Our thanks to Dan Harrington, Director of Product Development at EcoTimber. Dan oversees design, sourcing and factory relations which include environmental and technical specifications. For the past eight years he's worked with EcoTimber as it grew from 3 people to 25 and became an eco-force of it's own. [email protected]
EcoTimber won the Benchmarketing Sustainability Award for Installation, Use & Maintenance. For a complete look at EcoTimber’s triple bottom line facts click here.
BUILT IN INTEGRITY
EcoTimber started off in 1992 when Jason Grant, Aaron Maizlish and Eugene Dickey came together to sell and promote "good wood." They visited and vetted each forest for diversity and social equity long before FSC [Forest Stewardship Council] became the adopted label by many environmental groups. Today EcoTimber promotes FSC certified wood, but still continues to vet the process with their own on-site visits.
The fledging founders began with a sustainable idea - harness the marketplace to support sustainable forestry. They used their own capital and that of friends to launch the concept and then in 1995 they received over a million dollars which included monies from the MacArthur Foundation. It was the first and only investment into a for-profit business that the foundation has ever made.
During these early days, no one really knew the benefits of sustainable wood. EcoTimber owners got the word out by spending lots of time talking to architects, architectural communities and to large influential corporations. They had good success and landed accounts at Nike, Banana Republic, Whole Foods, Patagonia and Disney, but it eventually spread EcoTimber too thin.
Serving multiple products lines and markets became too difficult. In 2001, they sold off all the inventory, keeping only the flooring and selling it with the brand to Hayward Lumber. Fast forward six years - two new investors bought the EcoTimber flooring from Hayward and have been taking it forward ever since. Lesson learned? Focus, focus, focus on one thing - flooring.
Dan reports that they work with many architectural firms, and that Gensler has been very active in specifying the FSC wood. "Gensler goes the extra step to make sure contractors follow through and buy what is specified. Not many firms do that," Dan admitted," but Gensler does a good job of hammering it home."
"We've gone to recycled cardboard and limited plastic," says Dan. "We want to improve and use even less plastic, but right now we have to protect the product from moisture and that's the only thing that will work. We're looking for plastic that will biodegrade eventually. We try to keep the cardboard at a minimum and use a simple sticker at the end of the wood vs. coating a big box with ink. The customer often doesn't see the packaging anyway. They order it online or from a dealer and by the time it arrives at their home or worksite, decorative packaging isn't needed."
"We did some focus groups and found that 'saving the rain forest' came in second to health issues," says Dan, "Consumers want to know that their products are formaldehyde free and won't endanger their children. Even so, we don't slack off our original mission. We still vet the sites ourselves and don't work with factories which don't pay attention to social issues or workers rights. Customers appreciate our authenticity and level of first hand knowledge.” Dan added, “While the forest is our mission, we did change our tag line to reflect our customer’s needs and our policy regarding the use of toxic chemicals that might off-gas in the home. It went from “Quality Woods from Environmentally Sound Sources" to "Healthy Forests. Healthy Homes."
WHAT'S YOUR MARKET EDGE?
"I think it’s our integrity and knowledge. Customers trust the information we give them and they like having products that are in stock and ready to ship," says Dan.
WHAT'S HOT RIGHT NOW?
Hand scraped flooring and strand woven bamboo," he said. And yes, he assures me, it is scraped by hand by fair-wage workers in the US. The bamboo is shredded and then resin infused (with no urea formaldehyde) to create a "tropical hardwood at a bamboo price." EcoTimber is working with a bamboo supplier that will have its FSC certification this spring.
WHAT IS ONE THING CONSUMERS NEED TO KNOW?
"I wish people did their research on standards, there is a proliferation of them out there and many are muddying the water. We've done some on the homework on our website, but ultimately the end buyer has to demand it," Dan stressed. "FSC is the best of the many forestry labels that are popping up, but it isn't perfect. Companies who buy small amounts of FSC wood can use the label in their advertising... showing the label does not mean that all the wood they carry is FSC certified. The only way a customer can have that guarantee is to ask for FSC wood and then look on the invoice and make sure the line item identifies the wood as FSC certified. We hope that as more people understand what FSC stands for the more they'll understand why so many environmental groups back it."
Dan Harrington is a 36 year old dad of two kids, ages 2 1/2 and 4 months. Some day he'll tell them stories of how he worked to save the rain forests through sustainable tourism and then eco-commerce.