Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Language Choices: A Chat About Merbau
A few months ago, I got to discussing language options and how the small choices we make in our presentation can have a big impact.
I was discussing possible captions to appear under the picture of a merbau tree. I was told that the original plan was that “the text would have to talk about where the tree comes from and the fact that it has been the focus of intense environmental scrutiny recently because of illegal logging.”
They only had a few lines available to them for the caption. I didn’t understand why it was necessary to have one that immediately leaped to the illegal species accusation (and was the only thing said). To me it was like saying "many blondes are traditionally described as stupid." It doesn't say that THIS one is stupid or that all blondes are stupid, but it immediately makes you wonder about the picture—is this a stupid blonde? (By the way, as I am blond, you can draw your own conclusions!) On the other hand, we could say, "Many blondes are considered very beautiful." It is just as general—it doesn't mean THIS one is beautiful or that all blondes are, but it's a positive comment and certainly one I’d prefer to appear under my picture!
The first caption concept suggested that a consumer needed to be warned about this wood. The explanation I was given was that “If someone sees this wood and thinks it looks beautiful, I think it's helpful for them to know that it has been under the microscope because of the Lacey Act, and therefore might be difficult to find. I can leave it to their own judgment whether they care or not...”
My immediate thought was that the Lacey Act applies to absolutely all woods. If the picture was for pecan, the caption could just as easily be that U.S. hardwoods must also comply with the Lacey Act and that some states have reported up to 6% of their material might be illegal. After all, the bottom line is that U.S. companies are obligated to handle legal wood, U.S. or imported. The standard applies to all wood, all sources, therefore material that is being sold in the U.S., be it merbau or maple, should be considered equally and it's not appropriate to cast suspicion on certain material.
There are other things that can be said. For example: "Merbau is in increasingly tight supply and most merbau flooring sold in the U.S. is engineered rather than solid to maximize the recovery of high-grade fiber." If people think about that statement, then they see that it indicates it's got a potential shortage, that it might be priced a bit higher, that they're not too likely to find solid, if that's what they want. It's informative and relatively neutral. Alternative statements could be "Merbau has a Janka of X compared to oak at Y..." "Merbau, like many tropical hardwoods, was first developed commercially as a decking wood, but companies soon recognized that its beauty could enhance the interior of the home as well." A caption didn’t have to be particularly positive (beautiful blonde) or negative (stupid blonde), but simply informative (blondes are historically depicted as having more fun).
A long article on merbau might mention some organizations' opinions about merbau’s risk level. However, when there is only a single paragraph, I think selective language does both the species and the companies who handle it a disservice by using that tiny space to give it a negative spin. The next time you read a small caption that is overly negative—or overly positive for that matter—remember that there is always another side. Language choices matter.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Let’s Look at LEED, Part 2: Specific Credits for Flooring
Since there are different types of LEED projects (new construction vs. remodeling, for example), exact credit codes might differ, but conceptually, most of the following concepts categories are valid for all LEED projects.
Rapidly Renewable Materials: One of the most commonly referenced LEED categories, Rapidly Renewable covers raw materials that can be “renewed” within a 10-year period. Bamboo and cork are the most common products meeting this standard within the flooring industry, but some engineered floors that include cores (usually plywood or HDF) from plantation woods might also meet the standard. It is important to know the percentage of the product made from the rapidly renewable component.
Certified Wood: This is the other category that is most frequently referenced. LEED recognizes only FSC certification at this time, and will allow properly FSC certified floors to contribute toward credits within a category. This is a fairly controversial category, as other certification programs such as SFI or PEFC would like to be considered LEED-compliant as well, and the U.S. hardwood industry also feels that they should be recognized by LEED for their sustainable nature. As with the rapidly renewable category, you must know the percentage of FSC material within the product if it less than 100%.
Recycled Content: Products that are made with post-industrial recycled material (ex. sawdust from a mill turned into HDF perhaps) and post consumer recycling (ex. staves from whiskey barrels turned into flooring) can contribute toward LEED certification. Again, knowing a content percentage may be necessary.
Regional Materials: Products that are sourced from less than 500 miles away can contribute as a “regional material.”
Low-Emitting Materials: Composite wood products, low-VOC adhesives and finishes all have the potential to contribute in a LEED project.
In the case of composite wood products, a floor that uses a CARB-certified core is not automatically LEED-compliant, since CARB is an emission-based standard and LEED is a content-based standard. For an engineered floor to be LEED-compliant, it must be produced with no added urea formaldehyde.
On the other hand, glues and adhesives are on an emission-based standard, and to comply they must meet a specified VOC emission level.
Those are the primary category for wood flooring. That said, there can be several other credit categories where flooring might contribute. My favorite challenge would be gaining recognition within the Innovation and Design Process category, which provides projects with an opportunity to be awarded points for exceptional performance above the requirements set by LEED and/or innovative performance in some way that is not specifically addressed in another way by LEED. Be creative with your product, and you might find yourself LEED-rewarded!
