates” and knows you are referencing the EPA! But anyway, no matter whose terminology we use, at least the trees apparently clean them up for us.)
I am glad to know that the USFS’s paper is being looked at by the greater scientific community as well.  This should help get it wider attention, which can only help our industry.
Oh, and by the way, this is another stat which I found particularly interesting:
“Trees' benefits vary with tree cover across the nation. Tree cover in the United States is estimated at 34.2 percent but varies from 2.6 percent in North Dakota to 88.9 percent in New Hampshire.”
So I guess those in NH breathe well, not just “live free.”
Building Green vs. Building Certified
I was in Toronto recently working with our team there on various “green” topics. During discussions, one of our reps repeated something one of his big builder customers said, that "I think we should all be building LEED buildings, but I don't think we all need to be building LEED certified buildings." That was a great insight, I thought!
Building along LEED guidelines—selecting smart material, doing smart design based on green aspects and efficiency and so on—that is absolutely something that is smart and right. But sometimes doing the paperwork or paying the fees or micromanaging the regulations isn't always worth the actual certification itself. We absolutely should be building green, but we don’t always have to build certified green.
We talked about this idea with other builders during our meetings and they all agreed with the concept. However they noted that buyers are not likely to trust someone who has no history of building green. Buyers are wary of green washing, but the builders thought that if you build a reputation, you get the trust and you don’t need to have a third-party stamp (unless there is a clear economic benefit like a tax break). And not having to build under a specific program’s rules can often give you more green choices (like using wood that isn’t FSC certified).
The desire by buyers to have a third-party stamp is definitely in response to a few bad actors in the market. It can also be because some buyers don’t feel qualified to judge a green claim and the third-party stamp reassures. But most of all, I think the trend in “selling fear” has led to something I’ve talked about before, companies or products being considered guilty until proven innocent.
At Metropolitan[], we’re in the process of getting most of our line certified for low-emission standards. To achieve this certification, we are not changing the production process at all. The uncertified material we sell this week and the certified product we will sell in a few weeks time is being produced exactly the same way. Both are equally “healthy” and “safe” because that’s the type of product we sell, certified or not. But the certified material will be accepted by green building programs and the uncertified material will not be. The bottom line is really that we’re spending a great deal of money to prove our innocence.
Maybe this is the world today. We all have so much suspicion and distrust in what anyone tells us, that we just can’t believe things without a third party saying, “Yes, it’s true.” But perhaps if we all do start behaving better, making the smart choices just because they are the right ones to make, we can slowly do better without always being certified to prove it. Maybe some of us will earn enough trust that, when we make a statement that “this product is green,” our reputation will be enough to support it. I think that’s something to strive for—good behavior and a proven track record should be recognized
So no matter what, if we get credit for it or not, if anyone knows about it or not, we should all be making the right choices every day. “Build LEED” even if you don’t certify as LEED. Make a quality floor that is safe and healthy, even if you choose not to pay someone else to confirm it. Go green even if you don’t market it. Do right because it’s right.
Biomimicry & Our Industry
I was reading the latest Reader’s Digest and was just struck strongly by an article on biomimicry. I was fascinated by the examples given—I strongly recommend that everyone reads it to find out how one company is using a trick from spider webs to stop birds from hitting windows or to see what lotus leaves have to do with ketchup bottles, or how cats’ paws influenced tires … there is clearly a lot to learn from nature.
I looked up the company referenced in the article—more examples are offered on their website. They say they have a database of over 2,100 technological innovations and ideas inspired by nature. It is very inspirational.
It made me think about how some of our wood flooring products mimic nature and how that often will be the greener choice. We all know that a rustic product is more “green” (generally) then a clear one, as it allows more use of the whole board, less waste. It’s reflecting nature, what nature has provided—it’s not exactly mimicry, it’s reality—but I think the concept is similar. I would say that true thermo treatment, the cooking of wood at very high temperatures, is definitely biomimicry. It basically replicates the rapid aging of wood. Beyond the color change most people associate with this process, it makes the wood more stable, just like older, well-seasoned wood is.
The hardwood industry faces a lot of competition from products mimicking nature in the form of laminates and LVT. I remember when laminates were laughed at—but now the visuals can be absolutely amazing and the quality and performance equally so. It’s no longer the cheap embarrassing cousin you’re ashamed to admit you handle—it’s a high-quality, high-tech product. As for LVT, well, to paraphrase the old car commercial, “This is not your grandfather’s linoleum.”
Finding the right product for the best long-term performance is one of the greenest things we can do. I may get in trouble by saying that I think modern laminates and LVT have a definite place in our industry and there are some places where they are definitely a better choice than a solid or an engineered wood floor. We need to recognize that. But how did they get there? First, by improving the production quality significantly so there is a solid performance feature and then through improving their visual and even textual mimicry of real wood to the point where you sometimes can’t tell the difference on the first look.
Clearly people want the natural look. Sometimes they get it through a “non-natural” product, perhaps, but what they want is the look of nature. Interestingly enough, a recent ruling in Georgia reaffirmed that you can’t copyright (the look of) mother nature. The ruling was in regards to laminate visuals, but I expect it to have an impact on LVT as well. You might be able to copyright a process used to attain a look or a function but you can’t say “I own this grain pattern.”
The wood industry needs to always define our value, improve our technology, and clarify our green nature, or other products will overtake us in the marketplace. There are times when a good mimic is what you need, but there are also moments when only the real thing will do. We all have strong selling points, and I think there should be a home for all of us—hardwood (both solid and engineered), laminates and LVT out there.  
