Environmentally conscious buyers hesitate when thinking about adding a wood floor to their home. We’ve all seen images of despoiled forests and most consumers aren’t eager to add to the problem. The good news is that you don’t have to.
There are many wood choices that come from very environment-friendly sources. And with a little careful planning you can make sure your wood floor is as good for the environment as it is for you home’s interior design. The secret, of course, is to know where to look and what to look for.
Back in the day when forests were plentiful and wood was “king” of building materials, many mid-size buildings were constructed from superior old-growth timber. As these buildings become obsolete and are replaced, the timber in them is “reclaimed” for other uses. Reclaimed timber can offer many advantages for today’s wood floors.
Well-aged, old-growth timber gives you a very durable floor, with exceptional grain pattern and colour qualities. And the marks or defects in the wood from its previous use can add a distinctive character to both traditional and contemporary floor styles. From an environmental standpoint this flooring material spares our forests and eases the strain on our landfills.
Selective cutting is a way of harvesting trees without destroying the forest. Older trees are “thinned out” to be milled leaving the younger trees to take their place. Every tree reaches a point in its lifecycle where it begins to stagnate and die; at that point, it no longer gives off-gasses oxygen into the environment.
The prudent management of sustainable forests harvests these specimens at or near that juncture in their lifetime. Properly managed, a sustained-yield forest can be difficult for the untrained eye to tell from a forest that hasn’t been logged. This method is common among American hardwood loggers who need to maintain their business on limited landholdings.
Agriculture also contributes to the stable of green wood flooring choices. Fruit-bearing trees that have aged beyond their productive lives are eventually cut down to make room for younger trees. Many species periodically tapped for their sap or bark eventually stop producing viable yields and need to be cut to provide space for new trees.
So how do you know if your flooring material is environmentally friendly? The first, and most reliable method, is to use a distributor you can trust. A top-grade wood flooring distributor can tell you the history of the wood you’re buying and steer you towards those woods that are produced in an environmentally sensitive manner.
The second method is to look for wood that has been certified as being “green” – much the way produce is certified as being “organic”. Four primary organisations certify wood as having been produced in an environmentally sensitive manner: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS).
Each of these organisations varies in the standards it applies to certification so you’ll want to do a little research. As a savvy consumer or specifier you’ll also want to question your supplier on whether the wood you’re buying is indeed certified. While the certification logo may be on display, perhaps only a few of their flooring products might qualify.
A unique feature of FSC-certified goods currently is their reliance on a third-party verification through an auditing system to insure the accuracy of their authentication. The added cost for these efforts, particularly when a full chain of custody is enforced through every reseller, distributor and contractor handling the goods, inevitably causes significantly higher prices for comparable products not FSC-certified.
Growing interest in buildings that are better for the environment, healthier for occupants and more cost-efficient to operate is helping to drive the popularity of green building rating systems such as LEED and Green Globes. Many similarities can be found when comparing LEED with Green Globes. They both evolved from the same source – the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). Both systems also have significant differences.
Targeted towards the top 25% of the market, LEED involves a more complex and time-consuming process, but is well entrenched and enjoys strong brand recognition. Designed for widespread appeal, Green Globes is web-based and easy to use—even for those with limited environmental design experience—and is gaining ground thanks in part to growing mainstream interest.
One fundamental difference between LEED and Green Globes is the manner in which they treat wood. The most significant issue is the fact that LEED only recognises timber certified by the FSC, while Green Globes is more inclusive, recognising timber certified through FSC as well as the ATFS, CSA and the SFI. There are more than 390 million acres of certified forest in North America, but less than 15% of that area is certified by FSC.
It should be noted that for all practical purposes all indigenous North American Hardwood species are well managed and have been so for some time. Virtually all hardwoods utilised for flooring come from sustained growth forests where sustainable supplies far exceed market demands. As such, very few wood flooring manufacturers are willing to add the additional burden of costs associated with FSC certification to their already lopsided fiscal comparison to offshore- originating wood flooring products.
Until recently Don Bollinger owned and operated The Oak Floors Of Greenbank, Inc. (a full-service wood flooring contracting business in the Pacific Northwest of America) for over 30 years and Wood Floor Products, Inc. (a 20-plus-year-old manufacturing and regional distributing concern catering to the wood flooring industry), which he has now closed to concentrate on his writing and to operate as a consultant.
He has consulted and written extensively for American trade and consumer magazines as well as technical manuals and other publications for The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) and The National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association (NOFMA), and he wrote the book ‘Hardwood Floors – Installing, Sanding And Finishing’ published by Taunton Press and Fine Homebuilding Magazine, perceived by many as being the definitive text on wood flooring. (Available on www.amazon.com)