Once upon a time you simply went out and bought wood, wherever it came from and however it was harvested. These days preserving the planet’s trees, woodlands and forests are an imperative essential for the future survival of the human race and something we absolutely have to get a grip on. As a result, buying wood has become quite a complex matter.
All about sustainable wood
If you don’t want to support illegal logging or encourage deforestation, you need to be aware of how to buy sustainable wood. We thought it’d be useful to take a look at the subject to help you avoid buying the ‘wrong’ stuff.
What is sustainable wood?
Sustainable wood comes from sustainably managed forests. It’s renewable because the forest stewards manage the landscape to prevent damage to eco-systems, watersheds, wildlife and the trees themselves, taking a long term rather than short term view of the resource.
Sustainability in this context means the forest should still be there for your grandchildren and great grand-kids, and be able to soak up carbon emissions and keep our air clean for generations to come, as well as a being haven for wildlife.
Wood from unsustainable sources, on the other hand, is chopped down without a second thought leaving bare areas that, unless they’re carefully treated, never really recover to their former glory. The effects are clear – illegal logging leads to wholesale destruction.
Why bother buying sustainable wood?
Brazilian Amazon deforestation might not seem very relevant. It happens thousands of miles from home, exotic and remote. You might not realise the harm that buying new Mahogany flooring or Teak garden furniture does. But buying unsustainable wood has a profound effect on the areas where it’s harvested, including human rights abuses, hunting of endangered species, threatening the lifestyles and even the lives of indigenous tribes, as well as making countless rare and threatened creatures homeless.
Just 8% of the world’s forest is properly protected from destruction. The timber industry is insatiable, as is our demand for wood. And much of the time it’s harvested unsustainably despite the best efforts of conservationists, governments and lawmakers. Sadly, money often speaks louder than common sense and today is often more important than the future. In Malaysia, for example, timber production demands more trees than there are in existence. In some areas there are no trees left and wood is being smuggled in from Indonesia to meet demand.
Which woods are most sustainable?
Timber is usually classified as either hardwood, from broad leafed trees, such as Beech and Oak, or softwood from conifers like Pine and Fir. Simply because they’re replaceable, fast-growing species like Pine trees tend to be more sustainable than slow-growing trees like Oak. Oak forests have to be managed carefully to make them sustainable, grown and harvested in the right way, but it can be done.
The EU has introduced legal measures to protect its woodlands and forests, and these days more trees are planted than felled. It’s great news for the future, with EU forests actually growing instead of diminishing. Because the law places a minimum requirement on replacing harvested trees as well as limiting annual harvests, buying European wood is usually a safe choice.
What about wood from outside the EU?
Wood sourced from Asia, Africa, South America and even the USA and Canada comes with fewer guarantees. These sources can be made sustainable through hard work, determination and dedication to the environmental cause. Several international organisations are involved in assessing forests across these regions. But they have a long way to go.
How to identify sustainable wood – The FSC
Always look for official certification of the wood’s sustainable source, even if it says it’s from the EU. There have been questions about wood from some EU sources, for example illegal logging has long been suspected in Russian and Siberian forests.
The Forest Stewardship Council – FSC is an independent, non-profit organisation promoting responsible management of the world’s forests. Their certification system provides internationally recognised standard-setting and trademark assurance to anyone, business or individual, who is interested in supporting responsible forestry.
The FSC logo is something you can rely on, and there’s also the PEFC logo, a sign that the Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification has been involved. Together they help guarantee wood comes from sustainable sources, is replaced after harvesting, and is taken without harming the environment and neighbouring ecosystems.
5 sustainable woods… but only when you buy wisely!
While you can’t buy FSC certified Bamboo, the wood can be sustainable. It depends on its origin. Bamboo grows across vast areas of the earth in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, north Australia and the Americas. It’s amazingly light and strong and grows like mad, so can be naturally sustainable. It’s used for furniture and floors, scaffolding, fences, bridges and even bricks. With about 1500 species it’s very versatile, and can be harvested in 3-5 years compared with 10-20 years for most softwoods.
What about sustainable wooden flooring?
Wood flooring looks fantastic, but it’s always a good idea to make sure the flooring you’re buying comes from sustainable sources. The thing is, there are so many tree species and wood types out there, it’s a minefield.
Your best bet is to buy from a supplier with FSC accreditation, someone like Flooring Supplies, a UK-based firm that has made great efforts to achieve accreditation from the FSC and is proud if its green credentials. You can read more about their sustainability here. As they say:
Here’s an interesting little video about British grown sustainable wood…
Need help with your wood project?
For more information about sustainable wood and other wood projects, contact our team of resident experts who are always on hand to help with project advice and product recommendations. Alternatively, see our FAQ page which covers many of our most commonly asked questions.
We love to see before, during and after photos of any wood finishing project. If you would like to share your decking project pictures with us, you can either send us some photos or share on our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram pages.