After all, anything but carpet, right?
(That was a joke, carpet people, please don’t hurt me!)
Why all the rebranding? The Mississippi Experience
Last week we looked at how Oregon State University changed because it felt its customers, the students, wanted a different product. This week, David Jones of Mississippi State talks about how a changing world led to changes in its approach:
Unlike Oregon State, our undergraduate program completely disappeared early on in the 2000’s. It has been somewhat maintained through a concentration in forestry and through a graduate-level program. What we found was there was a great deal of confusion about what the “Forest Products Department” did or how it fit with the mission of the university. To limit confusion and align the department with current funding from grants, we changed our name to the “Department of Sustainable Bioproducts.” This name encompasses the many different facets that we now cover, including lumber, composites, environmental research and biological research.
Of course, changing the name is only the first step in the process for us. Currently we are working on rebuilding an undergraduate curriculum to better cover the changing face of bioproducts. This is a difficult process, as all coursework must be carefully decided upon to make sure it will prepare students for life after the university. This includes adding courses on other materials, such as kenaf, corn stover and other plant materials. There has not been a move away from forest products, but an addition of other plant materials that have been utilized along with wood for many decades.
While the undergraduate program was in decline and eventually disappeared, we continued to provide support and outreach to the industry. This includes providing research and development for new products when it was too costly for the manufacturer. This included research in agricultural fibers as additives to traditional wood based materials. The bottom line is that the world’s view (and use) of bioproducts has expanded far beyond wood, and we’ve expanded our reach in response.
Why All the Rebranding? The Oregon State Experience
Most of the traditional wood science programs in the U.S. have recently changed the names of their degree programs, their department names, or both. Departments of “forest products” have become departments of “sustainable biomaterials,” “sustainable bioproducts,” or perhaps “bioproducts and biosystems engineering.” Wood science and wood technology degrees have become degrees in renewable materials and sustainable biomaterials. Some within the industry have been critical of the redesigns, especially when it comes to undergraduate curricula that they perceive to be watered down from the “good old days” when they were students.
What has driven the change? I asked two universities to comment on this. First up, we have a look at the Oregon Experience by Chris Knowles:
At OSU, the primary motivation has been centered on attracting students. At the depth of the Great Recession (the recent one) we dropped to 17 total undergraduate students in our Wood Technology program, which equated to less than two students per faculty member. At that level, the university begins to question the point of maintaining a program at all!
Clearly we needed to do something different, given the changes taking place in our customer base (students), not to mention the pressure coming from the university administration. In a true, market-oriented approach, we went to our customers to learn what they want in a degree and in a career. We conducted focus groups with high school seniors and with current OSU freshmen. The key takeaways we learned in the process were that the impacts of the recession were top-of-mind for many students and each person often knew one or more people who lost their job during the recession. Therefore, the students were looking for an education that would provide them with broad possibilities and flexibility. “Wood Technology” was not something they saw as providing this.
As part of the focus group process, students voted on titles of a degree program that they would find appealing. They had multiple choices; among them was “wood technology” and “renewable materials.” Renewable Materials was the descriptor that was most popular among the focus group participants, while wood technology was dead last. It shouldn’t be too hard to guess what degree we now offer.
The name change was just the beginning of our efforts. We also had in-depth conversations with other stakeholder groups including the potential employers of the graduates we produce. The faculty then held a retreat to determine how the old wood technology curriculum would need to be changed in order to deliver a degree program that would live up to the name “renewable materials” and meet the needs of our stakeholders. A new curriculum was developed that included deleting some old courses (such as “Introduction to Wood Science”), creating some new courses (such as “Renewable Materials for a Green Planet”) and modifying the content in other courses (such as “Manufacturing with Renewable Materials,” which was previously called “Primary Manufacturing”).
Additionally, we modified the delivery method for some content. For example, the Primary, Secondary, and Composites Manufacturing courses each had lab sessions where students would tour relevant forest industry manufacturing facilities. The new manufacturing courses, “Manufacturing with Renewable Materials I and II,” do not have lab sessions. The students now take a new course called “Renewable Materials Manufacturing Experience” where the students tour a wide variety of manufacturing facilities in one intensive week-long course. The end product is a degree program that provides students with a blend of technical content and practical business and communication skills that we feel prepares students to enter the broad field of renewable materials.
The outcome of our efforts is that we now have over 60 undergraduates in our program. The makeup of those 60 is quite different than what we have had in the past. We have significantly more females in the program (nearly half) and many come from an urban background. We feel that these youngsters are exactly what are needed to help transition the forest industry into the growing bio-economy, shifting away from commodity products, and enhancing global competitiveness. The first students to complete the full curriculum graduated this year, so it is still too soon to see how this will play out with their employers. However, we expect the redesign will prove to be a valuable contribution to Oregon’s forest sector and the future competitiveness of its companies.
ILP Down Under, Part 2
We’re continuing our look at the ILP, which, as a refresher, is collectively two related bits of legislation: the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 and the Illegal Logging Prohibition Amendment Regulation 2013.

