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Sustainability for Millennials: Our Future in the Hardwood Flooring Industry is in their hands, Emily Morrow Finkell

Paris, France – April 26, 2016: Close-up of sustainable building in Paris with green facade made of living plants. Three pedestrians are walking in front of it.

For NWFA Magazine: July 31, 2018: Look around you right now where you are sitting or standing and see if you can spot a “cloth shopping bag”, a collection of used aluminum cans or a reusable water bottle. Look a little harder, perhaps around your home, and you’re likely to see evidence of “sustainability”…or what someone thinks “sustainability” involves. Not to suggest that today’s newest consumers don’t know or understand “sustainability”, it’s merely to suggest the opposite, that WE don’t understand the “new” definition. It has expanded and evolved since the early days of the “Cradle to Cradle” discussions in the design world as well as our floor covering industry. Today it includes carbon footprint, “farm to table” and even checking hidden labels to see the country of origin where our products are sourced and manufactured.

Next, consider how frequently you’ve seen headlines or heard references made to the millennials generation. It’s known as the next frontier for brands who seek to connect with their spending power. According to recent statistics, millennials spend approximately $200 billion in 2017 and studies have revealed their willingness to spend on “sustainable” brands. According to an op-ed article in Business of Fashion and the State of Fashion report by B of F & McKinsey, “nearly 90 percent believe they will help create more sustainable products by convincing businesses and governments to change existing practices…and would be willing to boycott a fashion brand if it was not sustainable.” What this means in our floor covering industry is not yet known but we should certainly be paying attention. Not only are they our future consumers and homeowners, they are our future work force, employees and business leaders.

Today we have emerging professionalscoming into the work force with multiple degrees, motivated to live differently from their parents who are less motivated by wealth and more motivated by health. Whether they identify as “millennials” or “HENRYs”, (High Earners Not Rich Yet) this generation’s biggest challenge is discerning truth in advertising from fiction. I happen to know many of these HENRYs…in fact I might even be their mom or their friend’s mom. My son Will Morrow is a “twenty-something” and epitomizes who and what HENRYs are. He’s working hard, living lean, saving and investing his income and is also very involved in his community, with a deep-seated commitment to ensuring his future in his (and my) hometown of Dalton, Georgia. Just so you know, the future is in wonderful hands and I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future leaders when I spend time with my own young adult children and their friends. They are smart, kind and very savvy. They’ve seen the world, they’ve worked hard to get through college and are now entering the world filled with both knowledge and “heart” and just so you know, they also are wiser than you’d think. They have a broad reach of social connections. At any given hour of the day, they get Snapchats, texts and messages from friends who are thousands of miles away and are living a well-connected life where age and income matter less than their passions, hobbies or interests.

“Those aged 26 are smack dab in the middle of the millennial generation, “the group of 93 million comprises people born roughly between 1980 and 2000,” The Journal writes. By comparison, the baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964 and numbering 78.8 million at their peak, have now declined to 74 million according to the latest census. Millennials, aged 17-37, are vital to every brands’ future, as they are “entering prime spending years as they buy homes and make improvements. Their outlays are growing as more of the generation moves into adulthood.” Their importance will only continue to grow up till about age 50 when their household spending is expected to peak, according to spending wave research conducted by Harry Dent.That means from now until about 2040, millennials will be the key consumer segment driving the U.S. economy.”

So many companies, for example those who produce food, fashion, flooring, have murky marketing campaigns that create an impression of being “sustainably-made”. It’s hard to see through the smoke and mirrors oftentimes and as an industry we do have a responsibility to make sure we are all being honest about what we make and how we make it. We all get that “feel good” warm fuzzy when we do business with companies who have been recognized for responsible stewardship only to find that some of these labels have been misrepresented.

In May of 2018, my daughter Mary Morrow traveled with a select group of Furman University students who spent three weeks studying “Slow Food Italy” on a small farm in Sora, Italy. Mary explained that we should seek out food that might take longer to grow, but is cultivated without harmful chemicals, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, using the methods of our grandparents rather than mass-producing food is our best bet for quality health as well as the refined enjoyment of flavor and dining experiences. These students not only studied food, nutrition and “farm to table” methods but also visited the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. They examined the seeds, the plants, the animals, and the preparation of each as well as the effects on our health. Thanks to her explanation of what many US fast food companies do to potatoes in order to make “perfect French fries” I can no mindlessly longer enjoy them. As she described her own purpose in “Slow Food Studies” as a Health Sciences major, it occurred to me that the study of slow food is a movement going on around us all and represents a broader shift in how our younger generations are seeing the world and how they view quality living. Take the same concept of mindful eating, and apply it to mindful shopping…for fashion and the home.

Gone are the days when US designers and home owners thought bamboo flooring was a “sustainable” option because it was plentiful and grew quickly…now we know it is imported from China which contributes to its carbon footprint, we know it does not handle scratches or moisture well…and then there’s this to consider:

Certain bamboo flooring from China  potentially contains high levels of toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde-based glues and finishes. As the bamboo must be sliced or shredded initially, it must then be adhered back together to form the planks that make up flooring.Sometimes, the adhesive used can release VOCs into the air over time, which makes the bamboo unhealthy for you and the environment.” – Brittney Smart, Home Edit.

The hardwood flooring industry can so easily be compared to our food industry here in the states. While we enjoy a vast variety of options of super cheap and super fast foods, we are paying a price that cannot be seen right or felt away. We are bringing materials into our homes that might be inexpensive and readily available as a DIY product, but it’s important to ask yourself: “how long will it look good, how long before it “uglies out” and how long will it last?” What if we saved up just a little more money and earmark it for US made hardwood flooring that doesn’t have to be replaced, that will look good for decades, that actually adds to the homes overall value and curb appeal? Why not fall in love with premium hardwood flooring rather than loathing the cheap base grade flooring we feel we must have as first time home owners? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we considered our flooring as much as we do other things in our lives? It would make our homes more valuable in the short and long term, and help to make our indoor air quality better with low to zero VOC hardwood (especially Emily Morrow Home Hardwood) and will last a lifetime, which truly makes it a sustainable material.