Finding Truly Green Products: Tip One

As the owner of a sustainably minded business I am often asked what is or is not green, and if I can’t definitively answer the question, I am asked how to identify truly green products.  There’s a lot of green washing out there, so, without be prescriptive, a few suggestions can carry you a long way in the search for sustainability.

The first tip:  As always, ask questions about the products you are considering.  More specifically, ask how a company has arrived at a price.  We often ask, “why is that so expensive”, but we rarely ask an environmentally more important question, “why is that so cheap?”  Sometimes high prices are not justified, but nearly always, low prices are always justified – you get what you pay for.  Generally, really low prices can only be achieved through cost cutting.  Bamboo is a great example, as always.  Good quality bamboo is harvested between the ages of  5 and 7 years.  Good quality bamboo is also dried to a moisture content under 10%, or even as low as 6% – 8% as is the case with Eco Timber.  For a square foot of Eco Timber strandwoven bamboo you’ll pay $5.89.  So how is it that you can find strandwoven bamboo for $3.59 per sf at Home Depot?  Well, strandwoven bamboo should be more than twice as hard as red oak – the industry standard – but according to the hardness rating scale at Home Depot, the strandwoven bamboo they sell is softer than oak.  This is where asking the price question becomes useful.

You see, the most expensive part of making a bamboo floor is the drying process.  The less you dry it the less it costs and the lower a price you can sell it for.  The problem is that bamboo or any wood flooring for that matter can only handle so much moisture content before becoming unstable and failing.  Bamboo floors with a high moisture content are much closer to the maximum thresh-hold of moisture content, so when repeated days of 90 degrees and humid hit, they are crossing that line and working towards eventual failure.  In the same vein, bamboo needs to be harvested no earlier than 5 years because otherwise it is too soft, green and immature. It’s just not ready to be a floor yet.  But some manufacturers love cutting every few years and they love the rapid growth of bamboo.  And these are only two cost cutting factors that lead to a low price and a floor that will fail.  Home Depot isn’t guilty of anything here but selling a low-cost option.  Even their hardness scale tells the truth.  With the products such as these the responsibility for making a good choice is on the buyer.  So, be informed by asking questions.

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