By Wade Vonasek and Matt Warnock

Despite challenges and misunderstandings about what it actually means to go green, the green building movement is growing at a steady pace.

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Definitions of commonly used green vocabulary and phrases.

One needs to only pay attention to the news to see that the green building movement is here to stay. While many may consider it to be still in its infancy, all indicators show that public awareness of the green building movement is growing.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in the green building movement over the past year,” says Ashley Katz, media coordinator for the U.S. Green Building Council. “At 2007’s Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Chicago, we welcomed nearly 23,000 attendees, which is double the number of attendees at our 2006 show in Denver.” Other programs also saw growing popularity.

“The Sustainable Forestry Initiative program recorded substantial growth in 2007, including a 750% increase in locations with SFI chain-of-custody certification that can track products from certified forests,” says Lisa Stocker, director of community outreach and government affairs, Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc.

“The popularity of the green building movement has increased significantly over the past 12 months,” agrees Carl Smith, CEO of the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute.

VIPS Weigh in on Green

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

Throughout the woodworking industry, it is becoming more common for jobs to include an element of sustainability, whether that be certified wood, finishes with low volatile organic compounds or other green materials.

“Architects, engineers and specifiers are requesting more certified wood and wood products and other green materials as more of them are being educated through various media and classes on green building,” remarks Doug Martin, Pollmeier Inc.’s president of sales and marketing.

Where the green building movement was once more of a concern for government and business development, it is starting to emerge in nearly every aspect of daily life.

“During the last year, green building’s popularity has grown exponentially. This is due, in large part, to increasing awareness among residential builders and individual home buyers,” says Rick Hilton, green building specialist for the Rainforest Alliance.

Despite the growth that the green building movement has seen, there are still a variety of challenges to overcome in the woodworking industry.

Still Not Easy Being Green

Understanding the green movement is not an easy task, which is one of the many challenges companies are still facing in selling the green idea and products to consumers. Sometimes the amount of options available for a project make it even more difficult for a customer.

“The green movement has provided consumers with lots of product choices, which is almost always positive,” says Smith. “However, too many choices can make it difficult for consumers to identify quality products that provide value. The most difficult challenge of going green is sorting through all of the various claims and attributes made by product manufacturers and builders. The noise in the marketplace challenges even the most dedicated green activists.”

“One of the most difficult aspects of going green is understanding all the various programs — forestlands, green building, product certifications, government regulations, and the like,” says Roger Rutan, vice president of marketing for Timber Products Co. “Most people are confused and bewildered by all the anachronism and programs. It’s a huge issue.”

“Navigating these new choices — and the availability of conflicting product claims and information in the marketplace — can make the decision-making process overwhelming,” says Hilton. “We run the risk of inadvertently forcing frustrated decision-makers into complacency. It is easy to just buy what is, and has traditionally been, most readily visible and available. This supports business-as-usual practices and is in opposition to the movement from green thinking to actually greening our built environment.”

Not only is understanding the certifications a challenge, but complying with them is a challenge as well. Martin says that he spends a lot of time explaining how his company’s PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certification compares to FSC, and why LEED does not recognize PEFC certification.

“Getting LEED to recognize PEFC and other systems would make more certified wood available, keep the pricing down and increase the total availability of high-quality certified wood for the growing demand,” he says.

Peter McKibbin, Contact Industries’ vice president, also cites the shortage issue. “The present volume of available raw material that is FSC specific chain-of-custody certified looks to be one of the movement’s current challenges,” he adds.

“FSC wood is still in very limited supply, but the amount of SFI wood is increasing, so this should help those looking for certified wood,” adds Rutan. “The green movement needs to make it easier and profitable to be involved in this important trend. We are not there yet. The LEED program is great, but it was designed for the top 25 percent of the buildings in America. The other 75 percent are struggling to find a program that works for them. Thank goodness for the Green Building Initiative, which does this.”

“Since we are a large manufacturer, the hardest part is being flexible enough to efficiently provide project specific products,” says Chris Bailey, particleboard sales manager for Collins Products. “The biggest challenge is getting customers to realize that not everything is equal. But I think the design community is catching on and taking a hard look at products that are produced in an environmentally friendly manner and then adapting designs to utilize those products.”

With the public’s increasing awareness of green products and initiatives, many companies are having to “prove their greenness.” Recent programs by industry associations, including the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Assn., the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn. and the Composite Panel Assn., are helping.

“The consuming market is pulling manufacturers to develop and formulate products that meet their definition of green,” says Smith.

“Companies, especially wood products companies, are feeling the pressure to prove how green they are to increasingly savvy green-minded buyers,” says Hilton. “More and more customers are asking questions, and they are asking for proof to back up environmental claims. Credible, third-party certification provides the best back-up for environmental claims based on on-the-ground forest management practices around the world, traceability from end-user to source, product content, finishes and effect on air quality.”

“I would describe it more as demand rather than pressure,” adds Rutan. “Sales of our many green product categories are way up, a reflection of that demand. Any ‘pressure’ comes from California with the new CARB regulations going into effect in less than a year.”

Putting together all of these factors under one “green movement” umbrella is a further dilemma for the wood products industry. Though more people are becoming familiar with the term “green,” they are still a long way from understanding everything it truly encompasses.

Getting to Know Green

“I think most of my customers are still confused about what ‘green’ actually means,” says Bailey. “It is one of those topics where the more you learn, the more you see how complex the topic really is.”

“We believe that the most challenging aspect is education,” says Katz. “There are still misconceptions about green building, which is understandable since it is a new way of thinking and a new way of building. However, when faced with the alternative, which is continuing to build and design buildings the same way that we’ve been doing it for years — it is just not an option.”

“Everyone has a different idea on what ‘green’ is,” says Martin. “One may think using plastic is better than cutting down a tree to get lumber. Others may think tree farming is the only way to grow, harvest and re-grow the trees we use. Both are not anywhere as ‘green’ as utilizing the natural forest through selective logging and managing for the future needs by sustained yield forest management and efficient sawmill yield extraction and total fiber utilization, along with wood and paper recycling.”

And while many people are familiar with the terminology, execution is another matter.

“Almost everyone I encounter is familiar with the green movement, but there is often a disconnect when we try to relate this huge green concept to our individual lives and choices,” says Hilton.

“I believe the term and intent of green is generally understood, but I don’t believe many understand the rules of engagement,” agrees McKibbin.

Fortunately, there are resources available to those who are interested in learning more about the green building movement. Many associations offering sustainability programs have information available on their Web sites. Additionally, events like the annual Greenbuild Conference and Expo provide a range of educational opportunities to attendees while also enabling them to view some of the latest green building products available on the market.

“People are becoming more cognizant of the impact buildings have on the environment and are looking for ways to mitigate climate change,” says Katz.

Green in the Future

As the woodworking industry becomes more familiar with the green building movement and the pressure to go green increases, many consider the long-term effects green building will have on the industry.

“There is no question that the green building movement will have a positive impact on the building industry,” says Smith. “It provides the industry with an opportunity to engage the consumer in ways they never have before.”

“I do believe that this movement toward the efficient use of any resource is of great value in today’s industry,” says McKibbin.

“The positive impact is throughout the process — from forestlands, to manufacturing facilities, to transportation, to other efficiencies. The impact on our environment is real and it’s measureable,” says Rutan.

“Consumers and other wood products purchasers will continue to build their knowledge of sustainability, wood products, complexity of supply chains, forestry issues and certification,” says Hilton. “Wood products suppliers have the opportunity to differentiate themselves as a partner in that process or might run the risk of alienating themselves from it and from their potential customers.”

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