The Australian government has generally outlined a four-step due diligence process for importers and first-tier domestic producers.

      1. Do “basic research.” This is to be done by the importer/processor to understand the risk level for a species and where it was harvested for their current or planned supply chain.

      2. (Unlike Lacey), if the product is covered by a third-party system such as FSC, PEFC, or a recognized legality verification program (such as EU FLEGT licensing), that is considered sufficient demonstration of little or no risk to handle without further research or risk mitigation. If the product is not covered by a thiparty system, the company must determine risk using against four risk factors or use a Country Specific Guideline that Australian Government is currently preparing in collaboration with many other countries.

      3. If the product is found to be low risk, then the company may consider their due diligence completed and the business can proceed.

      4. If the product is found to be anything other than low risk, the company must take documented steps to mitigate that risk before continuing the business. The risk mitigation is not specific but must be "adequate and proportionate" to the risk.

The Country Specific Guidelines are a very interesting development. Meant to assist importers of wood harvested in those countries, they should provide quick shortcuts of what the exporting country regards as "legal timber". The first one produced is for the Solomon Islands. Other country guidelines will follow for Australia's major trading partners—not just countries that are regarded as not low risk, either.

Importers of these regulated timber products will also be required to make a declaration of compliance with the Regulation with Customs when they import. Unlike Lacey, however, this declaration will be just a yes/no type declaration and answering no will not result in goods being held up at the border. The compliance authority (Australian Department of Agriculture in this case) is likely to be following up those who answer no. Public advice from the Australian government is that for the first 18 months after Nov. 30, 2014, their emphasis will be on educating industry how to comply rather than trying to "catch out" businesses not complying.

Penalties are at the discretion of a court; the maximum penalties that may be applied currently are:
  • five years imprisonment, and/or
  • $85,000 for an individual, and/or
  • $425,000 for a corporation
  • plus forfeiture of timber product / raw logs
These go into play only if the importer of regulated timber product and their trade/action can be shown to have been negligent when importing illegally logged timber. These same maximum penalties apply if an importer or domestic processor “knowingly, intentionally or recklessly” imported or processed illegally logged timber.

The Australian Timber Industry has also been on the front lines in preparing for the Regulation. They have developed a range of tools, templates and additional detailed information about due diligence. Largely based on the tools and templates produced for European Timber Trade Federation as well as assorted U.S. sources, they have been modified for the Australian legislation. These are freely available to domestic and international companies.

The risk based approach of the Australian legislation means that exporters to Australia of products made from wood which is generally regarded as little or no risk, such as U.S. and Canada, shouldn’t have to do anything particularly onerous for their Australian customers to justify a low (or better) risk rating. However it's expected that Australian importers will take a while to understand the legislation and what information they need to ask (or not ask!) for. The good work of organizations such as AHEC for exporters to the EU in supplying a standardized form of information will greatly assist importers to Australia.

For more Australian Government information:

For more Australian industry timber due diligence information:

ILP Down Under, Part 1
We have “Lacey” and the folks Down Under have “ILP.” ILP is collectively two related bits of legislation: The first is the primary piece of legislation, the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012, and the second is the subordinate Illegal Logging Prohibition Amendment Regulation 2013.

The coverage and focus of the two parts differ somewhat. All imports of products made of wood and Australian processors of raw logs are covered by the Act, while the Regulation only applies to importers of "Regulated Timber Products" as well as domestic processors of raw logs. (This list of "Regulated Timber Products" is almost identical to the Lacey list of products for which a declaration currently must be made—lumber, decking, flooring, pulp, paper, wood furniture, etc.) The Regulation begins to cover imports on Nov. 30, 2014.

While similar in principle to Lacey and the European Union's EUTR and with the same basic goal—eliminate illegal wood in the supply chain—there are quite a few differences in practice, of course. Naturally, this is important to American exporters; however, importers may find a bit of research into the legislation useful as well, as Australia has put tremendous emphasis on due diligence. And to support those businesses affected, the government and the Australian timber industry have both developed a number of tools and guidelines to help. These tools can be accessed by anyone from two websites (listed below) and may provide companies with ideas that will help them comply with either/both Lacey and the EUTR.

ILP is different from Lacey (but similar to the EUTR) in the fact that responsibility stops at the entry into the general marketplace. Only the actual importer or the domestic processor (e.g. sawmiller) has full liability. Those downstream that do not directly import timber or process domestic raw logs are not covered—unlike Lacey, where American distributors and retailers are responsible for all material they trade in, domestic and imported.

Another difference is that in Australia there is a two-tier prohibition system. Under the Act (the primary part), the importer or domestic producer can be prosecuted based on if they “knowingly, intentionally or recklessly” imported or processed illegally logged timber. Under the Regulation, the importer can be prosecuted based on if they imported illegally logged timber and it can be proven that they were "negligent." Note that both emphasize a deliberate misconduct or a clear failure on the part of the importer. This is a significant difference from Lacey, where an importer can act aggressively in good faith to eliminate illegal material and still be prosecuted for some action by someone earlier in the supply chain over which they had no control and no knowledge.

The program, like the EUTR, requires companies to make a real effort. Importers of these regulated timber products, as well as domestic processors, also have to undertake a process of due diligence to minimize the risk that the goods they handle could have been illegally harvested. Stephen Mitchell of the Timber Development Association stated that “If a company is found to have illegally harvested timber in their possession, but can also demonstrate having in place a sound due-diligence program in an attempt to avoid such a situation, it is hard to see any prosecution action being undertaken.”

That makes two immediate differences from Lacey—first the focus here is specific to illegally harvested material, while Lacey potentially covers any possible related infraction. (For example, the second Gibson investigation was related to HTS codes, not to the potential illegal harvest of the wood in question.) The second difference is the requirement that a company has a due-diligence program. For Lacey, having a good due-diligence program will obviously help if there is an enforcement action and be taken into consideration by the government, but it is not protection against enforcement, nor is it mandated by the statute. (Of course it’s just plain common sense and good corporate behavior to have one, even if it’s not specifically mandated!)

