Made In The U.S.A.

How to Make an American Fence.

In Adventures on April 16, 2009 at 12:52 am

If you write a blog about trying to buy American-made stuff, you’re bound to write about specific corporate entities. For good or bad. The interesting thing I’ve found is that these corporate entities are aware of it. Even at a small scale. They have people. Most of the posts I’ve written about any named retail entity have resulted in comment from said entity. Or at least a visit and a “hi, howyadoin” from someone tangentially related.

Sometimes, and this is when technology is most impressive, I get similar visits from people who are keyed in to specific topics, people who have their computers set to prowl the Intertubes to find new mentions of said keyword and alert them to it. It’s a way that a guy who’s interested in the topic of Bangladeshi textile manufacturing or responsible forestry management can be alerted to a new blog post, from no matter how insignificant a source, on the topic.

This just happened to me and my blog, with a nice guy named Dick. Dick dropped me a nice comment on a post about my lumber hijinks and offered to talk me through it. So I took him up on it, called him, and we had a nice conversation about how to buy responsible lumber. Dick, of course, is in the business of selling lumber to Home Depot and Lowe’s, but he still managed to give me a very reasonable overview of the way things work in the industry, and I was able to give him (I think) a little bit of what that process looks like from the buyer’s end of things.

Dick generously talked me through the many nuances in the process of lumber buying and selling, and the process is so huge that I’d be lying if I said I understood it. The bottom line that I got from him is this: there are many big companies, and even mom and pop shops, who are practicing responsible forestry and logging. They have to, essentially, because their business depends on it. But they don’t bother with the official FSC certification because the process is prohibitively expensive. 

I have heard this same argument before, on the topic of certification of Fair Trade and organic coffees. 

I’m am not so cynical as to not believe this. I fully believe that there are small companies, particularly the ones Dick pointed out across the American Southeast who supply much of the pine used in dimensional lumber for the big retailers, who are 99.9% of the way to meeting the requirements for FSC certification, and would in fact be fine companies from which to buy lumber. 

The problem, as I explained it to Dick, is that there’s no other guide for me, the consumer, other than the official certification. Without it, those responsible little companies look no different than the irresponsible pillagers of our natural resources. Certainly both exist within the lumber world, and the only way a consumer can know what’s what is to rely on some form of certification. If the FSC certification is impractical, then I think it’s up to the industry to come up with some other practice that doesn’t keep the rest of the responsible loggers off the radar.

The bottom line for me, as Dick suggested, is to try some other local sources. Visit a lumberyard, where the workers are more likely to know about the origins of their product. This illuminates an interesting problem for people in the lumber and hardware business: it doesn’t even occur to Joe Consumer like me to go anywhere for these things other than Lowe’s or Home Depot. Sorry folks. I guess I need to work on that. 

Anyway, thanks, Dick, for the assistance. I need all the help I can get.

It has since occurred to me that even if I’m not buying officially FSC certified lumber for my fence project, perhaps I could just buy local lumber. There are lumberyards in the area who I’ve heard have their own mills. That means they’re growing, cutting and/or buying trees from the region to turn into fences and decks and houses. This seems like a legitimately responsible option, akin to buying local fruits and vegetables. I’d just be turning this particular plant species into a fence. 

I hope clearcutting isn’t a problem in the Missouri/Illinois area. If it is, I’m painfully uninformed. Or in this case, blissfully so.

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