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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

Thank Katrina for Greener Building Materials

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: building products, forest products, wood, health, formaldehyde, soy, sustainable business, Sustainable Industries, environment, Keith Goetzman,

Composite wood roomHurricane Katrina did a whole lot of damage, but at least one good thing has come out of the disaster’s aftermath: Composite-wood products are now greener and healthier.

You might recall the widely reported story about the toxic trailers used to house Katrina refugees. The Federal Emergency Management Administration was criticized for putting disaster victims into trailers that had unhealthily high levels of urea-formaldehyde and other chemicals in their composite-wood components.

Composite-wood products consequently “came under intense scrutiny,” reports Sustainable Industries (Nov.-Dec. 2010), and as a result, “Alternatives in that market are now easy to locate and often cost neutral.”

One company making such an alternative is North Carolina-based Columbia Forest Products, whose PureBond composite wood uses a soy-based adhesive. The company has sold 40 million PureBond panels, marketing director Todd Vogelsinger tells Sustainable Industries, and has capitalized on the shifting post-Katrina legal landscape:

Vogelsinger says the company made the switch when it began to sense that the industry was moving toward an increasing focus on indoor air quality issues. His company’s evolution was spurred by the California Air Resources Board, which approved a statewide airborne toxic control measure to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products in 2007. The national version of the law, the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, will take effect in 2011. “This is the beginning of people really needing to change,” he says. “We are just grateful that we changed before the law. Now we don’t have to scramble.”

Sustainable Industries reports on similar developments in wallboard and insulation products, which have also greened up their acts as health and environmental issues have come to the fore. And the trend seems likely to continue:

Meanwhile, new issues keep cropping up meaning new market opportunities for companies offering solutions to health risks posed by the built environment. “It’s a perennial problem,” says Dennis Wilde, chief sustainability officer with Gerding Edlen Development Company based in Portland. “We are constantly unearthing new problems.”

Source: Sustainable Industries 

Image by klynslis, licensed under Creative Commons.