Next week we’ll look at how the Australian government plans to enforce the new requirements. In the meantime:

For more Australian government information:

For more Australian industry timber due diligence information:
Russian Woods to Be Listed on CITES, Part 2
After learning that Mongolian oak and Manchurian ash will be listed in Appendix III of CITES (more on what CITES is here), I contacted the U.S. government’s Fish and Wildlife Service for more information on conducting proper and legal trade in these woods. They immediately responded with the following advice and information, which I have bulleted here to make it easy for everyone to follow:
  • The two Russian timber species listed are:
    - Quercus mongolica (Oak)
    - Fraxinus mandshurica (Ash)
  • Both listings were annotated with Annotation #5, which means that only logs, sawn wood and veneer sheets are covered under the listing
  • The listing will become effective on June 24, 2014. Production exported prior to that date is not covered.
  • Because the Russian Federation is the listing country, shipments of logs, sawn wood, and veneer sheets of these two species from the Russian Federation must be accompanied by CITES export permits. Further:
    - Exports of logs, sawn wood, and veneer sheets of these two species from all other countries, including where the species are not native but may be grown in plantations, must be accompanied by CITES Certificates of Origin.
    - All re-exports of logs, sawn wood, and veneer sheets of these two species, regardless of country of origin, must be accompanied by CITES re-export certificates.
  • Finished products, such as furniture, of these two species are not subject to CITES requirements and therefore do not have to be accompanied by CITES documents when traded internationally.
  • CITES-listed plants and plant products must enter the United States through a "Designated Port." If you have questions about designated ports, please go here for more information.
  • U.S. CITES interagency partners, including both USDA-APHIS and CBP, are aware of these new listings. Port inspectors should be aware of the new listings and ready to implement them for all shipments entering the United States on or after June 24.
  • For permits and more information, go here.
Russian Woods to Be Listed on CITES, Part 1
Russian Oak tree CITES listing.jpg
A Russian oak tree. (Courtesy of Brian Milakovsky/WWF-Russia)

Last week our Alphabet Soup series defined CITES. CITES is in the news for the flooring industry right now because Mongolian oak and Manchurian ash from Russia (and other species) will be added to CITES listings at the end of the month. I talked to Linda K. Walker, Director, Global Forest & Trade Network-North America about these additions:

Linda, how did these species get added?

Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology pushed for inclusion of Mongolian oak (Quercus mongolica) and Manchurian ash (Fraxinus mandshurica) in Appendix III of CITES due to the well-documented levels of illegal logging of these species in the Russian Far East. For example, WWF Russia conducted a comparative analysis of the volume of Mongolian oak legally permitted for harvest in the Russian Far East in 2010 with the "roundwood equivalent" of the volume of exported oak logs, boards and veneer. It revealed that 2 times more oak was logged for export than was permitted by law.

That’s compelling evidence. Once the listing goes active, what will happen?

According to our WWF-Russia colleagues, inclusion of oak and ash in Appendix III means that before companies can export these species from the Russian Federation, they will have to present evidence of the legal origin of the timber to the Russian Environmental Monitoring Agency (Rosprirodnadzor). On the basis of that evidence, the agency will decide whether or not to issue an export permit.

The necessity to present such a document will greatly complicate the export of Mongolian oak and Manchurian ash that was logged without any authorization, which should in turn reduce the illegal harvesting. However, the system for collection and checking of documents is still being developed.

So what should buyers look for?

Buyers should ensure that they’ve exercised the due care required of them by laws such as the Lacey Act. Based on what we know about the reliability of documentation for these particular species at this point, we think “due care” here means not just taking documentation at face value, but also analyzing these documents, if possible with the participation of local experts, to ensure that the timber harvest they authorize could really have been the source of the imported products. There are several official documents we expect exporters to offer as documentation:

1) A "forest declaration," the document which determines the location, volume and species composition of timber harvest for forest leaseholders.

2) A purchase contract for conducting of "intermediate logging" (various forms of thinning, intended to improve growing conditions for the remaining trees) or "sanitary logging" (intended to remove sick and dying trees to improve the health and rigor of the stand) in forests not given out under lease.

Examples of the documents mentioned above and others can be found in WWF-Russia’s “Keep it Legal” guide.

However, WWF-Russia believes that great care must be taken to develop this system so that fraudulent “multiple use” of logging authorization documents is prevented.

What is “multiple use?”

There is a limited quantity of such authorizing documents produced in a year, and in theory the volume of oak and ash permitted for logging by these documents should determine how much of these species will be exported from Russia. We do not want to see authorization for X cubic meters of logs be "recycled" and used again. This is often a challenge for buyers who believe they are receiving genuine documentation—because in fact, the document was genuine for the first use, just not repeated uses.

Therefore, in addition to buyers carefully scrutinizing the documentation offered to them, WWF believes it is crucial for the Environmental Monitoring Agency to develop a regularly updated database of the documents presented to the Environmental Monitoring Agency to procure a CITES export permit, and to keep track of the volume exported under each document (keeping in mind that after processing the exported volume will only be a part of the larger, roundwood volume authorized for logging in the documents). This will allow Russian officials to ensure that the same documents are not used multiple times to launder illegally harvested wood.

