Andrew Pace, owner of Safe Building Solutions in Waukesha, Wis., is no stranger to supplying environmentally friendly building materials. In 1993, long before today's green blitz started, Pace began looking for materials that would be healthier to work and live with. Today, one-unit SBS supplies AFM Safecoat paints, biodegradable Nature's Carpet and TimberGrass bamboo flooring, with sales growing 20% annually.
Pace is asked routinely where his design, professional, and consumer customers can turn to on the Web find more environmentally friendly building materials and information. But even with his green focus, that query can still stump him.
"The question I get again and again is, 'Where is the one place can I go online to learn about this stuff?'" Pace says. "I don't have a good answer for that. I have been doing this for 14 years, and I learned from making mistakes, from figuring out what works and what doesn't. Eventually, there will be more definitive sources, but we're still on the cutting edge right now."
For dealers looking for certified green products to sell to their builder customers, the bottom line may still be doing what Pace did back in 1993: calling around and figuring out what works.
"It's a whole new wrinkle to everyone's business in the last 18 months," Dick Gauthier, vice president of marketing at Universal Forest Products, says of the Internet's role in sourcing green goods. "It's become huge, and I think, eventually, it's all for the good of the industry. But right now, it's taking a lot of time and work."
Despite the increase in attention to green building and environmentally conscious building products, experts say finding and sourcing green materials and certified lumber is still a major hurdle for pros. "Builders are writing green specs into their jobs, and oftentimes the lumber yards don't know what the materials are or where to find them," says Katie Miller, communications director at the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which certifies lumber harvested from sustainably managed forests. "Green building is still a new thing in a lot of markets."
For the pro dealer looking for green lumber and material to supply to customers, the Web would seem like a natural place to turn. But while there is a wealth of information about green building and products online, wading through it can be daunting.
Knowing what to believe is even harder. With so much attention on green materials today, many observers say "green-washing" is becoming rampant, making third-party verification of manufacturers' green claims crucial. Then there's the fact that even though there are useful online resources and searchable product listings available (see sidebar), the LBM industry's preference for person-to-person negotiations often means that's not the first place manufacturers turn to promote their green products to dealers.
Take Weyerhaeuser, for instance. While most of the forestry giant's products are certified by either the FSC, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the three major forestry certification organizations in North America, finding information about the availability of those certified products in your area is still best done through traditional channels. "We feel like there is a very effective conduit from the builder asking the question of the dealer and the dealer sourcing that product through its account rep," says Kathy Carlson, brand marketing manager at iLevel by Weyerhaeuser. "On the Web, however, whether it is our Web site or one of the certification Web sites, I can understand where that would be very difficult."
The FSC, SFI, and CSA Web sites, of course, have various ways to search for certified products. But those sites can be clunky. At the FSC's Web site, for instance, users have to submit an information request and wait for suppliers to respond. At the SFI Web site, this reporter's queries were repeatedly answered with an error message. At CSA's, with forest certification part of a larger standards program, drilling down to specific forestry product information is anything but straightforward.
To make it easier for dealers and consumers to find green materials on the Web, Metafore, a forestry-focused non-profit in Portland, Ore., has developed the Forest Certification Resource Center, a searchable site for lumber certified under any of the three major programs. Using information fed directly from those certifying organizations, it can pinpoint any part of the supply chain, from the certified forest that wood comes from to the individual certified dealers that sell it.
"It is the most comprehensive Web site in the world on learning about certification and being able to find certified lands, manufacturers, and products," claims David Ford, Metafore's president and CEO. You can search by product type, company, certification method, and location, including finding distribution outlets in your state. Indeed, in the United States alone, the site lists 574 certified forest-product manufacturers at 718 locations.
Perhaps more tellingly, a search for pro dealers that carry those products nets only 188 companies in 298 locations. Jon Pampush, Metafore's project manager, says that disparity illustrates how far the industry needs to go to effectively supply certified lumber to builders and consumers.
"The certified forest products supply chain is still pretty new, and we've seen more development in the early stages of that chain, at the processor and manufacturer level," Pampush says. "One of the frustrations of those people who are trying to procure certified wood products is that the supply chain is not always developed enough to supply their specific area."
–Joe Bousquin is a contributing editor for ProSales.