Guest Post: Sourcing Eco-Friendly Wood and Wooden Products

by Daniel Frank

Wood is one of the greener materials you can use; it is renewable, doesn’t release any harmful emissions (though the products used to treat it can) and can last for years making it easy to reuse. The problem is that using wood from the wrong sources is to take part in a system that leads to deforestation, exploitation of indigenous people and shipping tons of wood from all over the world.

So is it possible to buy wood without destroying forests? Poor forestry destroys ecosystems, livelihoods, and the climate. In contrast good forestry is one of the best conservation methods out there. A well-maintained forest will sustain a diverse ecosystem, absorb carbon dioxide and prevent erosion. So what can you do to ensure your wood is eco-friendly?

Reclaimed and Derivative wood

If you can get it, reclaimed or engineered wood offers a greener option than using fresh-cut timber. Reclaimed wood is timber taken from old barns, warehouses, and so on. The huge advantage of using it is that you are obviously reusing wood rather than requiring some more trees to be cut down. It also tends to be stronger than new wood and doesn’t expand and shrink due to changes in moisture. The disadvantages include not knowing what it’s been treated with – thus, keeping it outside may be preferable. It can also have metal such as old nails embedded in it so only nail compatible saw blades should be used to cut it.

Engineered wood such as MDF and composite lumber is typically made from sawmill cutoffs and sawdust, along with additives such as glue and recycled plastic. This again means that using it requires fewer raw materials, helping to reduce the demand for fresh-cut timber. Some engineered woods can pose a carcinogen risk if dust from cutting is inhaled. So if you need to cut it you should always do so outside while wearing a dust mask.

Green Labels

If you do decide to go for fresh-cut timber then you should always aim to buy wood that has been certified as coming from a well-managed forest or plantation. The most common certification is the FSC label. For forests or plantations to get this label they need to abide by the following rules:

• Only harvest what can grow back
• Protect the biodiversity of the forest
• Preserve ancient and rare trees
• Look after local streams
• Support the indigenous people
• Use narrow skidding trails, not roads, to ensure minimal forest disruption
• Ban replacement by tree plantations
• Ban toxic chemicals and genetically modified trees

These rules help to ensure that the forest is well maintained along with the flora and fauna which inhabit it. There are several other labels out there but I haven’t been able to find any that are as rigorous as the FSC.

Good Wood Guide

While the FSC is a great guide to harvesting practices it doesn’t tell you much about the species of wood used. The Friends of the Earth’s Good Wood guide provides a near exhaustive database of tree species explaining what their wood can be used for, how threatened they are and whether the timber is available as reclaimed wood.

So if you are using wood or wood products the best way to stay green is to look for reclaimed or derivative wood first, and then try to use non-threatened species from FSC approved sources.

This guest blog is by Daniel Frank, a green blogger who is interested in sustainable materials. He is writing on behalf of Wooden Blinds Direct suppliers of FSC certified wood blinds.

Photo: AdamCohn