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Specifying With Your Legacy In Mind

Specifying With Your Legacy In Mind

  • May 29, 2015
  • by Suzanne VanGilder

Columbia Forest Products, hardwood plywood, MPXOn the face of it, a panel of Columbia Forest Products PureBond formaldehyde- free decorative veneer plywood, and a panel of imported plywood of the same species, look very similar. In fact, to many suppliers and consumers the panels are commodity, and price is the only factor in the buying decision. But the professional specifier has a responsibility to look beyond the bottom line and consider both the origin and the materiality of their selections.

Fortunately, it is easy to establish the pedigree of a panel by looking at the information printed on the edge. This can include what the species is, the grade, where it was made, FSC®-Chain of Custody certification, and compliance to both the CARB II and ANSI/HPVA H-1 2009 standards for low formaldehyde (and in the case of PureBond, no formaldehyde) emissions.

This makes due diligence easy for the specifier. But why is it important?

Because often the reasons imported products are inexpensive are not worth the cost savings.

Lumber Liquidators recently provided one of the best/worst examples of the inexpensive material morality tale. Many consumers were shocked to learn that by choosing cheap, they were polluting their homes and supporting nefarious trade.

For those living underneath a rock, here is a quick recap and supporting links.

60 MinutesOn March 1, 2015 “60 Minutes” aired a report on Lumber Liquidators, the largest and fastest-growing retailer of hardwood flooring in North America. The company has 360 stores in 46 states with revenues in excess of $1 billion in 2014. In addition to wood, the company sells more than 100 million square feet of cheaper laminate flooring, much of it made in China, every year.

The investigation measured the amount of formaldehyde (a binder ingredient) that was off-gassed from the laminate flooring product. Many everyday objects give off formaldehyde, which is labeled as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. In fact, it is a bi-product of human metabolic processes. At low levels there is no health concern. But prolonged exposure to high concentrations of formaldehyde can be dangerous- resulting in increased risk of chronic asthma, respiratory irritation and change in lung function. Severe effects extend to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Children are particularly susceptible.

Tests performed for “60 Minutes” found that every sample of Chinese-made laminate flooring failed to meet the California Air Resources Board (CARB) formaldehyde standards. The average levels in the Lumber Liquidators products were six to seven times above the CARB standard, and some were up to 20 times above the level that is allowed to be sold. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/lumber-liquidators-linked-to-health-and-safety-violations/

Details on testing methodology: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/more-on-tests-used-to-investigate-lumber-liquidators/

Comprehensive Test Results: http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/00_2015/03-2015/Test-Results.zip

The investigation by “60 Minutes” came on the heels of another damning report regarding Lumber Liquidators that was released by the Environmental Investigative Agency and Greenpeace in October of 2014.

This time, a three-year investigation traced illegally poached lumber from the hardwood forests of the Russian Far East, which supports the last populations of Siberian tigers. The wood was shipped to China and sold in Canada, where the trail led predominately to Lumber Liquidators. These are criminal allegations under the U.S. Lacey Act, which bans trafficking of illegally sourced wood and paper products. To date, the U.S. Department of Justice may seek criminal charges against Lumber Liquidators for selling tropical hardwoods that may have been illegally harvested.




Employing cost-saving measures to stay within a budget is a reality every specifier must deal with. Yet in a global economy where people vote with their dollars, the big questions are “What am I supporting with this purchase?” and “Is my integrity worth more than the cost differential between a cheap, questionable import and a fully-disclosed American-made product?”

When it comes time to make a selection, look at the implications of the material. Does it pollute the environment where it is installed? Does it support illegal sourcing practices? Then look at the side of the panel, and be certain that your specifications are in line with the legacy you want to leave.