Since we're talking China, it's probably time I got to this request from the editor. A while back, Hardwood Floors received an email. It read:

"How can retailers be certain where products are being made? We want to offer our customers good U.S. and Canadian products that are manufactured in North America. The reason being is that we need to warranty our work, thus, we require reliable products. Companies are being dishonest in terms of where products are from. Often after detailed investigation, the wood may be North American but finished in China or nothing North American other than shipping. That is scary given the problems with what materials the Chinese put into any products. What can be done to ensure the companies are honest and return to supporting North American products? I would appreciate you addressing this issue. It's absolute deception. Not all companies should be tarnished. Providing a list of reputable mills/manufacturers is a MUST, as is having certified products."

HF asked me to respond. First, I think the writer is correct: Companies should label where their products are made. In the U.S., they are required to do so. There are very strict laws enforced both by the U.S. Customs Service and the Department of Commerce regarding how you define the origin of the product. Mannington properly distinguishes its U.S. production from its Chinese imports, as Anderson does with its American and Paraguayan material. My company, Metropolitan, correctly labels each of our boxes with the source country, which could be the U.S., Canada, China, Chile, Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, Germany or others.

But as you might guess from the post prior to this one, I don't think it's appropriate to buy a product solely on country of origin. We should be buying based on the quality of the production and how well it fits our needs. Is it the color and design and size we want? Is the product category right for our application and installation method? Is it priced appropriately? And more importantly, how do we evaluate the company providing it? Do we have confidence in them?  I believe we should be selecting our supplying company, not the production country.

Does your supplier have a proven track record of good service? Do they provide you with the information on issues important to you? Are they active members of industry associations? Do they stock a reasonable percentage of certified products? How have they handled claims in the past?

The writer is correct that to be able to warranty work, we need reliable products. That said, reliable products are being produced around the world. And unfortunately in some cases, there is less than stellar production being done in the U.S. It is not the location of the company, it is the quality of the company that should be considered.

If buying an American-manufactured product is an important component of your purchasing consideration, then you should absolutely weigh that as a key factor. Perhaps you believe it important to utilize only U.S. temperate woods. Perhaps it is important to you that they follow a specific labor policy-that they be unionized or not, that they utilize prison labor or not. The issues that matter to you are certainly ones where you should devote your time and energy researching.

But you should consider which American company and look at them as carefully as you would a company with an imported source. Buy because it is the right product for you overall, including, in part, the issue of who made it where.

Voting with dollars is an excellent form of expressing enthusiasm for or displeasure with a product, company or institution of any kind. I wish more people gave deeper thought to what they casually buy. And that includes going beyond an origin label to look at the entire package. Buy from the right company, not just the right country.

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.'")