Seeing The Forest For The Trees

With reverence and awe, we admire the forest primeval, with its towering boughs of green and massive columns reaching skyward. Beacons of sunlight filter through the dark and mysterious labyrinth of ancient life, giving us more and more reason to clamor to preserve its ageless beauty at almost any cost.

We are jolted back to reality when we learn that only 5% of North America’s old growth forests are still standing. Over the past decade or so, builders have come to recognize that the future of homebuilding may not necessarily continue along the same paths followed by our parents’ generation, with the systematic rape of old growth mountain tops for our immediate gain.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that those with a tradition of supplying wood to the builders of America become among the first to offer alternatives to conventional lumber materials. One such supplier with an 80-year history in the lumber industry is Hayward Lumber on California’s Central Coast, whose legacy is in the hands of Bill Hayward, a fourth generation of lumber men. Hayward considers green building one of the most critical developments to impact and improve construction in the first few decades of the 21st century. The enigma of an 80-year-old lumber company embracing green building materials may be difficult to swallow for many of us with the view that conservatism runs deep in the lumber industry, and change is not always welcome.

In 1994, Hayward first had the idea of creating a green division to his family legacy by doing research into how to help eliminate the use of old growth wood while preserving and finding ways to recycle wood already harvested. In an earnest quest to develop and promote alternative wood products, he hired Michelle Randall in 1997 and dubbed her “Director of Sustainability” to immerse herself in that task. In her initial research, Randall found the potential for green sales on the tree-hugging Central Coast to be a compelling reason to look further into ways to provide green builders with politically correct wood products.

Last year, Hayward became the first company in the nation to run a truss plant that produces a product with ”well-managed” wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Promoted by their pamphlet named Green Building Materials; Environmental Excellence in Construction, Hayward defines the economics of green building, answers some frequently-asked questions, and explains the company’s certified forest products. Other green products Hayward carries include low toxic materials, such as different types of pressure treated wood for various building purposes, fiberboard and particleboard products, recycled content type woods made of biocomposites, Homasote structural and acoustical board, reclaimed and salvaged lumber, and the newer composite decking materials.

Resource-efficient products made of engineered wood are among Hayward’s claim to fame, however. According to company information, innovation and technology have made it possible to create large pieces of lumber from small, fast-growing and abundant species, such as aspen and poplar. These trees, not subject to the same environmental demands as traditional, large-diameter virgin tree species, produce wood fiber when combined with adhesives and intense heat and pressure can permanently bond into huge chunks of wood that are actually stronger and more consistent than ordinary lumber.

Hayward reports that on the average, builders are throwing away as much as 11% of lumber they use on a construction site. If one figures that it takes ten trees to build a typical American home, it may be surmised that this is the equivalent of one tree being thrown into a dumpster for each home built. This wasteful practice is not only damaging to the consumer, but also to the builder, who now pays for the privilege of throwing his lumber away. Engineered wood lumber wastes on the average less than 1%, due to the practice of small saw cuts, according to Hayward. This lumber uses fewer, smaller, faster-growing trees and saves money as well.

Another interesting product sold by Hayward is reclaimed and salvaged lumber. The desirability of old growth wood stems from its close vertical grain, rich color, and large proportion of clear heartwood. Huge amounts of old growth wood can be harvested from defunct structures, providing a good alternative source for products requiring this precious material. Reusing this wood preserves the cultural and historic value associated with its original use, diverting its eventual journey to the country’s landfills. Interestingly enough, reclaimed wood is less expensive than even dry virgin material, making it a practical and ecologically respectful way to build American homes.

Randall is continuing to push the envelope with Hayward by engaging graduate students to conduct an environmental audit of their Pacific Grove branch to identify eco-opportunities for reduced operating costs by reducing waste and energy use. A set of tools and training program are being developed so that all of the company’s operations can soften their impact on the earth while enhancing their bottom line. Randall reports, “Although it has taken some getting used to, many of the employees at Hayward are happy with the changes being made. When the company decided to carry only less-toxic, pressure treated lumber, the men in the yard were actually happy about the extra importance being placed on their health.”

Capitalizing on Hayward’s strengths of purchasing and delivery, the operations are able to bring many green building materials to market in a very conventional manner, making it a win-win proposition to previously ridiculed but now-correct “green builders” who have defined their niche through safe, environmental building and superior craftsmanship.