Band saws as big as houses dominate the entrances to Ganahl Lumber in Orange County, Calif., home of one of three LBM executives featured in this month's cover story (page 41). An image of those saws also is featured on Ganahl's logo, and inside the main office you'll find a spectacular, century-old panoramic photo of Ganahl workers standing atop and alongside loads of fresh-sawn timber.
As we reported last month (see "Eco Chambers," page 21), LBM companies and associations nationwide are urging governments to avoid writing laws that would restrict the type and number of certification authorities that can declare a building green. That sounds reasonable to me. I think it's too early for us to settle on a single set of certification standards, and while I don't like the potential for regulatory gamesmanship that can pervade an industry with multiple licensing authorities, I'm willing to put up with such arbitrage until we get more scientific evidence regarding the best way to be green.
But I see trouble beneath the surface of this lobbying effort, when people tell me that what motivates them is the desire to blunt a standard that they view as "anti-wood." Normally I would ascribe such an attitude to basic competitiveness–I sell wood studs, another industry sells steel studs, and I'll be darned if I'm going to let some politico regulate business opportunities away from me. But if you keep talking about this with some lumberyard execs, you soon get the feeling that they object for more than competitive reasons, or because they prefer wood. It's about history, and finding their place within it.
Forests, sawmills, and green lumber lie at the heart of this industry's collective heritage. When we speak admiringly of people in our business, we say they have sawdust in their veins, not PVC. We adore the smell of wood and include lumber on our business cards and in our corporate names. Put those factors together and it's easy to see why some LBM people get indignant when it's suggested that wood isn't as green as other products. Listening to them, you get the sense that they view so-called anti-wood initiatives as an attack on their ancestors and on their self-image as lumbermen.
But in this case, what's past is not prologue. Most of today's LBM dealers don't grow or saw trees. Many times, even the people who sell us the lumber don't grow trees, so we're actually two steps removed from our industry's wood-chopping past.
The reality is that what we do is sell building materials of all sizes, types, and provenance. For years, the money we've earned from selling sticks has contributed less and less to total revenues. Some progressive dealers see a day when revenues from services like installed sales and component manufacturing will rival the income from selling building supplies of all types. Traditional framing lumber occupies a bigger place in our yards and in our hearts than it does on our balance sheets.
As we seek to be good stewards of the environment, wood should continue to be among the materials we use to build America's homes and offices. But even as we speak up for wood because it's often the best construction material, we need to take care that we're promoting it for the right reasons, not because it's what we know and it's what our daddy sold. We need to regard wood for what it is: one of many construction supplies and services that we offer.
These days, the weight of wood's past on the mind of the LBM industry is heavy indeed. This is a good time to make certain we give it what it's due.
–Craig Webb, Editor 202.736.3307 firstname.lastname@example.org