Dealers’ Discourse: Not so easy doing the “green thing”

We are being bombarded daily by the likes of Al Gore and the mainstream media that if we don’t start doing something good or stop doing something that is bad, our planet is a goner. It is easy to get agreement that almost everyone wants to have a “clean environment,” but the much more difficult question is “What are the right things to do?”

We now know to beware of false assumptions. Cloth diapers are not necessarily better for the planet than disposables, and plastic bags save trees but harm the environment. The lumber and building materials industry has its own examples. About 15 years ago, it became politically incorrect to harvest trees to provide housing for our citizens. But when all the facts are put on the table, wood products are a far superior environmental choice than steel, concrete or bricks. Farless energy is used to manufacture wood products, less emissions result from the manufacturing process and wood is the only product that is entirely renewable and biodegradable.

We may have the facts on our side of the argument, but we still have uphill battles to fight. Some builders, architects and government agencies are looking for guidance on environmental building standards. They are looking for ideas to advance environmentally friendly design and construction. These standards are in the process of being written, but many of these standards fail the test of actually being better than the non-preferred practices and materials. And the reason they fail the test is because the process used to develop them is driven by politics rather than using science and economics.

Here is an example. The leading green building program, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED ratings, favors recycled steel over wood for framing interior walls. But environmental assessment shows that using steel-framed walls requires twice as much energy and releases 41 times more emissions of carbon dioxide and methane than wood. (By the way, steel costs 100 percent more.) So why would a widely used standard that is supposed to promote better environmental building practices promote steel over wood? Unfortunately, in spite of all the science and information available, it is still politically in correct in so-called environmental circles to harvest trees.

Even among those who accept wood as a renewable resource, there’s no single view of what is green and what isn’t. We currently have two certification agencies (SFI and FSC) vying for the crown of who is the “greenest.” But for those who have waded through all the language in their certification programs, I am left with the question: Is there anything they are proposing that “actually ” improves the substance of forest practices in North America? My answer would be “n o.” The already existing forestry regulations are very thorough and tough. But I have a good friend in our industry who reminded me of something that certification does accomplish. It makes people feel good. By purchasing certified wood, they are doing “the green thing.” But therein lies part of the problem with the so-called green movement. Many of their proposals are designed to make people feel good rather than actually do good.

Our uphill battle to help people understand and do the “real” green thing continues.

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