Thursday, September 11, 2008

Silent Green

Here's something that I will never understand:  if your product is reasonably eco-friendly, why not shout it from the Top of Someplace Very High?

That Adirondack chair on the left is coming to our home very soon.  Okay, not him.  Two of his friends are on order, hunter green in color, fruity cocktails not included.

Our lovely chairs started out life as humble milk jugs.  Over in Syracuse, Indiana, some smart folks figured out how to make durable plastic lumber from objects destined for landfills.  The result is no-maintenance furniture that does some good for the planet.

But they do it very, very quietly.

After tracking down a local dealer and confirming that Poly-Wood chairs are indeed as nice as they look online, and hearing that many customers were pleased with them, I placed our order.  I mentioned that I'd stumbled on them while reading about recycled building materials.  The store manager looked at me blankly.  "They're made from old plastic bottles," I explained.

"Oh.  I had no idea," she answered.  "People just seem to like them."

So maybe she wasn't the most eco-aware soul on this planet.  And hey, she already had my Visa card.  

But as she processed the sale, I flipped through the catalogs.  Sure enough, there was no mention of Poly-Wood's green cred on any of their promotional materials.  It's visible on their website, but it didn't seem to be positioned as the brand's major selling point.  (I hustled home worried that perhaps I'd confused Poly-Wood with some other material and had accidentally ordered furniture made from new materials.)

Maybe they don't talk it up much because their manufacturing might not be scrupulously green - I don't know.  Extruding pellets of recycled plastic sounds unavoidably toxic.  But it's a challenge that any manufacturer of new stuff faces, and plenty of companies - Simple Footwear, for example - do a nice job of admitting that they're flawed but improving.

Of course, Poly-Wood's materials weren't the only thing that drew us to the chairs.  We need something durable that can sit outside year-round, in ice and snow and bleaching heat.  and because it lives on the fourth floor roof deck of our rowhouse, we wanted something that wouldn't blow away.  It proved to be an impossible list to satisfy second-hand.  (I considered cast iron except that they were tough to find second-hand, tended to give off more of a delicate-perching-for-tea vibe than a crashing-out-with-a-beer-vibe and utterly failed the maintenance free test.)

But I drove more than fifteen miles - in my part of Metro DC, that's nearly forty minutes - to visit the dealer, by-passing plenty of cheaper, more convenient options.  (Target, Home Depot ... you get the idea.)  So I'm a bit dazzled that the store manager was completely unaware that the stuff was powerful enough to lure me across the county line into the more polished part of town.

Maybe that's just it.  Maybe some people - the kind of people who spend $10,000 and up on Outdoor Dining Room sets and install an extra wine refrigerator next to their Kalamazoo Custom Outdoor Kitchen would prefer not to know that their furniture has a past.

Me?  I'm planning on telling everyone who visits about the clever material used for the Adirondacks.  Whether they want to know or not.

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