If such steps are taken, CITES listing could play an important role in excluding illegal Mongolian oak and Manchurian ash timber from the market, and shifting competitive advantage to those companies that operate on a legal basis.

Any other “best practice” recommendations?

Know your source. It is essential that companies know the country of origin of their wood products, as often Mongolian oak and Manchurian ash from Russia can be incorrectly labeled as originating from forests in China or other countries. WWF also recommends that companies source wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which has developed detailed standards for legality as well as social and environmental considerations for responsible forestry.

Thank you, Linda, and thanks to all of the good work you and others at the WWF and GFTN groups do to support legal and responsible trade. Next week, we’ll look a bit more at this new CITES listing.
Alphabet Soup Series, Part 13 of Many: CITES
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention) is an international treaty governing trade in endangered or potentially endangered plants and animals. Roughly 5,000 species of animals and 29,000 species of plants are listed in one of three “Appendices.”

As buyers of wood products, the simple way to look at the Appendices is as three levels of risk and control, and to remember that CITES is country-specific.
  • Appendix I, about 1,200 species, are species that are threatened with extinction and generally no trade at all is allowed.
  • Appendix II covers about endangered 21,000 species or species that are either similar to or potential substitutes for others on the listing. Trade is controlled with documentation checks and special licensing requirements.
  • Appendix III includes about 170 species which have been listed by the country of origin to help control their trade.
As noted, CITES is a country-specific listing. So Quercus mongolica from Russia will be listed from the end of this month and have trade controls put into place, but Quercus mongolica from China will not be. Note that sometimes Customs will get confused by CITES listings—they will see the species on the list, but not note the country of origin. This has been a particular challenge for some species, like genuine mahogany, that grow in multiple countries. Always make sure you know the actual origin (required under Lacey, too, of course!) for your material.
CITES can be a product-specific listing. A listing might cover logs, but not flooring.

Remember, too, that trade in CITES is under constant control. That means if you import a product under CITES control and then export it, you need documentation in both directions. The control of trade follows that material always; it’s not just related to the first trade. This is why CITES is always an issue for musicians—many guitars or other musical instruments have inlays or other material that are of wood now under CITES control. Musicians need to either have documentation showing the production was “pre CITES listing” or that the wood is properly controlled—and they have to carry that with them for every border crossing.

More information on CITES can be found here:

Stay tuned: In next week's post we'll find out more about Russian oak being listed on CITES at the end of this month.

It’s My Birthday
Normally I don’t worry about my birthday, at least I haven’t since maybe I was 12? I’ve got good friends who often surprise me with a cake or a pie, and sometimes I go out to eat, but most of the time, I don’t even think about it too much.  

But this week I’m going to use it to reflect on the passing of time and how much things have changed ...

... nah, forget it. I’m taking the day off!

Typing EPA Commentary: Join Me!
Hi, All! I’m not going to have much of a blog today because I’m working on NWFA commentary on the new EPA regulations.

The key issue under discussion now is the requirement for third-party certification of downstream producers. Currently under CARB (and soon under the EPA), companies producing plywood and particleboard and MDF/HDF need to be independently certified that their production’s formaldehyde emissions remain under specified levels. At debate now is if engineered flooring will basically face a double certification burden—if companies producing engineered flooring will have to buy certified cores and then re-certify their own production.

One option being considered in response to that is setting a fixed emissions limit for all laminated products and then having companies self-certify that their product meets that level. They’ll have to take appropriate steps to ensure that’s true, and there will be penalties if they are found out of compliance.

A particular challenge is the issue of how to handle three-layer production. CARB originally excluded lumber core from the covered construction categories. The EPA has stated that they feel they are mandated by how Congress wrote the legislation to include lumber core. (Because the EPA is adding it, CARB is considering following suit.) If so, depending on how the final regulations come down, engineered flooring manufacturers using plywood or HDF will have to buy certified cores and will self-certify that their final product meets a specified emissions level. However, those producing any type of layered lumber core product will have to go through the costly certification process directly. There doesn’t seem to be much of a way around this, although it makes no logical sense in the real world. (It came from Congress—should I really be expecting logic?)

This means a whole new group of companies that have never gone through CARB will be expected to suddenly figure out the certification system—build testing chambers, write manuals, etc. I hope we’re given enough time.

There are plenty of other issues to comment on—ensuring confidentiality, protecting the small manufacturers, determining exactly what testing protocols are used and then there is plenty to cover on the label question!—but for the wood flooring industry, this lumber core twist is a big challenge, and I’m not sure how it’s going to get resolved.

I would encourage everyone to go and post a short statement along the lines of:

I would like to encourage the EPA to:
  1. Exclude laminators and fabricators from the TPC certification system.
  2. To develop a de minimis level that would reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses producing custom flooring.
  3. Continue the exclusion of lumber core engineered flooring from the TPC certification system by defining it as a finished laminated product rather than as hardwood plywood. If the product is included, ensure sufficient time for these newly included manufacturers to join the system.
  4. Have a simplified label to reduce market confusion and to reduce labeling burdens on retailers and distributors.
  5. Ensure long-term mutual recognition between CARB/EPA for accreditation, testing, and record keeping/reporting.
  6. Protect confidential business information for all companies in the supply chain.
Comment now, please—they need to hear from you! Feel free to cut and paste!

