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    The 'Sustainable' Truth About Wood Floors
by Ed Korczak



 

Shown here is our Antique Barn-Board Oak flooring installed in a wine cellar.

Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important in the flooring business--and that is very good news for those of us involved in the sale and manufacture of hardwood floors.

Indeed, more and more consumers are insisting on sustainable and renewable products for their homes and businesses. This increased focus on “green building” has created an unprecedented opportunity for flooring retailers to promote and sell their hardwood products as the most environmentally friendly flooring option.

 

Wood flooring is, after all, the only flooring material that is 100 percent sustainable. Also, thanks to new guidelines promoting responsible forest management, wood flooring has become the top choice for a growing number of eco-friendly builders, architects, designers and consumers.

A major force behind the trend toward environmentally conscious building has been the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which was introduced in 2000 by the US Green Building Council. This voluntary program is designed to encourage builders to plan and implement environmentally friendly projects. Under the LEED guidelines, construction and remodeling projects are awarded points for using materials that comply with strict environmental standards. Wood flooring is considered both renewable and sustainable, and therefore earns points under the LEED program as a “green” building product. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) adopted its own program, the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines, at its convention earlier this year.

Of course this was not always the case. There was a time when environmental groups opposed the use of wood because they feared the demand would decimate our forests and other green space. Now, one of the environmental movement’s strongest proponents, Dr. Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace, defends wood as an environmentally conscious building product.

Dr. Moore, who now serves as Chair of the Sustainable Forestry Committee of the Forest Alliance of British Columbia, argues that wood is the most environmentally friendly and abundantly renewable flooring material available. He points out that every other alternative is nonrenewable and requires far more resources and much more energy to produce. He notes that the only factory needed to make wood is a forest and the only energy needed is sun light. In contrast, steel, cement, and plastic are made in factories using fossil fuel. This inevitably results in more carbon dioxide emissions, which are far more damaging to the environment than the harvesting of wood. Perhaps most important, sustainable forest management makes it possible to harvest wood without any serious environmental harm. In short, when forests are managed properly, trees are a renewable resource that can be replaced time and time again.

Kelly McCloskey, a founder of the Wood Promotion Network (WPN) concurs. At the National Wood Flooring Association’s 20th Anniversary Convention in Hawaii last month, McCloskey presented two sessions on wood’s environmental impact: “How Certified Forests Will Affect the Manufacturer in the Future,” and “Environmental Issues Facing the Wood Flooring Industry.” Through his work with the WPN, McCloskey has helped build a coalition of more than 320 forest and allied companies. Together they account for two-thirds of North American wood production. They have joined to promote the benefits of wood to the professional building community, as well as consumers.

For further evidence that wood flooring is an environmentally friendly and sustainable flooring alternative, look no further than the forests themselves. Visitors to the web site www.forestinformation.com, are reminded that forests in North America are abundant and growing, thanks in large part to steady regeneration and sustainable forest management. The site notes that North American forests have increased in size by 20% since 1970, and are about the same size today as they were 100 years ago.

Of course, as anyone who has an authentic hardwood floor will tell you, environmental concerns are certainly not the only benefit. The floors themselves can be renewed time and time again. Think about it: Wood floors have been a part of our lives for centuries, and many that were installed more than a hundred years ago are still beautiful today. What other flooring option can that be said of? Other materials are discarded and languish for years in landfills. Replacing them requires more resources and further harm to the environment. When wood floors start to lose their luster, restoring them to their original beauty is easy and affordable with a pad-and-recoat job. Afterward, the floor may look like as good as new, but it is a process that leaves the original floor intact, thereby saving resources and reducing environmental impact.

Another environment plus for wood can be seen in popularity and growing demand for floors made with reclaimed wood products. These can come from a variety of sources, including old barns, abandoned warehouses, wood found on river bottoms, and even outdated military base housing. Wood culled from these sources is sanded down and re-finished to create rustic, one-of-a-kind flooring that adds unique charm and personality to the casual décor preferred by many of today’s homeowners and businesses. Needless to say, keeping this once-discarded wood out of our landfills and refurbishing it to give it a second life has a tremendously positive impact on our environment.

No matter how you look at it, wood floors are an environmentally friendly, sustainable flooring option that will continue to grow in demand. Our industry can grow along with it through our continued support of responsible forest management and continued promotion of sustainable building materials such as wood flooring.


 


Ed Korczak is the executive director/CEO  for the National Wood Flooring Association.  The NWFA is a not-for-profit trade organization of more than 4,000 wood flooring professionals working worldwide to educate consumers, architects, designers, and builders in the uses and benefits of wood flooring.  The NWFA is located at 111 Chesterfield Industrial Blvd., Chesterfield, MO 63005.  You can contact the NWFA toll free at 800-422-4556 in the USA, toll-free at 800-848-8824 in Canada, or at 636-519-9663 for local and international calls.

 


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