Understanding where wood comes from should be an important part of any person’s woodworking journey, whether it’s for a professional job, a DIY project or home improvement, it’s important to ensure it’s from a sustainable source. In this blog post I will explore what sustainable wood is, which wood should be avoided and why choosing sustainable wood is important.
When I first started out in woodworking I was mainly using reclaimed materials, but for those materials I need to buy, I put little or no thought into where they were coming from. It was too easy to go and buy wood from a local retailer without any understanding or thought of the journey that wood had taken to get there.
As a family we are quite environmentally conscious. We buy mostly organic food, buy 100% renewable energy from Bulb, have solar panels on our roof and recycle / re-purpose everything we can. So why wasn’t I thinking about where my wood was coming from?
I’d fallen into the corporate consumer trap, lazily sourcing materials from the big brands, trying to find the cheapest, easiest source.
Not any more.
Much has changed over the last year or so and I’m now committed to only using reclaimed or responsibly sourced materials from renewable sources. Later on in this blog post I’ll be talking about some of these sources.
What made me change?
As I started to search for different types of wood I noticed some suppliers were offering wood certified by the FSC (or the PEFC) and others were not. It got me thinking along the same lines as organically sourced food. Are the materials I’m buying sustainable and is there an impact on the environment?
We as humans can be very destructive to our environment and the planet, so I began to research into the effects of the amount of wood we consume. The more I looked into the facts the more terrifying they became. Here’s just a snippet of what I found.
Deforestation is happening globally with around 18 million acres of forest lost each year. This is causing wildlife extinction, climate imbalance, soil erosion, flooding and increasing global warming. It’s expected that if deforestation continues at its current rate, the worlds rain forests will all be gone in less than 100 years. Whilst that’s much longer than I will be around on this planet, my children and their children are the ones who will suffer. We simply need to get a hold of this to protect the very existence of life, we all need trees to live.
Why are trees so important?
Here’s a bit of the sciencey stuff. Whilst trees grow they use sunlight to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it as carbon in the form of wood. A process known as photosynthesis. The trees then use this carbon dioxide and water to produce sugars, which in turn provide energy required for the production of oxygen. And we all know oxygen is good. Put simply, the more trees we have the more carbon is removed from the atmosphere and the more oxygen is produced.
Younger trees absorb carbon dioxide much quicker when they are growing, more so than when a tree that has reached it’s growth limit, so if they are harvested at this pinnacle growth point and new trees are planted alongside it can really help a forest thrive and maximise the amount of carbon absorption.
If our forests are properly managed we can minimise the environmental impact, maximise oxygen production and carbon absorption and ensure our forests grow in size over time, rather than diminish.
Why buy sustainable sourced wood?
Some tree types are quickly becoming extinct with large forests all over the world being recklessly destroyed. Mass deforestation has a huge impact on everything that surrounds the area, not to mention the benefits of carbon reduction in the global atmosphere.
There’s also the story of what happened to the inhabitants of Easter Island. A once thriving community with a population of over 2000 people on this small Polynesian island, rapidly reduced to only a mere 100 due to deforestation. The Rapanui people of the island greatly underestimated their resources, and from clearing masses of trees to make canoes, clearing land for cultivation and building pathways, the ecosystem surrounding them could no longer survive. They effectively destroyed the carefully balanced system that supported all life on the island when they removed too many trees.
Unfortunately humans in some areas of the world are not learning from these mistakes. Despite best efforts from governments and activists, South America and Indonesia are currently undergoing some of the greatest deforestation across the globe. Beware of the black timber markets that exist in these regions.
Luckily it’s not all doom and gloom, on the other hand the EU has effectively protected all of its forests and all wood from these regions have been certified by the FSC and/or the PEFC which pretty much guarantees the wood is from a sustainable source. Across most of Europe, our forests actually grow in size due to more trees being planted than are being chopped down. So we can be sure when we buy wood from Europe it’s pretty much guaranteed to be from a sustainable source. We just need the rest of the world to follow suit.
What is FSC or PEFC certified wood?
The FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) is an organisation that was setup in 1993 to protect and promote the effective management of the worlds forests and their eco-systems. Forest managers and owners can voluntarily sign up to the FSC scheme to have their lands and products certified to meet national and internationally agreed standards.
Likewise, PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) works in very much the same way and is the worlds largest forest certification system helping manage and certify more than 750,000 forest owners and more than 300 million hectares of forest area.
Buying timber, furniture or any other wooden product with certification from these two standards agencies is a sure bet that the source is a responsibly managed site which will support their eco-systems for generations to come.
Types of sustainable wood
When searching for wood we can use the above certification model to easily identify sustainable wood. But this isn’t always so easy when the certification logos aren’t present on the products, but there are certain woods we can be sure are from a responsible source and those that aren’t.
There are two key types of wood, hard woods such as oak and beech and soft woods such as pine and fir which are from fast growing conifer trees. In general fast growing trees are more sustainable than slow growing trees due to the fact that they are easily replaceable. Slow growing hard wood trees on the other hand aren’t as easily replaceable but not impossible. It just takes a lot longer and requires closer management.
Fast growing soft woods include the following but always be sure to look for the certification logo of the FSC or PEFC.
- Western Red Cedar
- Douglas Fir
- Siberian Larch
- European Redwood
- Eroupean Whitewood
Hardwoods are also widely available with the FSC and PEFC certification. These might include:
- American and European Ash
- American Cherry
- European Lime
- American White / European Oak
- American Black / European Walnut
Woods to avoid that are becoming extinct
There are a number of tree species that are endangered and should be protected at all costs. If you’re in the market for none EU timber then here are a few that you should avoid:
- Brazilian Mahogany
Thanks for reading this post. I hope you found it as interesting reading it as I found researching a writing it. I love working with wood but have become very conscious of the potential impact of the materials I use. Therefore I am now committed to only using reclaimed and responsibly sourced timber for my projects.
Without trying to sound too preachy, if you’re an eco conscious person (or even not so conscious) and want the world to be habitable for our children and their children then we can all do our part. There’s obviously lots more we can all do to protect the earths future but for those of us who work with timber on a daily basis this is one small rule we can follow.
- My current favourite timber supplier – Timbmet http://www.timbmet.com/
- Great post – https://www.wood-finishes-direct.com/blog/everything-you-should-know-about-sustainable-wood/
- FSC – https://www.fsc-uk.org/en-uk
- PEFC – https://www.pefc.org/
- Interesting facts – https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/various-deforestation-facts.php