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Let’s Look at LEED, Part 1: Basic Vocab
To review, LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) was created by the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) as a way to offer third-party validation of a project’s green features. It has created its own vocabulary and mis-used vocabulary as well. To simplify:
People are LEED “accredited.” (They have been trained in LEED policies and procedures and can provide advice regarding your project.)
Buildings are LEED “certified.” (They have been independently reviewed and found to meet specific LEED standards and conditions.)
Products are LEED “compliant.” (They meet LEED’s specifications to be used in a project.)
Products can “contribute” toward “credits” within a category.
Beware of a company offering “LEED Certified flooring”—there is no such thing. Nor is a specific product worth points or credits, nor does the use of a specific product guarantee the project will get credits within that category. No manufacturer can guarantee that their product will get your project certified, so beware of any excessive claims.
There are many different kinds of LEED certification (both levels and classes of projects), but the concepts are generally the same, and next week, we’ll look at some of the ways floors can contribute to a LEED project.
See www.usgbc.org (U.S.) or www.cagbc.org (Canada) for more information.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Green as the Default at the NWFA Convention
I attended the NWFA Convention in San Diego last month and I was struck by the lack of either green discussion or general green-themed advertising.
Everywhere you turned a few years ago, you’d find something “themed green,” stating something positive in terms of a product’s relationship to CARB, Lacey, FSC, LEED, as well as sustainability, renewability, and general hugability. Now, while some booths, products and catalogs noted green attributes, it was much more understated and matter of fact. FSC was no longer rare, CARB was the norm, and Lacey was accepted as the law of the land under which we all operate.
I could be cynical and suggest that indicates the green movement has come and gone. I could despair that nobody cares any more. But I don’t.
Instead, I think that this is a demonstration that the industry now recognizes that green is the default condition for our products. I think it shows that no one needs to state the obvious—that by far and away, the great majority of all of our products represent the finest, safest, healthiest and most sustainable of all building materials. From their long lives of services to us, to their ever better conditions of manufacture that use less power, less water, less wood, and safer chemicals, hardwood floors are fundamentally green.
I attended the Manufacturer Forum on the last day, where there was a presentation on the UHP’s (United Hardwood Promotion) PR campaign. The speaker said something which struck me as rather significant. He spoke of how steel companies and car companies use trees in their logos, how chemical companies use leaves to show they are environmentally conscious, how every industry “wants to be us except us.” Everyone wanted to be like the wood industry—green and with good management, working with a resource that is potentially sustainable forever. They all used our raw material to advertise their good—but non-wood—related attributes. Somehow slapping a tree logo on a steel and rubber car that pushes carbon into the atmosphere every day it runs on the limited quantity of dead dinosaurs we have left makes it seem more environmentally friendly, while the carbon-sequestering wood industry remains regularly on the defensive about the selective harvesting of a renewable resource. No one seems to accept that we are green by the very (pardon the pun) nature of our business.
We can always make ourselves greener in some ways and we can follow programs and regulations that provide demonstration of our green nature, but I think we should take the lack of screaming green at the NWFA as a good sign. I hope it shows the industry’s finally proud acceptance that we don’t have to scream out defensively, waving flags everywhere. State it calmly and move on. We ARE green. It’s our default condition.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
Lacey and Marketing U.S. Woods
Many people don’t realize that the trade in U.S. woods is also covered by the Lacey Act. For example, if the government can prove that a tree was taken from the wrong side of a property line, that would be a Lacey violation, and the U.S. company would be liable for any applicable penalties. Furthermore, all American domestic woods need to be declared upon their re-entry into the U.S. If a foreign company utilizes American red oak or walnut for a floor, pecan for a kitchen cabinet or SPF for plywood production, etc., those species will be subject to Lacey declaration requirements when the final product is imported into the U.S. So while much less likely to be targeted for investigation, a certain level of due diligence should be done regarding the American supply chain, as well.
Many American manufacturers anticipated an increase in their domestic market share as both downstream producers and retail customers shifted from imported species to the “safer” domestic hardwoods. Certainly there was some change in that part of the market, but U.S. companies should not neglect their opportunity to utilize the Lacey Act to increase their export opportunities as well.
U.S. companies should be offering their overseas customers who intend to export a finished product back to the U.S. documentation to show that their production has an extremely low risk of being considered “tainted.” Such documentation can include the FSC’s own assessment of American hardwoods as “low risk,” or copies of reports by the American Hardwood Export Council or the Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc. and local industry organizations. Local universities often have studies (Purdue has an excellent one on Indiana timber) that can be quoted. Companies with good documentation packages should become preferred suppliers to nervous overseas buyers.
And since Lacey-like legislation is being developed in so many other countries, U.S. hardwoods should see increased international demand.
Of course, with the ITC case on engineered flooring still pending, one of, if not the strongest export market for U.S. hardwood—China—has certainly taken a hit.