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Our planet is changing and it’s changing fast. Protecting the world’s resources and stopping global warming is one of our greatest challenges today.
Most of us know by now those small changes we can make as individuals to help reduce the strain on the planet, like riding the bike to work or school, recycling and buying organic food.
A less obvious, but just as important, way of making a difference is by ensuring that the furniture and other wooden products you buy are eco-friendly. And that doesn’t mean throwing out all your plastic and swapping to wood – although it might seem like it, it’s not necessarily better to have items made of wood if the products are made from environmentally-unfriendly processed wood.
Wood is known to be one of the greenest materials that you can use for building, manufacturing and fuel. However it needs to be sourced carefully so that it doesn’t risk contributing to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Fortunately there are a couple of resources available to help ensure that you keep using eco-friendly wood.
If you’re building a home and are looking for a classic, lasting, look for your project, you’ve probably considered salvaged and reclaimed wood to create your masterpiece. There are a number of advantages to using this type of lumber: it’s had years to dry and is less likely to warp or crack, it’s often less expensive, and features which are considered to be flaws in new lumber are desirable traits in old wood, evoking words like rustic, heritage, or antique. But once the decision has been made to use recycled wood, where can it be found?
First, it’s best to break that into two types of wood: salvaged and reclaimed.
Reclaimed is wood that has been old homes, barns, sheds, buildings, boats, pallets, and things of that nature.
Salvaged wood is wood that has not been used before – old forest growth, logs found in rivers or other waterways which were used to transport logs, etc. Often rivers and lakes can hide logs which are hundreds of years old and are perfectly preserved in the water, safe from conditions that cause degradation of wood such as oxygen and heat.
For reclaimed wood, the best places to look are:
- A building materials thrift store, home improvement thrift store, or Reuse Center. A great place to start would be a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. They specialize in reused furniture, building materials, and household materials.
- Places selling lumber recovered from demolitions. Also try salvage experts or demo experts – they have to get rid of the wood they recover somehow and may be willing to cut you a deal.
- Freecycle groups. Networks of people in local areas who like to save money. Their sole purpose is to help each other get things for free. Try www.freecycle.org for a community of freecycle groups and find one in your area.
- Places that perform industrial processing of wood and wood pallets, and commercial woodworking firms. Some of these will include milling companies, furniture and cabinet makers, and wood flooring manufacturers and installers. They stock a lot of nice hardwoods in many different sizes (the trick may be finding the size you want!) If you ask for an owner or manager and are polite, you can usually work out a very nice deal.
- Lumber mills and lumber yards. These places produce tons of waste and have a huge respect for the value of space. These two things are a great combination for the would-be homebuilder. If you speak to the yard manager about helping them get rid of yard waste, you may be surprised at the pleasant results you’ll find.
For salvaged wood, the main places to start will be those who locate felled logs on forest floors and old forest growth, and those which specialize in logs that were found in waterways. These will usually be your local arborists or places that advertise salvaged wood – found online, or through local directories.
Try your local homebuilders association as a place that can provide you with some of this information. Also, phone directories and online directories will often keep lists of places who deal in this kind of wood.
Look For The FSC Logo
The FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) is an international non-profit organisation. They approve timber processed and produced in an environmentally, socially and economically appropriate and viable way.
Under the FSC forests have to observe the following rules:
- Only harvest what will grow back
- Protect biodiversity and endangered species
- Preserve rare and ancient trees
- Guard local streams
- Support indigenous peoples
- Use narrow skidding trails so as to ensure minimal disruption of the forest
- Ban replacement by tree plantations
- Ban toxic chemicals and genetically modified trees.
They aren’t perfect, but off all the forestry certification schemes they offer the greatest surety. They are also easy to find, look for the tree tick symbol to ensure your wood is green.
In many countries the timber production is highly unsustainable. As certain wood species are being wiped out, illegal logging flourishes. These logging practises damage remaining forest reserves, animal life and the environment in general.
Because of this it’s important to check that the products you purchase originate from a legal and viable source. A sure way of doing this is by looking for the FSC logo.
Alternately, you can check out the Friends of The Earth’s Good Wood guide (FOE). The FOE’s guide is a great way to check whether the wood you are buying is from an endangered species or not. In its online form it contains a near exhaustive list of tree species that are used for wood along with how threatened they are and whether they are easily available in the form of reclaimed wood. So for example if you look up Mahogany you will see that it is vulnerable but is available in reclaimed wood.
Which Types Of Wood?
You’ll be able to find all types of wood that’s FSC approved if you look long and hard enough.
But you might find yourself in a situation where the FSC logo is nowhere to be found, at least not in any of your local shops. Don’t despair; thinking twice about the specific wood type as well as its origin can make a big difference in how likely you are to buy eco-friendly wood, whether it’s FSC-certified or not.
Mahogany and teak are the two most endangered species. Especially teak is problematic. The only teak that comes from natural forests is exported from Burma, but most of this timber is illegally produced. It is possible to buy FSC teak and mahogany but choosing another type of wood might be the right way to go.
Bamboo is a great alternative as it’s less threatened than any other wood species. But again, local people and animals depend on it for food and housing materials so always try to get as much information about the product as possible before purchasing it.
Where In The World?
Another thing to keep in mind is which part of the world the product is from. It’s not only timber from Burma that might be troublesome but also Malaysia where the natural reserve has, quite literally, run out. Here illegal smuggling of timber from Indonesia feeds the marked.
Another area to look out for is wood from Eastern Europe, especially Romania, Poland and Armenia, where the demand exceeds the supply. This results in illegal felling of ancient forests.
Some wood exported from countries like Finland, Norway or France may have a PEFC approval but unfortunately this certification is not as strong as the FSC and the timber may also come from ancient forests.
Forests in Portugal and Spain are homes to endangered animals so forestry in these countries is sensitive and unfortunately currently not under 100% viable management.
Can’t See The Forest For The Trees?
In the world we live in today, the timber industry is big business where corners are cut to meet the increasing demand.
It can be an overwhelming experience to navigate through the jungle of rules and regulations. The journey from the actual forest to the product in the shop is long and often less than transparent, so where possible opt for a company who’s clear about where their wood comes from and how it’s treated before it reaches you.
So in order not to get lost, always check for the FSC logo and if you really can’t find it, do some online research and make sure you are at least buying wood of a type and origin that’s more likely to be sustainably produced.