Why Wood is a Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly Resource

Sustainability is a word that comes up quite frequently lately. Due to its rise in popularity, I wanted to talk about how it applies to woodworking.

Choosing wood as a medium to work with is sustainable as long as proper management of the resource is put in place.

First, some fun forest management facts:

Some people may not know this, but forests can be managed. Meaning a forester can be hired to promote a healthy forest. It could mean cutting live trees in order to prevent overcrowding (yes, that is a thing!) and reduce disease. Some forests are thinned to protect watersheds and promote a healthy habitat for wildlife. Forests can even be prescribed burns that promote growth and prevent larger forest fires from getting out of control.

Alternatively, trees can be cut as part of landscaping, blocking power lines or other potentially hazardous scenarios, and simply for profit.

Where does the wood come from?

In the beginning, there is a landowner who would like to harvest timber on his/her property.  The Landowner will contact a forester or forest service company who specializes in forest management.  Just with every type of management in many differing fields, there are differing philosophies.  A forester can plan to cut a property in a purely profit-driven measure, where they will mark optimal trees for sawing and unhealthy trees to be disposed of or they can also promote a certain type of tree growth if a landowner prefers to have hardwood forest over a softwood forest they currently have.  Loggers will then come in and cut the trees marked by the forester and leaving the trees that are designated seed trees to naturally reseed the lot.  The logger then will sell the harvested trees to a sawmill and pulp or chip the undesirable wood for paper or cardboard products.  Using precisely computer-guided systems that make optimum cuts to reduce waste, the sawmill manufacturers lumber from the raw logs.  The bark of the tree can be sold as mulch, the sawdust from the milling process will be used as fuel at the mill or sold to be compressed into pellets for sustainable power generation or heating elsewhere.

What can you do to make sure the wood you buy is from a sustainable source?

If you want to make sure you are supporting businesses that promote sustainability where their wood is sourced from, you can simply ask the business. Lumber businesses can also obtain a certificate that the wood they sell is from a responsibly managed forest. The Forest Stewardship Council grants an FSC Chain-of-Custody certificate, and a Forest Management certificate. An FSC Chain-of-Custody certificate grants a business that their harvesting, processing, and manufacturing pass through responsibly managed sources. A Forest Management certificate grants that the land owner’s forest is being properly managed.

Alternatively, you can choose to buy recycled wood or upcycle current furniture.

Why wood is a sustainable material

  1. Promotes quality air during its growth process.
  2. It is able to regrow and reproduce rapidly.
  3. Can be repurposed.
  4. Is biodegradable.
  5. Produces less embodied energy than most other common building materials.
  6. When used for handling food products such as cutting boards, it is antimicrobial by nature.
  7. Wood is carbon neutral, it does not introduce carbon into the ecosystem.  Building with wood captures carbon in the ecosystem and stores it.