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Environmental Goods & Services (EGS) News

Demand Surges for Sustainable Wood - 4 September 2008

By Brian Clark Howard on The Daily Green

We've been saying for months that green real estate and green building can help homeowners, builders and developers get a leg up in this dismal housing market. And we love it when we're right (who doesn’t?).

In the latest news out of California, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the state's EcoTimber is doing a brisk business in sustainable wood. While the paper reports that new home construction is down to half the level of four years ago, the Richmond firm expects to see its sales rise 20 percent this year.

EcoTimber's 15,000-square-foot warehouse makes it the largest dealer of green certified wood in North America. The company is also one of the earliest pioneers in sustainable wood, and has been in the game since the early 1990s (though ownership has changed hands several times).

Part of the company's secret is a recent switch to focus solely on the lucrative flooring sector, where markups are a bit higher and brand recognition is more important than raw commodity lumber. While the $6 billion wood-flooring industry is expected to face a third consecutive year of declining sales, EcoTimber's sales shot from $800,000 in 2003 to a projected $8 million in 2008.

So how can EcoTimber thrive when the big boys like Home Depot and Lowe's are hemorrhaging? For one thing EcoTimber now sells only to dealers, and stocks a manageable inventory of 24 varieties of hardwood and six kinds of bamboo flooring. All its hardwood is 100% certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), unlike some suppliers that use a conventional wood veneer over a certified backing. One of the early boosters of FSC, EcoTimber has helped build a market for genuine sustainable wood.

Sustainable lumber has resonated well with people, perhaps in part because everyone can easily understand the value of trees and the need to safeguard renewable forests for future generations -- something at the core of FSC's mission. The rise of green building as a growing market sector has helped solidify and codify the world of eco-friendly wood.

Sustainable wood can also have a health benefit, leading to better indoor air quality. For example, EcoTimber's flooring is made without added urea formaldehyde, a carcinogen common in composite woods that can off-gas into the air as VOCs.