Poised for the Future

If the futurists are right, it turns out that the wood flooring industry is
ahead of its time. Why?

According to Jim Wallis, an author and political activist best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine and the community of the same name, “more and more companies are practicing fair trade, reducing waste, using renewable resources, and investing in healthy communities and ecosystems.” His advice: Start one of these businesses.

Well, if you’re in the wood flooring business, you’ve already done the hard part, you’re working in an industry where the byproducts of the manufacturing process are going back into the plant to power it, or they are packaged up as pellets and sold for fuel and heat sources to other plants around the world.

It’s a really sticky time to talk about fair trade, but our industry will certainly have to deal with it as we face tariffs both on product exported from the U.S. and into the U.S. Not only that, raw material competition has created an environment where domestic flooring manufacturers aren’t always able to source material because there’s more money to be made by selling U.S. logs to China.

In time, these competitive business practices will even out if Wallis is correct. While the low cost of labor in developing countries has fed the appetite to sell based on price, the consumer of tomorrow will not make his or her decision based solely on price, but rather on product sustainability and the actual sustainable practices of the maker. The next economy will grow in their concern for how and where the product was manufactured and if that place is socially responsible.

As we move toward the future, it’s also imperative that we take better care of our employee and customer communities themselves. Driven by both a labor shortage and a society that will be asking us about the community in which our products are made, like other industries, we will have to get better at investing in our own cultures. Our industry has a leg up here – with the product itself being part of the ecosystem, we will be the most responsible maker in the world of flooring. To be competitive in a labor shortage, we will also have to raise the bar on employee well-being.

No other product in the flooring market can come into existence and go back to the earth the same way wood does. Not even those really good photographs of wood that come from wood pulp are as sustainable. It’s still not a sustainable success story if it carries plastics and non-biodegradable resins at the core. That’s one of the reasons the look-a-like products currently compete on being waterproof; they can’t compete in the sustainable market the same way (although I’m sure this marketing, like calling a pulp product with a photo attached a “real wood product,” is coming in the future).

Wallis believes that right now “we should be co-creating a new economy that is equitable for all, noting that while it is good to protest, having an alternative is better. The best critic of the bad is the practice of the better.”

The wood flooring industry has a lot of positives in this next economy. We can, and will, be better.

And speaking of being better, if there’s something you feel your association should be doing to foster the creation of an environment where wood remains the consumer’s choice and best sustainable solution, please call me at 636.519.9663 or send me a message to michael.martin@nwfa.org.

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