Three weeks ago I posted a blog titled Confessions Of A Green Compromise. The gist of the blog was that due to a pipe break in our house while a bathroom remodel was underway our budget had to be amended. We had to choose between properly insulating the ceiling above the drive under garage or using a super sustainable, high-end tile I sell at the store for the remodel. In the end, we decided to insulate properly and compromise by selecting a standard grade, perhaps non green tile.
Thus began the trials of selecting a new wall tile to go with the floor tile we had already ordered. When we did find a perfect match I did what I usually do with a product: I researched it. These days, that’s important. First of all, I wanted to know where the tile came from. The company website said it was sourced, meaning imported. So when I gave the company a call all I received was a run around. Experience tells me that such behavior is a company’s effort to hide where the tile came from. After several calls and the help I unlisted from a dealer we finally found where the tile was made: you guessed it, China.
As much as possible, I don’t buy Chinese products, for a lot of reasons. First off, many products we buy are “private label” products. These are goods designed, created and marketed in China to American (or other) brands with the offer to put a label on the product. Frequently, American private label companies selling a Chinese manufactured good have no idea how the product was manufactured and rarely any control over that process. So, could lead have been added to those tiles for weight, just like children’s toys? Whose to say. My efforts to find out from the manufacturer led me no where. I also avoid Chinese products because I’m not confident I won’t be supporting child labor or some form of slave labor. There may not be slavery in China, but the next closest thing surely exists. My belief is that those who are good to people are good to the planet as a whole. Those who are bad to people are bad to the planet as a whole. There is nothing sustainable about that.
Ultimately, we found a tile from Crossville made with 30% recycled content, made in Argentina. Crossville was able to answer most of my question about how the tile was made, under what conditions, and why they chose to source the product there. Certainly, I would have preferred an American made product such as Fireclay, but unforeseen problems that hit our budget forced us to change our plan. We will be using American made Squak Mountain Stone and Ultra Touch insulation is already in the wall behind the new shower.
Everything I just mentioned is in reference to the wall tile we are using for the shower. The real kicker of the story is that when I picked up what I thought were Canadian made tiles for the floor, I saw stamped on each box the words, “Made in China.” After all that. Of all people, I should have been able to avoid this. I give public lecture that cover this subject after all. Unfortunately, I had let my guard down when selecting the material. Like so many people, I was duped by a common marketing game. Right on the sample tile there was a label that read: Anatolia Tile From Canada. The woman selling thought it was from Canada, too. I can live with that I thought. Canada is real close. Anatolia tiles according to the website is from the Toronto area. What neither of us knew was that Anatolia simply imports tiles as a private label. The lesson here: your salespeople rarely know the origins of these products. You have to research products yourself. I do for every product at my store, but I’m an exception. I don’t carry 30 lines of tile and 10 wood floor brands, etc.; I carry a niche of sustainable goods.
We did send the tile back to the distributor 30 miles away that sold it to our local shop. Yes, I can hear the grumblers about carbon footprint, but to me, voicing your objection, speaking through your dollars and telling companies that uncontrolled products are not acceptable is a sustainable action of great value. Travel miles account for 2 to 5% of the embodied energy in most materials. (Far less than most people think.) A lack of ethic or commitment to human and planetary health accounts for 100% of bad stewardship of the planet.