Wood is a renewable resource, which means it can be grown over and over again – in theory. If you’ve ever tried to grow even a houseplant, you’ll know that a lot of time, energy and resources go into keeping plants alive long enough to see the fruit of your labor. For trees, the time, energy and resource cost to get the wood to harvest-worthy condition is significant. For this reason — and many other reasons — it’s in your best interests to choose sustainable wood.
What is Sustainable Wood?
Sustainable wood is wood that’s legally sourced, harvested with protective practices in place that conserve the forest in which it was grown and methods with low impact on local water sources, with care for the rights of any indigenous people living in the region.
While illegal imports of wood were, in theory, halted in 2008, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states it still happens “more than it should.” To figure out whether your timber is sustainable, you need to become intimately familiar with your wood. What is sustainable and responsibly harvested in one location may be completely illegal or unsustainable in another.
Virgin wood — that is, wood that isn’t salvaged or recycled — for sale in the United States that is verified sustainably harvested bears the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)’s label. While no verification is perfect, the NRDC considers the FSC label the gold standard in wood sustainability standards.
Why Should I Buy Sustainable Wood?
Buying sustainable wood holds the industry accountable for choosing ethical wood sources. By choosing to buy sustainable wood, you’re backing up your ethics with your money and supporting low-impact harvesting practices with an eye on conservation, preservation and regrowth.
Beyond caring for the environmental impact, why buy sustainable wood? The simplest answer is because you want to keep working with it. Wood that’s sustainably harvested and bears the FSC logo is wood that isn’t contributing to deforestation — the devastating and disheartening loss of wood.
What if My Wood Is Unlabeled?
If your wood isn’t FSC certified, you’ll have to do a little research to find out where it came from — and how it was grown and harvested. More often than not, you’ll face this issue – according to the NDRC, less than 20% of the wood sold in the United States is FSC certified.
Ask your dealer where their wood was sourced, both country and region. Also ask your retailer if they know what lumber company harvested the wood. If they don’t know who handled the wood prior to being delivered for retail, have them ask their suppliers. And then research the company that handled the wood to ensure best practices were in place.
How Sustainable Is Your Wood?
Sustainable wood should be your priority as a woodworker. Since most of your work is focused on wood, it’s in your best interest to ensure that a plentiful supply is available now and in the future.
You’re responsible for the impact of the lumber industry on ecosystems, water quality and the quality of life for those who live in the areas where your wood was grown. Show the timber industry that you’d rather have sustainably harvested wood with low ecological impact by looking for the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) label on your wood purchases and exhibiting due diligence in finding out where your wood has been.
By demanding ethically sourced, sustainable wood, you make it clear that you take your wood (and its history) seriously, and would rather know that your materials weren’t doing any harm to the ecosystem.