On the NWFA ListServ recently there was a discussion regarding the use of NOFMA standards. (NOFMA, the former Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association, was absorbed by the NWFA several years ago and is working with other organizations to establish NWFA standards for wood flooring.) The discussion was mostly related to visual grading.

I think it's important that we separate discussions of visual grades such as heartwood and sapwood allowances, the number, size and type of knots, mineral streaks and the amount of quartersawn from technical standards such as milling tolerances and surface chatter.  

It is also important to note the differences between unfinished and prefinished flooring, and solid vs. engineered. With engineered, you have additional points for glue (durability, VOCs, etc.) and with prefinished material, there are a wide range of check points that include both visual (color matching, no chipouts, gloss level, etc.) and technical (will it flake, how does it respond to scratching, is it properly bonded to the wood, etc.).

We cannot merge all types into one standard, and we should include professionals from all parts of the industry in the discussion. Let's talk to machinery producers about what are logical milling tolerances, glue companies about formaldehyde-free production, finishing companies about appropriate testing standards and so on.  

Do we also want "green" standards? I will be glad to see the natural evolution of all the various murky green labels into clearer and more scientifically based criteria, but I personally think that the market should continue to dictate the need for and type of "green standards." It's a very complicated field and goes beyond basic production issues. For example, I also hope that there will be a greater appreciation that lower visual grades are often more "green" then clear material and that finger-jointing or other means of creating something bigger out of smaller pieces can also be a very environmentally sound practice.

The bottom line is that we all want the best possible flooring available to us, so we should consider our international standards from every angle and get advice from all quarters. And we should make it very clear what we're talking about in our standards and categorize them appropriately as visual grade, technical production, and someday perhaps, environmental standards.

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.'")