My first blog was August in 2010. That’s six years of posts and well, I think it’s time to take a bit of a break. I’ll come back now and then because I do like the team at the newly christened Wood Floor Business and I wish them well. But I think I’ll use this transition of publications as an excuse to take a break from the weekly rants. Next week will be my final regular blog post here, a massive index of the last six years.

So while this is something of a goodbye-for-now post, I’ve entitled it “A Compliance Culture.” Why?

Well, see I started out working on a cover to the upcoming Index post and in that I started thanking people, and of course the first thank you had to be to Metropolitan for supporting this blog over the years. And that got me thinking about just what it means for a corporation to do that. Frankly, I don’t think every company would say “sure, go out and educate all our competitors!” But it is actually right there in our SOPs:

Industry Support. Metropolitan believes that compliance with all applicable regulations should be routinely conducted by all members of the wood trade industry. Metropolitan therefore permits, and even encourages, the ECO to participate in or to lead appropriate industry education and training, sharing resources and concepts while utilizing reasonable discretion in terms of information that should be considered truly confidential or unique to Metropolitan.

Why would they take that position? Beyond being good citizens, there are practical reasons—aren’t we all better off if everyone in the industry was on the same page regarding the use of “compliant” vs. “certified?” If everyone recognized that HDF is a marketing term, not a product? If everyone made a distinction between content and emissions? It’s good when the industry is on the same page. And the products we sell are certainly more competitive against all the competing floor products out there if we don’t taint our industry with bad media or misrepresentation, right? Plus sharing information means that you get ideas, too. I’ve definitely benefited from talking with other professionals and appreciate all the help they give to me.

I am honored and proud to serve as Metropolitan’s ECO and I like to say that I’m not the cause of Metropolitan’s attitude—I’m the result. The integrity of the ownership is beyond question and they had an unwavering commitment to doing it right long before I was “titled” ECO in 2008. It’s part of the corporate culture, integrated into everything they do.

Great, you’re saying, but mine is a smaller company that can’t have a full-time ECO. Or maybe it’s that you haven’t been able to locate someone crazy enough to do that job? Well, that shouldn’t stop you. It’s all about having a culture of compliance for everyone in the company.

Start with simple things. Set up a checklist of things you want to confirm before working with a new supplier that includes not just the usual (price, size, or shipping time), but CARB and Lacey issues. Train your salesmen to use the right vocabulary and not oversell or misrepresent through ignorant enthusiasm. Review your marketing material for correct language and proper logo use.

Be realistic about what you can do. Don’t write SOPs saying you’ll do X if you don’t have the time and money to really do X. Develop systems that you can blend into what you are already doing rather try to impose something artificial outside your existing culture. As needed, do it in bite-sized chunks, step by step, and don’t stop moving forward. Most importantly, don’t try to do it alone. Don’t just have one person doing compliance or isolate it to just the buyers or just marketing or whoever. It’s got to be part of the entire package.

You know how I know green compliance has penetrated every level of Metropolitan? Because Jay, one of our warehouse managers, keeps his eyes open and calls me up to confirm that he can ship a pallet to California that doesn’t have a CARB label on it. Because Chris, one of our spec reps, confidently discusses 1350 vs. NAUF without blinking. Because May, one of our buyers, sends a note about, “I noticed a new species on the Lacey entry, did you sign off on this as OK?” Because our amazing CSR team won’t generalize even when it’s easier—they doublecheck daily with me or others to make sure they are providing the right info, SKU by SKU. Because ownership calls me in at the start of negotiations, not the end, and won’t buy unless every compliance requirement is checked off. Because Andre has become a standards expert and Rex scores 100’s on my pop quizzes during sales training and Frank tests even when he knows it will pass and Kathy rewrote recycling specs for greater accuracy even if it wasn’t as marketing-friendly and, and, and… Everyone is thinking about it, so I don’t have to do it alone.*

And that’s what it takes for any company (regardless of size, type and market position) to succeed—embed compliance into the culture rather than try to put on any one set of shoulders. I think that’s also true for the industry—we have to be in this together and help each other move forward. We really have enough challenges facing us without bickering among ourselves.

That’s it for this week. Next week it’s index time!

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*(And oh boy, I know I’m going to be in trouble for not mentioning everyone by name but please, don’t call me to complain—ALL of you are wonderful! I have been incredibly fortunate to find a home here and to be part of this amazing team. But I’ll have to do one last shout-out—Keith, thanks for the decades of good work for us and the industry both. Enjoy your retirement!)

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")