By Wade Vonasek and Matt Warnock

For most, green is rapidly becoming the dominant color in the woodworking industry. Click here to download a recent study to identify value-added wood industry perspective and participation in certification.

One of the things consumers fail to recognize, and that the woodworking industry is trying to educate them about, is that wood is one of the most sustainable, environmentally friendly materials available.

What many consumers do not realize is that wood is one of the most environmentally friendly materials available for use in construction and manufacturing. Not only is it renewable, but the wood itself stores carbon until the wood rots or is otherwise destroyed. That is just one of the messages the woodworking industry is trying to convey to the public in the green revolution that is growing every day.

“We’ve seen that green building is continuing to grow,” says Ashley Katz, U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) communications manager. “Over the past 12 months, 867 projects have received LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certification, and 9,370 projects have registered and are seeking certification. The number of LEED Accredited Professionals has also grown, from 12,497 to 17,846.”

“Green building is benefiting from this overall tsunami of attention around environmental consciousness,” says Roger Rutan, vice president, sales and marketing, for Timber Products Co.

“In the past 12 months, the green topic has gone from being almost nonexistent in our market to being one of the hottest topics,” agrees Joe Knobbe, Cabinet Makers Assn. Board of Directors member at large and senior product manager at Exclusive Woodworking.

Even in the face of the current economic crisis, sustainability and green building are buzzwords when it comes to renewing the economy.

“Despite tough economic conditions, there are several waves of ‘green demand’ showing strength on the hardwood plywood side,” says Columbia Forest Products’ Director of Marketing Todd Vogelsinger.

There is no doubt that the prominence of green building and employing sustainable business practices is growing in popularity, particularly with the new administration in power in the White House.

“The new administration will be a big draw to increasing awareness of environmental issues and practices,” adds Rutan.

“Green building will certainly get a chance to play a big role if the stimulus package, as it has been proposed, focuses on schools and healthcare in a way that drives dollars toward construction, at least from the wood industry’s point of view,” says Vogelsinger. “And if you look at overall government construction, you’ll find that it’s certainly being specified to LEED standards in more and more cases.”

“Creating green jobs is a major objective of the forthcoming economic stimulus package,” agrees Dick Titus, executive vice president of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn. (KCMA).

Going forward, knowledge of green building will be an important tool in the wood products marketplace. More customers are looking into environmentally responsible options when having their cabinets and casegoods built. This will be particularly important for companies that have a lot to do with the general public, like the retail market.

“Clearly, the main reason for being certified is market driven,” says Steve Lawser, executive director of the Wood Components Manufacturers Assn.

“When the economy does rebound, those with expertise in green building will be in the lead. I think this movement has been strong, even in a soft economy, and I would expect that it just gains that much more momentum in a recovering economy,” explains John VavRosky, marketing manager, wood products division for Potlatch Land and Lumber LLC.

“The number of sustainable retail projects has been growing steadily over the last 12 months,” says Jo Rossman, a LEED AP, and manager of sustainability and designer programs, Association for Retail Environments. “As of January, 106 projects were registered under the U.S. Green Building Council’s two pilot LEED for Retail project rating systems. Correspondingly, A.R.E. members have shown increasing interest in providing products and services that help create sustainable retail environments.”

Just What Is Green?

One thing that comes up often in discussions of green building is what does it actually mean to go green? Does it mean being more energy efficient? Or reducing waste? Or using certified materials? The answer is really all of that and more. Unfortunately, with so much general information about green and different ways for companies to go green, many feel that there is a lack of specific green building education available today.

“There needs to be more educational opportunities available,” says Chris Bailey, particleboard sales manager for Collins Products LLC. “This is a diverse and complex subject, with a lot of area for interpretation. There is a lot of confusion out there about the topic.”

“There’s miscommunication about what green is,” agrees Lawser.

When it comes to wood products and green building, many people do not understand just how important wood is in terms of sustainability. Doug Martin, Pollmeier’s president of sales & marketing, North America, says there is a need to “educate people about the fact that wood is the only renewable resource.”

Some companies have gone on to conduct programs to educate the woodworking industry on the subject. “We’re not satisfied with the state of green education,” says Rutan. “That’s why Timber Products and our sister company, SierraPine, continue to outreach to our customers through green education seminars across the country.”

The USGBC is making education one of its main goals, including targeted educational programs, Greenbuild — a three-day green building trade show that has many educational offerings — and an assortment of Web sites dedicated to green education.

“USGBC is doing an excellent job of educating designers and architects,” says VavRosky. “I think where we lack education strength is at the retail and wholesale levels.

Green Thoughts From VIPS

Wood & Wood Products surveyed the Woodworking VIPs, an online community of readers that act as advisors to the magazine, to gauge their thoughts on, and experiences with, the green building movement.

