U.S. Senate Passes Product Safety Reform Bill

As Wood & Wood Products headed to press, the U.S. Senate voted 79-13 to approve a reform bill that would overhaul the nation’s consumer safety system. Among other things, the bill, considered far more sweeping than a House version passed late last year, would create a controversial public database of product safety complaints.

The upside of this database is that consumers would have a way of learning about a specific product’s hazard months before it is recalled. The downside is that a product could be mislabeled as hazardous by wolf-crying consumers and proved to be safe.

Like the House version, the Senate bill would set mandatory safety standards for nursery products such as cribs, bath seats and playpens. Companies would be required to test their products to the new safety rules using independent labs.

House and Senate negotiators were to reconcile the two bills before sending a final version for President Bush to sign.

Maybe it’s the sight of the melting remnants of a cold, snowy Chicago winter and the prospects of spring and all of its budding wonder that have me thinking green. If I close my eyes, I can even see the green ivy of Wrigley Field and hope that this is the year the Cubs end a 100-year draught.

So much for day dreaming.

What really has me thinking green is the incessant bombardment of all things green everywhere I go and in everything I read and watch. There seems to be no escaping the relentless assault of the green movement once you’ve become in tune with it.

Recent examples abound, starting with my attendance at the International Builders Show earlier last month in Orlando, FL. The National Association of Home Builders celebrated “Green Day,” which included the launch of NAHB’s new green building initiatives, special focus on 200 green product exhibitors and a full day of green educational seminars.

The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn. was one of the sponsors of Green Day. The KCMA marked the occasion with the unveiling of a new Web site: www.greencabinetsource.org. GreenCabinetSource.org is devoted to touting the virtues of the association’s Environmental Stewardship Program to consumers, architects and designers, and home builders and remodelers. Included are links to the 92-and-counting cabinet companies and brands that have achieved ESP certification, from American Woodmark to Yorktowne Cabinetry.

According to the KCMA, “ESP gives cabinet manufacturers the opportunity to show their commitment to environmentalism and helps consumers identify cabinets and cabinet manufacturers who protect the environment.”

Two weeks later I was back in Florida for the fourth annual Closets & Home Organization Conference & Expo. I had the occasion to speak with various vendors and closet system manufacturers alike on the need to go green. 

The general consensus was that while consumers and product specifiers are ever-more aware of green issues, particularly when it comes to formaldehyde in industrial board products, there has been little clamor for “green” products. But they all know that it is coming. This includes a cabinetmaker from Colorado who said he is preparing to convert his entire product line to wood composite panels that contain no-added formaldehyde. He said he is doing this, not because many of his customers are currently demanding it, but because he feels that they soon will, so why wait.

The Color of Money

While still in Florida, I came across a house ad in the Wall Street Journal promoting its executive conference, “ECO:nomics – Creating Environmental Capital,” March 12-14 in Santa Barbara, CA. WSJ heralded the event as “a unique conference (that) takes a CEO-level view of the rapidly developing relationship between the environment and the bottom line.”

Among the speakers were California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric; and H. Lee Scott Jr., president and CEO of Wal-Mart. Many of the sold-out conference topics focused on energy efficiency and the impact of alternative fuels on the environment. A pair of presentation titles that caught my eye included: “Sales Job: Will Consumers Spend Green to Go Green?” and “Shareholders: How Much Green Do They Want?”

The answers to questions like these will have a tremendous impact on how fast and far the green movement is propelled.

If corporate America rallies fully behind the cause, be it as much or more for profit as altruistic reasons, then the day will come when – to paraphrase Henry Ford – consumers can have any color they want, as long as it’s green.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.