OK, while you do that, I’ll get back to typing…
What About Monnin Hardness?
Scott Leavengood of OSU is back with more on wood hardness! I’m just going to turn this post right over to him to address a question received a few months back on “Monnin hardness” testing. However, first I do want to say that it sounds like the wood flooring industry needs to look into creating a meaningful test (or tests) specific to our industry. And that test should also reflect the various forms our product takes—solid, engineered with various cores and face veneer thicknesses, and of course, the type of finish we might apply… anyone have any suggestions? Feel free to post ideas.

In the meantime, Scott, the floor (so to speak) is yours:

We received a great question from a reader about Monnin hardness. As the reader said, don’t the Brinell or Monnin hardness tests “…better replicate the abuse a floor takes from a high heel shoe?” Further, consumers want to know “…what damage is caused by constant pressure by the heel on the floor, not how much force is needed to cause a really bad dent.”

First, let’s talk about Monnin hardness. I must admit that I’d never heard of this test method. So I did a little research to learn more about it. Chapter 9 of the book In Situ Assessment of Structural Timber, describes several hardness tests, including the Monnin test. This test is similar to the other hardness tests except a larger ball (a cylinder, in fact) is used. You might recall the Brinnell and Janka tests involved embedding a ball of 10 to a little over 11 mm into wood. With Monnin hardness, the test involves embedding a 30-mm cylinder with a maximum load of 2 kN (about 450 lbs.) over a period of 5 seconds. The figure below (from that same chapter in In Situ Assessment of Structural Timber) shows the test apparatus.

Monnin hardness illustration.jpg

Since it’s hard to measure the depth of the penetration (t), the width of the indentation (l) is measured instead and depth calculated from that. Monnin hardness is 1 over the depth of penetration.

And maybe you’re thinking now what I thought when I read about this test method—it sounds a bit challenging to accurately measure the width, too! That’s actually what the authors of the book chapter say: “Because it is not easy to measure accurately the width of the impression, the Monnin hardness is subject to greater experimental error than in the Janka test.” Looking back at part 4 of this series, you might recall that the same situation exists for the Brinell test—measuring hardness with the Brinell test requires measuring the depth of penetration. This is really tough to do accurately!

So there’s the bottom line, really. As the reader said, consumers want to know what damage is caused by constant pressure on a floor, such as by a heel vs. how much force is needed to cause the floor to dent (i.e., Janka hardness). And the Brinell and Monnin tests do seem to provide a better measure of hardness measured in terms of damage caused by constant pressure. So why is it then that most measures of hardness we see reported are from the Janka test vs. the other test methods? Well it seems the answer is due to two primary reasons:
  1. Janka hardness involves less experimental error
  2. It’s an easier test to conduct.
In conclusion, we should mention that the test we now know as Janka has been modified from the original. Gabriel Janka’s test was originally developed as a modified Brinell hardness test; he expressed the results as the load divided by the projected area of contact. However the ASTM test has always reported the results as the load at a penetration of 0.222 inches (i.e., half the depth of the ball).

Reference Sources:

Riggio, M., and M. Piazza. 2010. Chapter 9: Hardness Test. In: In Situ Assessment of Structural Timber. B. Kasal and T. Tanner (eds.).

Doyle, J. and J.C.F. Walker. 1985. Indentation Hardness of Wood. Wood and Fiber Science 17(3): 369-376.

Universities as a Business Resource, Part 2
We’re back with David Jones of Mississippi State University and Chris Knowles of Oregon State University, who are going to give us a bit more insight into the University Extension Program. (See last week's post from them here.)

Chris: As I mentioned, I work in wood products extension, part of the Forestry & Natural Resources group at OSU. There are about 25 of us who work in that group and we make up the largest group of forestry extension faculty in the country. The vast majority of our group focuses on forestry and forest management related topics.

There are four of us at the Oregon Wood Innovation Center who work with the wood products industry. We work with the forest products industry in a wide variety of ways, including providing continuing education (we offer a number of annual courses on topics ranging from sales to quality control to dry kiln operation), answering technical questions, conducting small-scale testing and research for companies, and assisting with development of new products.

I think the best way for you to understand how we work with companies is to provide some examples of projects we have completed in the past.

One of my favorite examples would be helping an Oregon company in their export program using some good solid wood science. In that specific case, the Oregon company was selling hemlock to a manufacturer in China. The Chinese customer was looking into switching to a supplier in Canada. The Chinese customer required some minimum strength properties for the wood, and the Canadian supplier claimed that hemlock from Western Canada met the minimum requirements but hemlock from Oregon did not. The company wanted to know if there was any previous research that would show if any strength differences exist between hemlock from Western Canada and hemlock from Oregon.

I dug into the literature on this topic and found a recent research project that happened to have been completed by one of my OSU colleagues that showed there was no difference in the strength properties between the two regions. The Oregon supplier provided their Chinese customer with the information and was able to continue doing business with this customer.

David: Like Chris, there are a group of forestry and natural resource Extension professionals in Mississippi. We cover everything from planting trees, the wildlife that occurs in the forest, to the products that are made from wood. Unlike Chris, I am the only Extension faculty member at the university that works with the forest products industry. This means I have to rely on other professors in the department that I work in. All faculty members at Mississippi State University are required to provide service: some do it through service to professional societies, others serve on committees, and in my department we as a group tend to provide service to industry.

An example of industry outreach I did recently was to a company that produces a type of furniture that is primarily used by funeral homes. They were having issues with wood drying, gluing, and damage during transportation. I visited the company several times and collected information about how they manufactured and shipped their materials. I was able to identify issues that they were having and the root causes of the problems. I then developed a training program for the company to educate the employees about wood, so that they could solve the problems they were having along with future issues they might encounter.

