Know the Forest and the Trees

A Consumer’s Guide to Buying Wood




According to Audubon Magazine, as much as 90 percent of today’s furniture comes from illegally harvested wood, often clearcut from Earth’s rainforests. The Nature Conservancy reports that every second, a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is mowed down. That’s 56,000 square miles of natural forest lost each year.

Who will save this treasure of vital flora and fauna for our children? Nonprofits are working hard, but are limited by available resources and volunteers. Governments occasionally help, but only when it’s politically expedient to do so. It’s up to green commerce to step up to the task.

If local retailers don’t know this basic information about their products, ask them to find out.

Where is the wood from?

Knowing the source of wood products is the first step in making wise purchasing choices. Retailers should know what country the wood came from—not just where it was processed. Ideally, they’ll also know the region within the country and what company harvested it.

What species is the wood?

Slow-growing hardwood tree species are often more endangered than fast-growing softwoods. A tree’s origin also matters. For example, plantation teak from Central America or Indonesia is lower risk than that from Myanmar.

Is the wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)?

FSC certification assures that the wood comes from a legal and sustainably managed forest. Ask about the specific type of FSC certification; e.g., 100 percent, recycled, or mixed-sources.

If not FSC certified, how do we know wood was legally or sustainably logged?

The same species of timber may have been harvested legally and sustainably in one place, illegally and unsustainably in another. Some certification labels on the international market are not rigorously or independently evaluated. Retailers may also have their own internal systems to ensure that they are selling legal products. Ask for details.


Source: Natural Resources Defense Council Buying Guide; species details at NRDC.org/land/forests/woodguide.asp.

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