What makes wooden furniture ‘sustainable’? Wood might seem like an inherently eco-friendly material — as long as it’s solid and not particleboard or plywood, which can contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde.
But while wood is a natural product and requires less carbon emissions than plastics and other man-made materials, remember that not all lumber suppliers also re-plant the forests they harvest, but “clear cut” them, meaning simply that the forest is left destroyed. So the trees that once harbored and helped sustain other wildlife leave a void in the local ecosystem.
“Sustainable” wood comes from trees that live (or, lived) in a sustainable forest — one where the trees cut down to produce lumber are replenished to minimize a negative environmental impact. Most trees raised this way are fast-growing, too — some reaching full height in four to five years. Teak, bamboo, and monkey pod, for example, are all durable woods that can be grown in an environmentally-friendly way. Durability is an important factor where furniture is concerned, of course, since a long-lasting wood helps reduce waste! Eco-conscious consumers should beware of oak, redwood, and beech woods. Since these specimens can take over 30 years to mature, they are not generally harvested in an eco-friendly manner.
An organization called the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) provides third-party certification to foresters based on a set of rules — the most stringent in the business — regarding the way their wood is harvested. Among other things, FSC-certified foresters must respect the rights of workers and indigenous peoples on the land, minimize the environmental impact of their logging efforts, and promote the restoration of natural forests. Another group, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), offers another, yet less-strict, certification system.
Furniture made from sustainable wood differs from other pieces in that it is commonly finished with natural oils, which are safer for home use than other, synthetic coatings. Sustainable furniture is better for humans, and better for the environment!