What’s it mean to be green? - Green is a given for this group

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Greener pastures
Attempting to assess the status of how the green movement will impact small shops and wood product dealers during the next few years is challenging, to say the least. Certification is a reality and an issue wood dealers and small shops will have to deal with — if not now, then sometime in the near future. The FSC is the dominant player in the world of certification and will continue to expand on a global basis.

On the domestic front, until the housing market hits bottom and housing starts begin to rebound, all businesses connected with the wood products industry will continue to fight through tough times. But even with a depressed housing climate and a lackluster remodeling market, the percentage of green products used in the wood industry will continue to increase. As the familiarity and acceptance of green products grows, pricing could become more attractive to middle-class customers. And that would be good news for all aspects of the wood products industry, from distributors, wholesalers and retailers, to the small shop furniture makers and cabinetmakers.

Green is a given for this group
By Jennifer Hicks / Staff Writer

Custom woodworkers who’ve adopted a sustainable lifestyle with environmentally friendly business practices say it’s impossible to market yourself as a “green” business strictly to fit a trend. Rather, being green is simply a way of life.

David Stine, principal of Stine Woodworking in Dow, Ill., attributes his resourceful practices to growing up on a dairy farm. He spreads the byproduct of his sawdust and shavings on local fields, and runs his tractor and delivery truck on used vegetable oil that he refines himself. He heats his home, shop and hot water with waste wood, shavings and bark from shop activities. Being the owner of several hundred acres of woods, he takes dead and dying trees off the land and uses the natural forms for design inspiration. He also works with a lot of local arborists and tree trimmers to use anything they might otherwise have sent to the landfill.

Stine says clients are often confused about what the term “green” really means. They are curious as to why he is considered green when large discount retail stores will also market their furniture as green, but it costs less than his custom products. As for large businesses flaunting the green theme, Stine says it’s just a trend.

“It’s just another way for them to market their product. I don’t doubt there is a green products coordinator for each large manufacturing corporation, but they look at the bottom line as a marketing gimmick, and see if it works.”

Stine says he believes the numerous associations and organizations that provide “green” certification and other standards start with the right idea, but he thinks they get corrupted by large corporations who give them money to spread their message.

“The green organizations need money to spread the message of green. Dave Stine woodworking is not giving them a ton of money to spread the message. Dave Stine is just out there doing it. But the big manufacturing corporations have the money and the [green organizations] want to be big and successful so they can spread the word.”

Stine admits that being green doesn’t necessarily lead to business savings. He spends considerable time harvesting, cutting and drying wood. Time, of course, is money. While it would be cheaper to buy the wood he needs, he can offer something extraordinary.

“Nobody’s going to go out into the woods and cut down, let alone be able to find, a 60" wide black oak log, saw it into slabs and kiln dry it for three years like I do to get these crazy, big, huge pieces. It’s not commercially viable.”

Keep it local
Misty Mountain Furniture, a rustic custom furniture company in Sandpoint, Idaho, touts itself as “green from the beginning.” When Chris Park and John Edwards started the company in 1991, one of their goals was to run an environmentally conscientious business. It has since remained committed to using local, used and renewable resources. All wood scraps are recycled and the sawdust is provided to local farmers.

Edwards and Park got the idea to start the company after completing several out-of-state remodeling jobs on cabins that had rustic log furniture in them. They realized rustic log furniture wasn’t being made or sold in their area, and that there was an abundance of local material available that was otherwise being discarded.

“When you buy [or recycle] local wood products and you’re not shipping stuff in, you’re not a slave to fuel prices so your price points can stay even. You’re basically keeping the money here instead of sending it to another country or another state,” says Edwards.

The company’s green efforts are promoted on its Web site (www.mistymountain.com) and Edwards believes the green market is growing. “We’ve heard from architects that there are a lot of people looking for green products and they can’t find them, so we are trying to network with people looking for these products,” he says.

Edwards lives the green life, running his home with solar power and commuting to work on his bicycle. But he, like Stine, is skeptical about the wood products industry jumping on the green bandwagon.

“I think the manufacturers are really trying to suck people into thinking their products are green, and then people don’t know what it actually means. I think it adds to the confusion. There are a lot of people out there advertising green products when they’re not necessarily a green company.”

Small changes add up
Jeff Soderbergh of Re-flect Architectural Art in Newport, R.I., who builds furniture using antique salvaged structures and other discarded material, is thrilled that the level of awareness has been raised about the green issue. He has been running an environmentally conscious business for two decades and jokingly says the rest of society is now catching up to him.

“Everyone is just more acutely aware that something has to be done, and they can’t keep going about their normal day-to-day life and not have all of the forests cut down and not have all of the water polluted,” says Soderbergh.

Soderbergh says woodworkers who want to run an environmentally friendly business can make a small change every year and still have a positive impact. He suggests looking at used material and exploring how it can be used differently from how it was intended to be used.

“I think it’s something that’s been a long time coming. People want to make a positive step towards it and don’t have to live the way their grandparents did and the way the Industrial Revolution set us up for. We can be smarter than that. We can do the things we want to do and make the products and things that we want to leave a better footprint behind. It just takes a little bit more effort in our thought process, but I think people are finally here.”