Above are just a couple of examples of how we have worked with companies in the past. There are countless other examples. So, if you have a question or a problem you need assistance with solving, we suggest you reach out to your local Extension agent and see if they can be of assistance. If you don’t know who your local Extension agent is, contact us and we can help you find them. Also, do check our websites, as we have a lot of information already posted and links to other resources.

Finally, while we’ll be happy to answer something simple on wood properties or drying techniques, we encourage you to be creative, too—we enjoy a challenge!
Universities as a Business Resource, Part 1
Today’s blog comes to us courtesy of David Jones of Mississippi State University and Chris Knowles of Oregon State University. Readers know that many (most?!) of my posts so far this year have been done with professors of wood science from several different universities. Now, I’ve been using universities as a resource for years—not just for blog posts—for everything from information on new technologies to marketing to testing services. And I thought it was time to really drive home what a terrific resource they can be for all of us. They have jointly penned a little essay on their work. Gentlemen, take it away:

As faculty members at Oregon State University and Mississippi State University, the question we hate being asked the most is, “What do you teach?” When we tell them that we don’t teach, they generally reply with a snicker and ask how they can get a gig like that. We then have to spend time explaining how it is that we can be faculty members and not teach—like we’re doing now…

Most people automatically assume that all faculty members at a university teach undergraduate students. While most university faculty members do, in fact, teach undergraduate students, not all do. This begs the question, if a faculty member does not teach, what do they do? Most universities have a three-part mission that includes:
  1. Educating students
  2. Conducting research
  3. Service and outreach.
Consequently, most faculty members teach, conduct research or do a combination of the two.

However, there is still one major responsibility that a small subset of faculty members have that we have yet to discuss: Extension. We both happen to be Extension faculty members. Extension faculty have the job of working with and educating audiences that are external to the university, including audiences such as farmers, foresters, community leaders, youth, business owners, and, in the case of our jobs, the forest products industry. That’s right, it is our responsibility to work with the forest products industry (primarily in the states of Mississippi and Oregon) and help connect them with the resources available to them through the University.

So what is Extension? The easiest way for us to explain Extension is to look at where Extension began—in agriculture. Up until very recently, the state of the art research in agriculture was conducted at universities. University researchers worked to solve problems faced by everyday farmers, including increasing efficiency, productivity and survival rates. These improvements in agriculture were useless unless the newly discovered information made it into the hands of the farmers who were actually growing our food. Seeing the need to communicate the results of university research to relevant audiences, Congress passed an act to create and fund the Cooperative Extension Service, more commonly referred to as Extension.

This act mandated a third mission for a small group of universities (known as Land Grant Universities) around the country: to “extend” the knowledge they generate to relevant audiences. This model still holds today, and it is likely that you have an Extension office in the county where you live. Today there are more than 100 Land Grant Universities around the country. You can find the Land Grant University closest to you here.

Extension started in agriculture, and to this day agriculture is the dominant focus. Other large-scale Extension programs that you may have heard of include 4-H and Family and Community Health. The Extension Service at Oregon State University has five primary areas of focus:
  1. 4-H
  2. Agriculture & Natural Resources
  3. Family & Community Health
  4. Forestry & Natural Resources
  5. Sea Grant.

I’m going to break here for length, but I’d encourage readers to visit both websites to see the impressive list of services these two universities can offer. For example, on the Oregon site, you can find a Shrink-Swell App to help industry professionals determine how much a piece of wood will expand or contract, depending on the air's temperature and moisture. Now that’s a handy tool! And did you know that MSU has a state-of-the-art mechanical testing laboratory or that they’ll help you with everything from monitoring your mill’s emissions to designing the perfect resin formulations?

Next week, Chris and David will give us some examples of specific business outreach they’ve done for the wood industry.
Getting Technical: Wood Hardness, Part 5: Resources
Scott Leavengood of Oregon State University was kind enough to pull together this list of resources for those of you interested in learning more about wood hardness.

ASTM Standard D143, 2009, "Standard Test Methods for Small Clear Specimens of Timber," ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2009, 31 p.

ASTM Standard E10, 2012, "Standard Test Method for Brinell Hardness of Metallic Materials," ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2012, 32 p.

ASTM Standard D7136, 2012. “Standard Test Method for Measuring the Damage Resistance of a Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Matrix Composite to a Drop-Weight Impact Event,” ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2012, 16 p.

Bektas, I., M.H. Alma, and N. As. 2001. Determination of the relationships between Brinell and Janka hardness of eastern beech (Fagus orientalis Lipsky). Forest Products Journal 51(11/12):84-88.

Forest Products Laboratory. 1999, “Wood Handbook—Wood as an Engineering Material,” Gen. Tech. Rep. FPL–GTR–113. Madison, WI: USDA, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory. 463 p.

Niemiec, S., G.R. Ahrens, S. Willits, and D.E. Hibbs. 1995. Hardwoods of the Pacific Northwest, Research Contribution 8. Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University.

And more casual but interesting stories and looks at Janka:

Article from How Wood Hardness is Measured
Getting (Really!) Technical: Wood Hardness, Part 4: Janka vs. Brinell
We’re back with Scott Leavengood of OSU talking about wood hardness. Scott already gave us a detailed look at Janka. This time, we’re going to look at Brinell.

Scott, there is another way of testing hardness, right?

