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What are the true definitions of the words "sustainable," "renewable," and "recyclable" as it pertains to hardwood flooring?

Would like to know the true definitions of these words so our company does not "greenwash" when we advertise our products.

Asked by Anonymous
Posted Jan 21, 2010 12:29 PM ET
Edited Jan 21, 2010 1:12 PM ET


2 Answers

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I have thought quite a bit about the word "sustainable." Here's what I wrote on the topic:

Sustainable hardwood lumber would be harvested at a rate that is less than the growth rate (in that particular forest where the harvest occurred) of the harvested tree species.

Answered by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor
Posted Jan 21, 2010 1:59 PM ET



Those are good questions to ask, but the answers depend entirely on the breadth of one's perspective.

An analogy would be to try to define "efficiency". It's a relational term, and its application is determined by the goals one has. If the goal is financial success, then efficiency would require maximizing profits with minimum inputs - which leads to worker and resource exploitation among other social and ecological ills. "Time is money" is one of the many perversions of this approach to efficiency - a commodifying and monetizing of life itself.

Similarly, the meaning of "sustainability" is entirely dependent on what is deemed worthy of sustaining. If it's our opulent lifestyle, then we may decide it's in our self-interest to harvest trees no quicker than the forest can regenerate them, or to grow tree plantations to replace natural forest ecosystems. But if what we wish to sustain is the entire web-of-life and the hope for a future for our grandchildren, then almost nothing of our economic activity is sustainable.

In terms of hardwood flooring, even approaching sustainability would require that trees be harvested locally from well-stewarded living forests, minimally processed by small community-based enterprises, have finishes that present no health threats to any living thing, and made affordable to the average person.

Answered by Riversong
Posted Jan 21, 2010 2:51 PM ET

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