For a lot of people, The Home Depot is synonymous with lumber. When they think of The Home Depot, they picture the big, orange, cantilevered racks stacked with wood products. After all, so many home improvement projects involve a trip to the lumber aisle. Recently, we sat down with Katie Hunt, Associate Merchant for Lumber and Building Materials at The Home Depot, to learn more about the industry that is the backbone of home improvement and find out how her department is approaching sustainability.

EA: Welcome to Eco Actions, Katie. Can you tell us a bit about your role and your department? How does The Home Depot define the lumber department exactly? 

KH: Sure. I’m the Associate Merchant for Lumber and Building Materials at The Home Depot. Like any merchant at The Home Depot, I wear a lot of different hats. I work with stores to ensure we have the breadth and quality of products that consumers want and need. I also work with suppliers to secure product supply and improve product innovation. But my primary goal is to advocate for the consumer. Merchants are responsible for ensuring that our stores have the best products, at the best value. If a shopper comes to The Home Depot in search of something, my job is to make sure it’s there for them.

Merchants do a lot of listening and learning. For instance, I spend a lot of time in the stores talking with customers and associates. It’s the best way to keep up with consumers’ wants and concerns. I also spend a lot of time with suppliers, learning their processes and advocating for continuous improvement.

EA: Compared to the technology-driven tools and gadgets elsewhere in The Home Depot, the lumber aisle looks a lot like it did 10 years ago. What can you tell us about what’s happening behind the scenes that we aren’t seeing?

KH: The lumber industry does have a lot of continuity. There are a lot of brands that have been around for decades. But it’s by no means a static industry. It’s simply that much of the innovation in wood-based materials happens out of sight. While the 2×4 of today may look a lot like its predecessor, the technology and processes that go into making it have improved. Manufacturing has become more efficient and more precise. There’s a lot less waste involved.

When you think about materials that are engineered, like some decking and siding products, the improvements are more dramatic. Modern siding, for example, is not only manufactured more efficiently and with less waste, but also designed to last longer and deliver more value. For example, a lot of the siding we carry comes pre-primed or painted, which is an improvement that helps control labor costs and decreases project timelines.

EA: With developments like pre-finished siding, where does the innovation originate? Is it led by the manufacturer or by The Home Depot?

KH: Honestly, it’s both. Because we have longstanding relationships with great suppliers, innovation is often a shared goal. That’s especially true with companies like James Hardie. They are on the cutting edge of the industry and are always looking to innovate. For example, they were among the first to produce prefinished siding, a feature that raised the bar for everyone. They are also growing their share because their products offer extreme durability features like hurricane- and fire-resistance. As climate events become more catastrophic, we are seeing consumers invest more in products that offer durability, and that keep them safe.

EA: What do you look for in a supplier, and how important is sustainability to the relationship?

KH: First and foremost, we partner with suppliers that produce a quality product at a price and capacity to satisfy our shoppers’ needs. But sustainable sourcing is also a top priority. To do business with The Home Depot, suppliers are required to comply with our Wood Purchasing Policy. That policy is The Home Depot’s pledge to give preference to wood that has come from sustainably managed forests and to eliminate wood purchases from endangered regions of the world.

Consider the work of suppliers such as JD Irving (JDI) and Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC), who are leaders in sustainable forestry. JDI is an integrated forest products company based in New Brunswick, Canada. They supply The Home Depot with lumber products that are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Tree planting is one of their sustainable forestry management practices and a big one at that. Each year, the company grows and plants roughly 18 million trees.

MRC is a supplier of lumber based in California. With approximately 350 square miles of forestland under their management, fire management is a big part of MRC’s business. With the increased occurrence of and devastation caused by wildfires, their efforts are contributing to forest health and safety.

We also know that sustainability comes from durability as with the James Hardie products we just discussed. Because of their efforts to design products that are engineered for climate, we recognize James Hardie as an Eco Actions Partner. Not only do they protect people, but homes that are built to withstand extreme climate events also require fewer resources than those that are destroyed. James Hardie products are noncombustible and are made to withstand high temperatures, moisture and hurricane winds.

LP Building Solutions – SmartSide Lap Siding

Another company in the category that deserves a spotlight would be LP Building Solutions. This year, they were also recognized as an Eco Actions Partner because of their commitment to using lumber as efficiently as possible in their SmartSide siding and other products. LP minimizes waste by putting every part of a log to use, including the parts they don’t use to create their products. Tree bark, for example, is either burned for energy or sold for mulch or other purposes. 99% of the fiber they harvest annually is used either in products or as an alternative thermal energy source to offset fossil fuel consumption.

When it comes to sustainability, it’s worth noting that The Home Depot advocates for sustainability among all suppliers. We want suppliers that are committed to working towards sustainability, and we want suppliers that can get there without compromising performance or value. That’s true for lumber and every other department at The Home Depot. Ultimately, we don’t think that consumers should have to pay more for products that are made responsibly. We are working towards a future where sustainability is built into every product.