The big oil companies have them; so do drug makers, farmers and labor unions. It stands to reason that the flooring industry has advocates going to bat for those working at all levels of the business. Still it seems that few outside the industry truly understand how flooring is produced, marketed and installed.
This came to mind after attending two recent industry gatherings on opposite sides of the country. Both meetings-one focused on wood, the other on carpet-offered a glimpse of some of the noble efforts undertaken by the flooring industry that go largely unnoticed by consumers. The first was the National Wood Flooring Association expo in Baltimore, and the other, more recently, was in Irvine, Calif. where the Carpet and Rug Institute convened for its West Coast meeting. A highlight at NWFA was a panel featuring top executives from Armstrong World Industries, Mullican Flooring and Columbia Flooring.
During the discussion, titled "Impact of Imports," the message was clear: The spiraling demand for hardwood flooring cannot and will not compromise the industry's commitment to harvesting raw material with intelligence and constraint. Michael Lockhart, the chairman and president of Armstrong, noted that his company insists on knowing the specifics about the wood it uses. Columbia president David Wootton called environmental concern a "core value" of his company. Mullican's Neil Poland firmly agreed that what's good for the environment is good for the hardwood flooring industry. Too often struggling nations, whether they are in Southeast Asia or South America, are so eager to exploit their natural resources that it is difficult for them to look at the long term impact of harvesting.
Maybe these and other manufacturers don't really trumpet it, but they are demonstrating an enormous amount of restraint and integrity. Remarkably, they often treat the source of their flooring with greater respect than those who actually control access to the material. People in wood flooring know that when handled properly a hardwood floor is environmentally friendly and highly sustainable. It can last for generations. Yet we still hear myths about precious rainforests being clear-cut for the sake of fancy floors in expensive homes. As an industry, we need to combat this ill-informed rhetoric. We need more science and less fiction.
Same thing with carpet, a ubiquitous yet much maligned flooring material that is frequently blamed for environmental ills. Luckily for retailers, manufacturers and everyone else with a stake in this huge business, the Carpet and Rug Institute works to educate government officials and others about the attributes and benefits of carpet. During the meeting in Irvine we heard about an effort to have carpet yanked out of all government buildings in one state after a woman insisted that it was the cause of her allergy problems. In fact, people often mistakenly believe that carpet can contribute to allergy and asthma problems. Often they demand that it be immediately removed-an action that CRI calls "de-selection."
"We have to debunk this myth," Werner Braun, president of CRI told the gathering of about 70 people. "When you hear someone say something like that, ask them what science they are basing that on. Do you know how many science reports say that? Zero." He went on to detail CRI initiatives on educating people about carpet. He stressed that the industry does not want or need any special breaks from the government. It only wants a fair shake. It only wants to get the truth out.
Like the three execs on the panel in Baltimore, CRI knows that truth is the industry's most potent weapon. When ill-informed conclusions are reached and important information overlooked, it unfairly hurts the industry. We may work in flooring but that doesn't mean we like to be stepped on.
Editorial Comment: Getting the word out about flooring
June 1, 2006