So this week, we're looking at the flooring industry's CARB-related responsibilities in terms of emissions (last week it was documentation), and once again, if you do not do any business in the state of California, you can move on to another blog. However, if you want to sell flooring in California, you might want to read on.

What responsibilities and, more importantly, risks do you have regarding the actual emission levels for your product? Unfortunately, CARB regulations are not completely clear here.

One would feel that if a buyer has specified and purchased CARB-certified material in good faith, they would have no responsibility for the actual emission level. After all, you're an importer/distributor/retailer, not the manufacturer, right? And in many cases, even as a flooring manufacturer, you're not the CARB certified manufacturer-as required you've purchased CARB certified cores and shouldn't have responsibility for their emission levels.

However, while the primary (and some feel only) responsibility for emissions does lie with the manufacturer of the original core product (the plywood or particleboard), CARB has stated in various seminars and conferences that they are not willing to formally limit liability to only that manufacturer.

The flooring manufacturer (the company putting the veneer or laminate on to the core) would be wise to keep their use of formaldehyde to a minimum as well. If higher-than-allowed emissions in a floor product are discovered, let's say it's likely that there will be a great deal of discussion as to who is responsible and just how to test the floor to prove it. (This is an argument being considered in the case of the national law-some people feel that anyone who uses glue in the production chain should be independently certified-an action that will greatly increase the cost of engineered flooring generally and probably drive most small players and custom shops out of business.)

While some in the industry would like to place the burden on the third-party certifiers, they point out that certification is done for production systems, not for the actual production. (Again, the national law could change that, but CARB has already increased the cost of your floors-testing every production load will make it even more expensive.)

Some CARB officials have also stated that they won't rule out fining importers, distributors or retailers.

Some CARB officials have also stated that they won't rule out fining importers, distributors or retailers who are stocking non-compliant product. CARB does not require non-manufacturers to actually test their stock for emission levels, but they certainly don't discourage it, either. (Another topic for discussion with the national law-some groups are saying that innocent owner protection is "an easy out" for industry.)

Gee, I hope you weren't reading this post for a clear answer, because unfortunately, there isn't one yet. The bottom line is that actual liability standards and precedents are likely to be developed only after enforcement actions are taken-the first few cases of high emissions will lead to extensive negotiations and even legal battles that will establish the rules for the future.

Most likely, the national law will eventually settle most of these issues-how to assign responsibility (with the core manufacturers or with anyone with a can of glue), how to test the product, how far down the chain to go with emission liabilities and so forth. As the debate heats up, I'll post updates and everyone can toss in their two cents as to what they feel is a reasonable burden for each level of the industry to assume.

Next week, a quickie on LEED and formaldehyde.

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.'")