The Worst and Best Woods for Sustainability

While many of us love the look of wood flooring, we are equally keen to make sure that the wood is from sustainable sources. With the wealth of timber species and wood types on offer, it is sometimes hard to know exactly what to choose. So here is a quick guide to help you make the environmentally-responsible choice with regards to wood and sustainability.

Timber is usually classified into hardwood, which comes from broad-leafed trees such as beech, oak, and birch, and softwood, which comes from conifers such as pine, yew and firs. It actually does not refer to the hardness or density of the wood at all. Fast-growing species, such as pine, tend to be more sustainable than slow-growing ones, although the latter – such as oak – can be sustainable too if managed properly.

Wood is unique in being the only natural resource that can actually be renewable (unlike other natural resources like minerals) – if it is grown and harvested correctly and with appropriate management. For example, Europe has introduced measures to protect its timber sources and in fact, a greater number of trees are planted than felled each year.

Wood from Europe

In essence, choosing wood that is derived from European sources is a safe choice because the forests in Europe are now protected by legislation. This places a minimum requirement of replacing any harvested trees (at the very least) and also enforcing a fixed limit on the annual harvest. These measures, combined with other sustainable forestry management practices, have helped to not only maintain European timber sources but even regenerate them, with European forests now actively growing.

Wood from Other Countries

In general, there has been more concern about timber sourced from countries outside Europe, in particular, wood from Asia, Africa and South America. That is not to say that these sources cannot be sustainable and there are now international organisations, which provide ongoing assessment of these forests and woodlands, which enable purchasers of non-European wood to make the ecologically correct choice.

The largest and most well-known of these is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which was set up as an international network to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. It provides certification which rewards good forest management and guides consumers towards sustainable wood sources, which helping them to avoid products derived from irresponsible forestry practices. In September 2006, it was recognised by the UN as the fastest growing wood certification scheme in the world.

When considering timber from non-European sources, be especially vigilant of endangered timber species. An up-to-date list of these can be found on the United Nations website and the Friends of the Earth website – in particular, avoid timbers like Murbau, Sapelee, Wenge, Ebony, Brazilian Mahogany and Teak, especially Burmese Teak.

How to Choose Sustainable Wood

Wherever the wood claims to be from it is always wise to look for official certification to ensure that the timber derived from sustainable sources. This is true even if the timber claims to be derived from Europe, as there have been some question marks over sustainability in certain European sources. For example, there is alleged illegal logging in Russian, Far Eastern and Siberian forests, although most of the allegation refer to trade with the Far Eastern countries, such as China and Japan, than to trade with Europe.

In particular, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, followed by the PEFC logo. This is the logo for the Programme for the Endorsement of Forestry Certification and together with the FSC, it helps to guarantee to the consumer that the timber came from sustainable sources, where it is replaced after it has been harvested. In addition, the environment and surrounding ecosystem was not harmed in the logging process, nor any native way of life.

With the presence of these certifications giving you peace of mind, you can safely consider timber from a variety of sources.