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Friendly Advice for Dow

Tread Lightly
In The Sustainable Forest

By Harry Urban

For the record, PM&F is the sister publication of Wood & Wood Products Magazine and I serve as the publisher of both. So with the growth of plastics/wood fiber-based products, Dow Chemical’s entry into the composite panel business was of great interest to me.
Dow has entered the composite panel market with a strong “save the forests” message. However its usually sound environmental policy is all wrong on this one.
When Dow acquired the struggling Isobord Enterprises in Manitoba, Canada, newly-appointed general manager and president, Brad Money, said its Woodstalk panels will relieve pressure on our forest resources because they use no wood. Indeed, Dow is proud of the fact that the agrifiber panels are made by combining finely chopped wheat straw with its polyurethane binder.
The panels, which Dow calls “wood replacement panels,” can be used in furniture, cabinets, store fixtures, doors and wherever else wood fiber-based particleboard is used today. Who could argue against the fact that Dow is not only saving the forests but also reducing the need to burn straw in the fields, thereby decreasing air pollution?
Dow’s new competitors in forest products might challenge the company’s marketing mantra. Forest industry proponents point out that forests and grasslands cleared for agricultural purposes over the years are gone for good, while professionally logged areas are truly sustainable. Weren’t those Manitoba wheat fields once forests and grasslands?
Greenpeace founder-turned-industry-activist Dr. Patrick Moore said, “When large areas of forest are cleared for farming, the habitat is permanently altered.” Dr. Moore has been on the lecture circuit demonstrating that the forest industry’s modern practices have resulted in more trees growing in North America now than since the 1800s.
By entering into the domain of the forest industry, Dow’s credibility is at stake. Dow ought to work with the forest industry and consider joining the Composite Panel Association, of which Isobord was a member. The CPA lobbies for the ecological virtues of all composite panels, including those that are wood-based and agricultural byproducts. Dow will need all the help it can muster to market this exciting product. Yes, it has the support of Home Depot, but the forest industry has long been wary of the giant retailer’s self-serving pro-environment marketing. Dow also needs to sell its product outside of the retail environment.
The real question is whether Woodstalk is as good as many of the plastic lumber products that have hit the market. In the meantime, Dow shouldn’t claim to be saving the forest. The forest industry is already doing a good job as it is.

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