Sustainable, Eco-Friendly, Responsibly-Forested…What Does it All Mean?

October is National Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month. The article is LIFECORE®’s third and final installment in our FLOORING AND THE ENVIRONMENT series.

You may have come across a plethora of terms while researching the various options for environmentally-responsible hardwood flooring.  All of the terms appear to be important, but because they’re rarely defined, you may be left with more questions than answers.

To help you navigate the sometimes-muddled waters of environmentally-friendly flooring, we’ve put together definitions of the more commonly used terminology.  While each of the terms below suggests environmental and social responsibility, they do have differences in their meaning that you may find relevant.

Green – This applies to any product or practice related to benefiting the environment.

No added Formaldehyde and LIFECORE’s ZERO-ADD – This means engineered hardwoods and other types of flooring have no added formaldehyde or harmful chemicals added through the glue or finish during the manufacturing process. Products making these claims should carry third party certification for proof of claims.

Eco-friendly – A term that literally means a product or practice is not harmful to the planet. This term most commonly refers to products that help conserve resources like water and energy and do not contribute to air, water, and land pollution.

Sustainable – With a much higher standard than “green,” sustainable products must provide environmental, social, economic, and public health benefits over its entire life cycle.  For instance, a product made from renewable resources is considered green, yet if an analysis of its life cycle demonstrates that its manufacturing process, packaging, and ultimate disposal are not eco-friendly, it would not be considered sustainable.

Responsibly Forested – Responsible forestry practices ensure that a forest and/or its ecosystem will not be depleted in order to harvest trees for use in wood products. Examples of responsible forestry practices include tree-planting programs to replenish harvested areas, applying sustainable harvesting methods to specific forest types, or just leaving some areas uncut. Responsible forestry can also mean lessening the disruption to streams and wetlands, and water quality during harvesting.

CARB Compliance and TCSA VI – CARB stands for California Air Resources Board, a regulatory body that ensures products (including engineered hardwood flooring) stay well below acceptable levels of formaldehyde for better air quality. In 2019 The EPA (The Environmental Protection Agency) put TCSA VI, into effect, expanding CARB II to a national level, ensuring compliance and certification throughout the US.

Lacey Act – The Lacey Act is a US federal conservation law initially enacted in 1900 to protect wildlife, and was amended in 2008 to include plants and plant products, including wood. In the wood flooring industry, the Lacey Act prohibits the import, sale, or trade of illegally harvested wood and other forest products in the United States. To comply with the Lacey Act, all wood flooring imported into the United States must include a detailed import declaration.

Imported wood also must meet the Lacey National Consensus Due Care Defense Standard, which includes a chain of custody, starting at the forest of origin. All parties in the supply chain are subject to penalties and fines for noncompliance with Lacey. Fines can be assessed for both civil and criminal violations.

FSC – The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization established in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC does this by setting standards on forest products, along with certifying and labeling them as eco-friendly. FSC certification is most notable when applied to exotic hardwoods. With a range of certifications and labeling, verification of claims can be confusing to the general consumer.

Ethical & Fair Trade  – Fair Trade is a precisely defined term that only comes with certification from an international governing body, such as Fair Trade Certified, the Fair Trade Federation, Equal Exchange, or the World Fair Trade Organization. On the other hand, the ethical trade movement refers to the working conditions of workers who produce clothes, toys, food, and other products for multinational companies, as well as how well they are paid for their work. It is a broad term that is not certified or precisely defined, but it’s still quite useful for describing, in general, the type of products you want to buy.

LEED Certification – Lead Certification generally pertains to commercial buildings and concentrates its efforts on improving performance across five key areas of environmental and human health: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials selection, sustainable site development, and water savings. LEED has special rating systems that apply to various structures, including schools, retail and healthcare facilities, new construction, and those undergoing major renovations. LIFECORE Engineered Hardwoods qualify for LEED credits and conform to SCSEC-10.3-2014 v3.0 Indoor Air Quality Standard, ANSI/BIFMA Furniture Emissions Standards M7.1 and X7.1, US Green Building Council LEED Rating System v2009 and v4 for low emitting furniture, California Section 01350 Special Environmental Requirements, and the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (Low-Emitting Materials, Furniture & Furnishings).

Reclaimed – Similar in concept to recycling, reclaimed hardwood flooring is made from lumber that has been previously used for other building projects, primarily those from older buildings that have been deconstructed. Reclaimed wood is carefully re-milled and engineered to modern conditions while retaining historic character. The goal of using reclaiming wood is to repurpose lumber instead of cutting down additional trees.

Organic – A legally defined term used by the USDA to certify food, beauty products, and other agricultural products as being free from synthetic chemicals that may harm people and/or the environment. Flooring does not generally fall under this category and the term may be used to describe some hardwood flooring products or a process for creating a natural occurring stain.

LIFECORE subscribes to the philosophy that everything we make, and everything we do, should help contribute to the best possible environment. This includes responsible forestry, wildlife protection, wood waste management, strong community assistance, and safety ethics during the manufacturing process.  As for our flooring itself, LIFECORE’s ZERO-ADD® technology allows us to produce flooring with the lowest levels of formaldehyde on the market without compromising beauty or durability. Learn more about LIFECORE’s sustainability, certifications, CARB compliance and commitment to air quality.

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