When wood scientists and wood science textbooks talk about wood hardness, it’s almost universally (from my experience anyway) a reference to Janka hardness. However, there’s another test known as the Brinell hardness test, named after Swedish engineer Johan August Brinell.  The ASTM test for Brinell hardness is ASTM E10, but please note that this test is specifically for metallic objects – there is no ASTM standard for measuring the Brinell hardness of wood.

What’s the difference between the two?

As we discussed, the Janka test is where they take a steel ball and push it in one half the depth of the ball. They note the pressure it took to get to that depth. It’s basically a force rating. But with the Brinell, the force is a constant. The test involves pushing in a steel ball at a fixed pressure for a fixed period of time. A measurement is made of the diameter of the indentation which is then used to calculate a formal rating. It’s more of a measure of the “give” of the wood.

There is another variable—the type of ball used. Brinell is expressed as an “HBW” where the last letter indicates the type of ball used – ‘W’ for tungsten carbide, ‘S’ for hardened steel.

So the Brinell is a calculation? It’s not simple like Janka, an actual measured pressure number?

I once was told that every formula in an article cut the number of readers in half, so I hesitate to get more technical. In simple terms, Brinell hardness is calculated by dividing the test force by the surface area of the indentation. But if you want the actual math….

The test (to determine HBW 10/100--which means using a tungsten carbide ball of 10mm and a pressure of applied load of 100kg) is conducted as follows: The ball is brought into contact with the surface of the test specimen; the test machine head should move quickly enough such that the full load (100 kg) is reached within 1-8 seconds. This load is held for 10-15 seconds (possibly longer if the material “exhibits excessive plastic flow”) and released. The diameter (in two locations – one along the grain the other across the grain, 90° to the first measurement) of the indentation is then measured. The Brinell Hardness number is then calculated as:

 brinell formula.jpg
Where: HBW = Brinell Hardness
F = nominal force (kgf)
D = diameter of the ball (mm)
d = diameter of the indentation (average of the 2 measurements in mm)


If that formula makes your head hurt, again it’s essentially the test force divided by the surface area of the indentation.

And what does that mean for wood?

As an example, if the average indentation diameter was measured as 5.6 mm, then HBW 10/100 would be 3.7, which is about the average for red oak.

You told me previously that the Janka for northern red oak is 1290 lbs. Is there any relationship?

Do you mean that if someone reported Brinell hardness for a species, could we convert it to Janka, or vice-versa?

Unfortunately, there is no such conversion factor, although some have tried to develop one. For example, Turkish researchers measured Janka hardness and Brinell hardness for eastern beech and then used linear regression to determine how closely they were related. The good news is they found that the values were related closely enough that “the Janka hardness of the wood specimens of eastern beech species could be converted into Brinell hardness and vice versa.”

And the bad news?

The bad news is the underlined part – a different formula must be determined for every species.

I guess the wood industry will stay with Janka for the moment, but it’s great to understand the difference. Thank you!
Getting Technical: Wood Hardness, Part 3: Comparing Species
Scott Leavengood of Oregon State University has more numbers for us this week on wood hardness. (Click here to see last week's post on the incredible variation in Janka hardness he found in just one board.)

Scott, you did some more testing for us?

Yes, we did some other species that we had around the office.  For ponderosa pine, the average hardness on the tangential face was 490 lbs. and 504 lbs. for the radial face of the same piece (the published value is 460 lbs.).  Red alder showed more of a difference—but again, in the opposite direction than I expected—the average hardness on the radial face was 563 lbs., and it was 828 lbs. on the tangential face (the published value is 590 lbs.).

The table below shows the other species and results.  As you can see, for the species we tested, only ponderosa pine had an average anywhere close to published values.  All the others were much harder than what is published.   

OWIC test data chart.jpg

So what’s going on here? Clearly the least we can say that wood is variable—highly variable! But do you have any explanations? Or advice on how to use this?  

I can’t explain it all, unfortunately. On the black oak flooring, we saw a range in Janka hardness of nearly 1,000 lbs. in tests conducted about 2 inches apart on the same piece!  

We do need to keep in mind that the published values for these species are for tests conducted on wood at 12% moisture content (we tested the samples at about 6% moisture content—and the strength properties increase as the moisture content decreases, i.e., wood is stronger when it’s drier). Further, the published values are for hundreds of test specimens.  We only looked at 3-10 tests per sample here. It could well be if we tested a few hundred more boards, we’d come up with more similar values.   

Wrapping things up here, what do these values really mean?  

Again, they are a good measure of one critical property of flooring: resistance to indentation. But given the variability, how reliable are they?  All wood is variable, so really the best we can do is specify an average,  but maybe listing an average with a range and sample size wouldn’t hurt!

Is there some other property we could measure that would tell us something similar about resistance to denting in flooring?  

The Janka and Brinell tests (I’ll look at Brinell later, OK?) both involve a relatively slow, steady pressure to examine resistance to indentation.  However, many times we are also worried about dents that occur from dropped objects for example, that is, from an impact vs. slow steady pressure. Well, there are test methods for impact as well (such as ASTM D7136), and we do these sorts of tests on wood plastic composites and other materials at OWIC.  However I’ve never heard of any such tests being applied to solid wood flooring. It certainly could be an interesting way to evaluate different materials as well as the effect of different types of finishes, for example a hard, brittle finish vs. a more pliable finish.  

Can you do some more tests for us in another blog post? I’m curious about engineered wood flooring in particular.


My thanks to Scott (and Trina) for their help on this.  Scott has promised to do more testing on floors, so we’ll return to this topic later this year.