To find out more about becoming a Woodworking VIP, visit www.woodworkingVIP.com.

Feeling the Effects

For most of those interviewed though, the affect of the green movement on the U.S. market seems to be positive for all involved.

“Companies in touch with the green movement are certainly doing more to make green manufacturing part of their standard operating practice,” says Gary Heroux, vice president, product acceptance for the Composite Panel Assn. (CPA).

“In the retail environments industry, manufacturers are integrating sustainable materials into their products and evaluating their production processes to reduce waste, energy and water usage, and emissions,” says Rossman.

Bailey says customers also are becoming more interested in the benefit of green manufacturing. “Interest as a result of more green trade shows, greater press coverage and increased numbers of monthly green periodicals have caused the levels of inquiries to grow year after year,” he says. “Many more of my customers are now carrying green products. Several were skeptical and had held off carrying these items, but the majority now participates in this market.”

“A large portion of our clientele has concerns and aspirations of being more green,” says Knobbe. “Education and misinformation are the two biggest issues we deal with at the consumer level.”

But Katz says that consumer’s lack of knowledge is starting to change. “Consumers have become much more educated about the impact that buildings have on the environment,” she says. “Like consumers, companies are realizing that the buildings they use day-in and day-out have a tremendous impact on the health and well being of the environment and community. Green buildings save energy, reduce CO2 emissions, conserve water, improve the health of their occupants, increase productivity, cost less to operate and maintain, and increasingly cost no more to build than conventional structures. Because of these benefits, they are becoming highly prized assets for companies worldwide and a critically important part of the solution to global climate change and energy dependence.”

“Consumers are becoming better educated,” VavRosky concurs. “They are doing their research and demanding green products on their projects.”

“They are educating themselves before they visit showrooms or shops, especially on the ‘invisible’ aspects of cabinetry or furniture, like sustainability and indoor air quality issues,” adds Vogelsinger.

Some companies which have had sustainable initiatives in various forms for a significant time see the current popularity of green building as acknowledging their forward thinking, as well as pushing the industry in a positive direction.

“I would suggest a large number of North American wood products industry participants have practiced sustainability consistently for many years, and as an industry we are just now being recognized for our long-used efforts,” says Peter McKibbin, vice president of Contact Industries.

“I think green building is going to point out the good things the industry has been doing for years,” adds Rutan. “It does give the industry an opportunity to market itself [with] a competitive raw material against non-renewable materials like steel or plastic. The marketing message is that wood is a renewable resource, and with modern manufacturing technologies, can be an asset to home and commercial environments.

“Wood plays an important role in building industry, and green building has encouraged the woodworking industry to engage in and adopt environmentally and socially responsible forest management practices,” says Katz.

Vogelsinger says he sees green building as a possible stimulant to the woodworking industry. “[Green building] can certainly give the industry a boost right now,” he says. “We see examples every day of fabricators who are differentiating themselves and even entering new markets because they are suddenly able to market a green finished product.”

“Green building’s time has come,” says Titus. “The movement will continue to advance; first, because it is the right thing to do as is the case with the KCMA’s Environmental Stewardship Program [and other industry programs]; but also because awareness of the need to make progress in this area to help preserve our future supports government action, voluntary standards and measurable progress toward a cleaner environment, which is a wining proposition for all.”

“There are still some people out there who think this is just a phase,” adds Bailey. “They will keep selling buggy whips while the rest of us move forward.”

Purdue Studies U.S. Wood Product Manufacturers’ Certification Perceptions

Certification has been on an accelerated growth path for the past 10 years. There are two types of certification: First is forest management, where a third-party entity approves and certifies that forest management techniques adhere to the programs guidelines or rules; the second type of certification is Chain-of-Custody, where certified material is tracked and monitored as it moves through the supply chain, from the forest to the finished product for sale to consumers or other end customers, such as builders.

In 2002 and 2008, Purdue University conducted studies to identify value-added wood industry perspectives and participation in certification to see what has changed in the industry in the past 6 years. In 2002, paper-based surveys sent by associations to members were used. The 2008 study was web-based and anonymous.

Results show that certification continues to be an important issue for the value-added wood products sector in the United States. Certification awareness and participation increased significantly from 2002 to 2008. The percent of respondents receiving premiums for certified products has increased from 27 percent in 2002 to 61 percent in 2008 and the percent of respondents incurring additional [non-raw material] costs for certified wood raw materials declined from 89 percent in 2002 to 77 percent in 2008. The percent of respondents paying a premium for certified wood raw materials has also declined from 86 percent in 2002 to 74 percent in 2008. At the end of the day, 97 percent of respondents in 2008 said that they will continue to sell certified wood products in the future.

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