Volume 47, Issue 6 - July/August 2008
Green Practices Need to Become Central to the Millwork Industry
by Sam Bell Steves II,
President of Steves & Sons Inc. and associate vice president of the Association of Millwork Distributors. Mr. Steves’ opinions are solely his own and do not reflect those of this magazine.
The millwork industry is perhaps one of the most stayed, tradition-born industries in the country. While modern technology certainly has played a large part in both the development of new products and manufacturing processes, the overall purpose of millwork manufacturers of providing quality doors, windows and moulding has not changed for 150 years.
Lately, we cannot pick up a paper without reading about global warming, energy prices beyond our wildest expectations and global supply and demand for traditional U.S. products. But a new element to our industry has emerged, and it is “green.”
A Bitter Pill
It can be a bitter pill to swallow, as many of us remember the impact on our industry from the endangered species act and the Spotted Owls. To further exacerbate the issue, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce lists among their top ten environmental myths as, one and two respectively, “forests are in rapid decline” and “air quality is getting worse.” Further, environmentally friendly cars, like the Prius, consume more energy to produce than the energy saved through their operations, and biofuels like ethanol are destroying millions of acres of rainforests in Brazil and driving up worldwide food costs. Clearly, not all green ideas are good.
There have been positive developments with millwork in regard to green initiatives. Ten years ago environmental activists were climbing high-rise buildings and hanging banners to protest what they thought was the big-box retailers’ abuse of their sourced global natural resources. At the same time the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) emerged as the “good housing seal of approval” to insure the responsible stewardship of the world’s forests. For the first time, new pressures were placed on manufacturers to supply commodity products that would meet these rigid standards, but at increased cost. These additional costs were not so readily accepted, and like most things in life, there is “no free lunch.” Consequently, manufacturers really did not join in.
Green can also be seen as “gr$$n” from many standpoints, both from a practical and cynical perspective. Many people (including past presidential candidates) can make a very nice living talking green, although many of their points would come to be seen as common sense. A review of many company’s “green policy statements” espouse their environmentally friendly virtues, but one would expect no less from any well-managed company. As we all look to making greener choices, sometimes it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction in making the right choice.
Put a Check Mark
Green really goes well beyond the sourcing of raw materials. From the standpoint of operational excellence, focus on improving efficiency, recycling waste products and making efficient use of transportation resources, to name just a few, make common and economic sense. If adopted, we can put a check mark in the green column. However, to truly become successful, it is my opinion that this green movement must become the culture of our industry. For example, standardization of specifications would eliminate the need to custom build products, which would enhance efficiency dramatically without negatively impacting the end user. But without industry support, concepts such as these are non-starters. On the positive side, our industry may be rich in tradition, but it is also rich in innovation. Many of the products and processes in the millwork industry were “green” before green was “in.”
What seems clear is that the fundamental desire to do the right thing for the environment and our business does not have to conflict. Through industry associations, like the Association of Millwork Distributors, we can work together to facilitate positive changes to make a real difference where everyone benefits.
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